MONTEREY PARK — In a move that a dissenting councilman called "an unnecessary frolic," the City Council has given tentative approval to an ordinance that will keep flags of foreign nations from flying in front of City Hall.
The proposed ordinance, scheduled for final adoption Dec. 8, declares that "the two flagpoles located in front of City Hall shall be used exclusively for the flag of the United States and the flag of the state of California."
In voting 3 to 1 for adoption of the flag policy, council members Barry L. Hatch, Patricia Reichenberger and Cam Briglio stressed their patriotism and the importance of displaying the American flag.
'A Big, Phony Game'
But dissenting Councilman Chris Houseman accused his colleagues of embarking on a petty crusade, hiding behind patriotism and "playing a big, phony game."
He said the city could ensure that the American flag is treated properly without preventing other flags from being hoisted to honor foreign dignitaries.
Although Houseman did not suggest that the ordinance was racially motivated, Councilman Hatch said he resented any implication that the ordinance might have racial undertones. "We are not racists. We are patriots," he said.
Hatch said the proposed ordinance allows foreign flags to be flown elsewhere in the city, including parks and other city property. He said it is not demeaning to other countries to insist that only the American and California flags have a place in front of City Hall.
The issue arose in September when the Chinese consulate in San Francisco wrote a letter to Mayor G. Monty Manibog objecting to the city's participation in a Taiwanese national holiday that celebrates the overthrow of the Manchu dynasty in China by the Nationalist Chinese 75 years ago. The Communist government of China notified Monterey Park that it regarded the flag ceremony as an affront to its position as the sole government of China.
For the past several years on Oct. 10, the Yung Ho Sister City Assn., which sponsors a sister city relationship between Monterey Park and the Taiwanese city of Yung Ho, has conducted a flag-raising ceremony at City Hall to mark the holiday, called Double Ten.
City Manager Lloyd de Llamas said the City Council decided in September that this would be the last year the ceremony would be permitted at City Hall because of objections raised to it.
In a letter to Tang Shubei, consul general in San Francisco of the People's Republic of China, de Llamas said the city has never viewed the ceremony as a political statement.
"I am sure that our residents whose original roots are from Taiwan are simply using the ceremony to remember the particular region of China that they come from," de Llamas wrote. He said the city "follows the State Department's position recognizing the People's Republic of China as the only legitimate government of China and the Chinese people, including those on the island of Taiwan."
De Llamas said he wrote the letter after councilmen agreed that it would be best to move the Taiwanese flag ceremony to avoid controversy.
A similar protest by the People's Republic of China five years ago caused the Los Angeles City Council to cancel the raising of a Taiwanese flag and to ban foreign flags on city property.
In Monterey Park on Monday night, with Mayor Manibog out of town, three of the four remaining members of the City Council voted for the ordinance that would ban foreign flags from the front of City Hall.
Houseman, who cast the lone opposing vote, said the proposed ordinance "is completely unnecessary and sends a very bad message to organizations that have been building our sister city relationships."
He noted that Monterey Park has sister cities in Mexico, Japan and the Philippines, and said the proposed ordinance would prevent Monterey Park from honoring visiting foreign dignitaries by flying their flags at City Hall.
The debate over the flag issue grew so heated that at one point Reichenberger left her council seat and the council adjourned briefly to give her time to regain her composure. Reichenberger said she strongly objected to anyone criticizing her motives for supporting the flag ordinance. She said she has a special feeling about the flag, is the mother of two sons and fears that someday they might have to go into the armed forces and die for the flag.
The flag ordinance controversy echoed an uproar earlier this year over a resolution authored by Hatch calling for adoption of English as the nation's official language and for tougher enforcement of immigration laws. The council repealed the resolution in October after residents circulated petitions calling it racially divisive.
Michael Eng, one of the leaders of the Coalition for Harmony in Monterey Park, which fought the resolution, said that the group has not yet looked at the flag ordinance and that he does not know whether it will take any position on it.