The effort to put a symbolic planet Earth flag at the top of Arcata’s municipal flagpoles is one step closer to fulfilling its goal.
The Arcata City Council will be holding a Wednesday 6 p.m. special meeting with a packed agenda, which includes a scheduled item to consider the successful signature drive for a petition to fly a symbolic Earth flag atop its own municipal flag poles, above the flags of the United States, the California state flag and other flags the city may choose to fly.
Arcata resident Dave Meserve developed the initiative and collected signatures along with a small group of volunteers. He told the Times-Standard he has a positive feeling about the effort making it this far.
“Going to things like the farmers market and going door-to-door, the majority of the people I spoke with were in favor of it, they want to see it on the ballot and they want it to win. It feels great to do that and move forward to this point where it’s actually most likely going to be on the ballot,” he said.
The petition gathered a raw total of 1,797 signatures. Out of the total sum of endorsements, 1,381 were deemed valid to cross the 1,137-signature threshold required to place the proposed measure on the November ballots. Humboldt County registrar of voters Kelly Sanders ratified the signature drive on May 24.
Meserve recalls filing the signatures on April 26 wondering if he had enough once the invalid endorsements were struck down.
“You never know how many of them are going to be valid because people forget when they change their place of registration or when they move. I think everybody signed in good faith, but there’s always something like 25% (of signatures) that get tossed,” he said.
The recommendation on the item listed on the agenda package for the Wednesday meeting is to accept the certification. If the council moves forward with accepting the certification it can either adopt the ordinance without alteration during the meeting or within 10 days or direct the city clerk to submit the unaltered initiative to voters in the next regular election, happening Tuesday, Nov. 8 of this year.
Meserve plans on being at the Wednesday meeting to speak about the effort during the item’s public comment period and ask the council to leave the final call on the flag order to voters instead of approving it themselves.
“I think it’s really important that the people of Arcata have their say about this issue, rather than just having decided by the five council members,” Meserve said.
While issues regarding the handling of the U.S. flag can be sensitive subjects both legally and among the public opinion, the group behind this effort has not seen any backlash from civil groups or organizations. Meserve said local members of Veteran for Peace support the rearranging of the flags.
“This in no way denigrates the United States of America and the people who served our country and fought in wars. I respect those people and I respect their feelings. We’re not putting any other nation above the United States, we’re just trying to say that the Earth is essential to our happiness and our survival, and are hoping that message gets out to lots of people,” Meserve said.
A press release sent out by Meserve early into the petition effort includes a passage referring to the U.S. flag code stating the American flag “should” fly above others. “According to the Congressional Research Service, it is strictly advisory and has no enforcement measures or penalties,” it reads.
California lawyer and legal columnist Dennis Beaver previously told The Times-Standard that despite the advisory nature of the U.S. flag code passage, he is not aware of any legal authority that would permit such an arrangement.
“This could come under defacing the flag. I’m still doing more research, but I do not know of any record, nor have I any legal rationalization. Just because there’s no penalty, that doesn’t mean you can do it,” Beaver said.
“I would just say it’s absolute nonsense. I don’t know of any legal authority that would permit this,” he emphasized.
City attorney Nancy Diamond has already written an impartial ballot title and summary, as required by elections code section 9203, dated Feb. 23, 2022.
If the petition clears the lcouncil and is approved either by voters or the council, Arcata may be the first municipality nationwide to implement such an ordinance.
Until then, Meserve hopes people’s support remains strong, especially if the item is left to voters.
“I’m hoping that the people who firmly supported it when I went door to door and spoke with thousands of people still feel the same way in November.”
The full agenda and package can be found on the city’s website at http://arcataca.iqm2.com/Citizens/calendar.aspx.
Mario Cortez can be reached at 707-441-0526.