LONG BEACH — After being spurned by the City Council this week, Thomas (Ski) Demski says he wants to let voters decide whether he should be allowed to fly his giant American flag free of city noise restrictions.
If the council refuses to put the issue on a ballot, Demski said he may launch an initiative petition drive aimed at placing a measure before voters.
"They don't know what they're doing," Demski said after the City Council refused by a 7-2 vote Tuesday to grant Demski a waiver from the noise laws. "Now I am going to bring it up at a later council meeting to let the people decide." Vice Mayor Wallace Edgerton and Councilwoman Jan Hall dissented.
Although Demski's 125-foot pole at 4th Street and Lime Avenue has become a local landmark, some neighbors complain that they are kept awake on breezy nights by the loud flapping of giant flags.
Demski has maintained the pole for about nine years and conducts periodic flag-raising events to celebrate patriotic holidays. And for the Christmas season in 1987, he converted the pole into a giant Christmas tree by running streamers from the top to a hoop around the middle. The display was accompanied by recordings of carols blaring from speakers in one of his old Cadillac ambulances.
Acting on complaints of neighbors, the city cited Demski last March after health inspectors found that the flag flapping exceeded allowable noise limits. The city prosecutor filed misdemeanor charges when Demski refused to stop flying the flag at night. The city is appealing a judge's ruling dismissing the case on a technicality--the complaint was signed by a secretary on behalf of a city inspector.
Edgerton urged that Demski's request for a waiver be sent to the Planning Commission for further study. He questioned the fairness of "challenging it (the flag) now, after it has been there for years and years."
Demski was joined at the council meeting by some neighbors who said they were not bothered by noise from the flags.
"We have never had any problem with the noise from it," said Andrea Liwanag. She said she sometimes spends the night snoozing on a couch in the nearby offices of her A & R Telephone Answering Services.
But Demski faced stiff opposition from next-door neighbor Vi Verreaux, who reminded the council that a vote against Demski is not a vote against the American flag.
"He's not the sole owner of the flag. He has just a replica," Verreaux said, warning, "If you give him the exemption, you'll open up a big can of worms." With Demski as an example, others may flock to the council seeking variances from various city laws, Verreaux warned.
Demski unsuccessfully ran for mayor last year, campaigning on a motor scooter with a parrot on his shoulder. He has sparred with the council for years over his flags. Last year, the city refused to grant his request to build a 300-foot flagpole on his property.