Lookout missed the context on Scotts Valley Pride flag debate

The new downtown library project, which the Santa Cruz City Council approved after years of study and public input.
Pride Month being honored for the first time at Scotts Valley City Hall.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Scotts Valley Vice Mayor Jim Reed wants to set the record straight on the Scotts Valley Pride flag debate Lookout covered in late June. He says Lookout took his comments about how to legally allow the flag to fly, and comparisons he made to extending the same privileges to the KKK, out of context and missed the larger discussion of how councilmembers and governments have to consider legal issues. If the Pride flag flies, what other flags could then also be allowed? Reed worries the public does not appreciate the legal complications elected leaders face, and that this gap in understanding can lead to a skewed perception that there is disagreement, when none exists.

Unlike Lookout Santa Cruz’s editors and reporters, who are trained professionals with decades of experience practicing the craft of journalism at the highest levels, I have virtually no formal training in the field, but spent a year as the editor of the weekly newspaper, Valley Press and Scotts Valley Banner (now the Press-Banner), and years before that as a part-time freelance writer covering Mid- and North County for all the print publications. Serving those areas has given me a profound respect for the difficulty and important democracy-preserving work of the true professionals in this field.

Especially because of that appreciation, I’ve never before written anything focused on what I felt was fundamental unfairness in another article. This fact makes me all the more appreciative that the folks at Lookout are allowing me this response to a June 27, 2022 Lookout article titled, “Soul searching in Scotts Valley: Flag flap highlights ongoing community issues around diversity and inclusion.

Most fundamentally regarding the June 15 council meeting in question, the Lookout story reported so little of what Councilmember Randy Johnson and I actually said, while implying so much that we didn’t, that no reader relying solely on that article could walk away with anything close to an accurate impression of the arguments we made.

Most notably, there was no reference that I repeatedly said before public comment that I supported flying the Pride flag.

Indeed, this is why both Councilmember Johnson and I backed my proposal to formally put the Pride flag on par with the U.S. and California flags as well as the subsequent proposal that was eventually adopted 5-0. The entire debate was about two different approaches to accomplish the same end, an end that each of the dozens of public speakers and councilmembers all agreed was worthy and desirable.

Efforts that unwittingly deny or obscure this fundamental truth are disappointing and inaccurate, and those who claim these different policy perspectives can only be explained from antiquated, hateful motivations on the part of those advocating them should be ashamed.

Then Scotts Valley Mayor Jim Reed
(Jim Reed)

There was no reference to my remark that a quick Google search would confirm that the Biden administration – correctly seen as the most pro-LGBTQ+ in history – refused to fly the Pride flag at U.S. military bases out of concern it could undermine prohibitions on flying the Confederate flag.

As NPR reported on June 5, 2021, “[Pentagon spokesperson John] Kirby said making an exception for the rainbow Pride flag could leave the Pentagon open for additional policy challenges down the road, “…other challenges that could arise from that [Pride flag] exception.” This uncertainty was the crux of Councilmember Johnson’s and my suggestion that a safer way to accomplish what everybody wanted, while avoiding such risks, was to consider putting the Pride flag on par with the U.S. and California flags, a contention the Lookout article dismissed as factually invalid.

Lookout also did not provide context to my comments that the government has to consider legal implications in its decisions far more than most folks realize. I used the example that even seemingly unobjectionable actions such as posting pictures of Scotts Valley high school graduating seniors on lampposts throughout town resulted in internal discussions of whether these banners would obligate us to similarly promote KKK messaging, if we were legally challenged on the point.

Lookout also made no reference to what Councilmember Johnson and I said about the long-term risk to the city’s core services from a policy that invites consideration of flying flags other than Pride. Indeed, Johnson noted that a recent request was made in Capitola to fly flags in support of public safety officers, something some folks consider more divisive than anything about LGBTQ+ rights. Also, it’s not a secret that community members have recently asked other agencies serving Scotts Valley to fly flags many would consider more controversial than anything Pride or public safety-related.

The risk on this point may not seem obvious to all, but Councilmember Johnson and I believe it’s very real and potentially even dangerous for the city council to regularly weigh in on matters heavy with symbolic and/or cultural content other than the Pride flag. Doing so would likely erode the decades of work we’ve done to reassure residents that we’re worthy of their trust because we “stay in our lane.”

When you drive into Scotts Valley, you’re not greeted by signs that declare we’re a “nuclear free zone.” We don’t weigh in on international, federal, state or any issue not relevant to local government. We’ve disappointed activists all across the spectrum for decades by this narrow focus, but it has served us well. By minimizing the time and potential for division on items not core to our mission, we greatly reduce the likelihood of discussions that would otherwise generate more heat than light and thus alienate parts of our community.

It’s easy to see what the impact could be from even a modest loss of public trust caused by voters who think we’re overreaching.

Despite being the most conservative part of Santa Cruz County and having one of the highest sales tax rates anywhere in the state, the Scotts Valley community for decades has supported every tax measure the city has put forward, and by large margins. We’ve maintained this unusual public backing even though cities such as Santa Cruz – which, in theory, should be far more open to new and higher taxes – have had trouble rallying support for necessary revenue measures to preserve local services (most recently seen in the narrow failure of Santa Cruz’s Measure F in the June election).

In conclusion, I’d like to point out that two things can be equally true.

Flying the Pride flag is a critical statement of our community’s commitment to be a safe, welcoming, inclusive place where everybody belongs. It’s also true that if public trust and voter support for sales tax measures erodes because of disapproval over the council courting controversy on less important topics than the Pride flag, we’re asking for trouble regarding the core services that residents correctly view as our primary mission.

Indeed, it’s inconceivable that Scotts Valley will be able to maintain an independent police department without a significant local sales tax, to say nothing of our ability to fund basic road and park maintenance, recreation programs, our senior center, community events like the Fourth of July fireworks and parade, support for our schools and more. These concerns are especially relevant in today’s high-inflationary environment, where political support for even modest, well-crafted revenue measures has plummeted in both national and statewide polling.

Councilmember Johnson and I made these arguments in support of our preferred approach to fly the Pride flag by putting it on par with the U.S. and California flags. Even though these points formed the bulk of our public comments, and our comments were the lynchpin of the original Lookout story, this content was not included in that article.

Hopefully folks who’ve read this far who were (or still are) disappointed by our approach can at least understand our reasoning even if they don’t find it persuasive.

In closing, the hurt many have articulated over the analogies and arguments used in this council discussion has reminded me of Maya Angelou’s remark that while people will forget what you say or do, they will never forget how you make them feel.

I appreciate the useful reminder that just because folks in government regularly conjure up worst-case scenarios to ensure our decisions stand up well in all circumstances, and that this important point should be shared in public discussions such as this one, it doesn’t mean that folks uninitiated to these insider conversations won’t be disappointed or even shocked by references to awful organizations and causes such as the KKK.

Lesson learned.

Jim Reed is in his third term on the Scotts Valley City Council and currently serves as vice mayor. He has served as chief of staff for San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo since 2015. Before that, he served as vice president of public policy for the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce. He spent a year as the editor of the Valley Press and Scotts Valley Banner, which became the Press Banner. He previously spent over 10 years in high-tech, working both for startups and Global 100 companies. He’s lived in Skypark for 22 years with his wife Lea and their four children, who all attended Scotts Valley public schools. Jim is proud to have been born in Chicagoland, and still lives and dies by the Chicago Cubs.

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