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Flap Over Too-High Flag May Mean Jail for Torrance Man

April 07, 1991|TIM WATERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Torrance man's patriotic zeal may land him in the pokey.

The Torrance city prosecutor's office last week filed misdemeanor charges against David B. Shaw, alleging that he has violated city zoning codes by erecting a 51-foot-high flagpole on his property.

The 37-year-old contractor could face $2,000 in fines and a year in jail.

Shaw said Saturday that he has not decided whether to fight the city in court--or simply take the flagpole down.

"I'm positive I can beat it. But how much will it cost me in time and money?" said Shaw, who estimates it would cost at least $10,000 to wage a legal battle for his flagpole.

The prosecutor's office filed the charges on the recommendation of Monte McElroy, who enforces zoning laws as city environmental officer. She requested that legal action be taken against Shaw after he refused to comply with a City Council order that he abide by his neighborhood's 14-foot height restriction.

"We do have to live with a good respect for the common good," McElroy said Friday. "My feeling is if people want to voice their patriotic feelings, there are (legal) ways to do it."

Shaw first erected the pole at his Hollywood Riviera home in 1988. Although some neighbors said the pole did not bother them, others complained to the city that it blocked their city and ocean views. They also said the 8-by-12-foot flag flapping atop it was noisy.

After the City Council issued its order in 1989, Shaw took down the pole, which he had bought for $75 from a school that was being demolished. Several days after hostilities erupted in the Middle East, however, he put it back up and illuminated the flag at night with floodlights.

The pole now stands without its flag, which grew tattered in a recent storm.

Mayor Katy Geissert said she doesn't like to deny anyone the right to fly a flag. However, the law is the law, she said.

"Purely and simply, we do have city codes."

But Shaw believes he has the U.S. Constitution on his side. He accuses city officials of "playing politics" on behalf of flag critics in his neighborhood.

"It's pitiful that it would have to come to this," he said.

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