SH City Council approves commemorative-flag policy, despite opposing public comment

The council also discussed a water-rate increase and commissioner-appointment process.


Anita W. Harris | Signal Tribune

During the Oct. 8 Signal Hill City Council meeting, Pastor James Kaddis (right, at podium) of the Calvary Chapel Signal Hill spoke to the council and attending audience, most of whom were chapel members, about problems with the City’s flag policy.

Passions flew high during a commemorative-flag policy debate at the Signal Hill City Council meeting Tuesday night. Despite public objection, the council voted 3-2 approving a process to allow commemorative flags on City flagpoles.

The council also approved moving toward increasing water rates by Feb. 1, 2020 and approved a process for making commissioner nominations but not appointments, which it postponed for future discussion.

Flag policy
Deputy City Manager Hannah Shin-Heydorn said that the council agreed at its Sept. 24 meeting on a process allowing the City to display commemorative flags. The process included not allowing third-party input, deciding on displays in January but accepting requests during the year and flying flags below Signal Hill’s flag on poles at city hall, the library and police station.

As reported in the Sept. 26 issue of the Signal Tribune, Mayor Lori Woods had solely voted against the policy, having put forward a failed substitute motion to display such flags at non-flagpole location, such as the entrance to city hall, along with educational information.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Woods read letters from residents– one in support of the process and one saying municipal flagpoles should not be used to display commemorate flags because they don’t represent all constituents and further questioned how the council would determine whose flag to fly.

The council chamber was also packed with about 50 members of the Calvary Chapel Signal Hill and its senior pastor, James Kaddis, who made an impassioned argument opposing the policy.

Among his many points, Kaddis objected to how the issue was initially raised very late at the council’s May 14 meeting, when it approved flying a rainbow-hued flag recognizing June as Pride month for the LGBT community. Kaddis clarified that he is not unsupportive of that community, but the lateness of the discussion precluded public input.

He also questioned the staff report indicating there would be no fiscal impact to the city.

“If you take one group or one organization and you elevate them above the other, particularly in the context of a flagpole, you are going to get a considerable demand requesting to be considered the same way,” he said. “A second problem that you’re going to have is […] people looking at you and saying, ‘Why did you choose this group over this group?’”

Kaddis further suggested that the council not allowing third-party input was akin to tyranny and the City could be subject to a civil-rights lawsuit.

“If for some reason you choose to adopt this resolution, every single one of us are watching,” he said. “We’re going to take notice of who’s adopting the resolution and we are going to make sure that every step of the way, you are held accountable.”

Kaddis requested the council consider flying a flag with a thin blue line on it in support of police officers, and the words, “In God we trust.”

“At least a hundred more formal requests will be given to you by residents of the city for different causes and in every single one of those, we are going to hold your hand to the fire and we are going to require– we are going to mandate– that you provide a process by which you determine whether or not something is acceptable,” Kaddis said.

Finally, Kaddis implied that flying commemorative flags on municipal flagpoles diminishes respect for the national flag.

“When you choose to fly a flag that is different […], under the pretense […] that it’s the most inclusionary flag that we can provide, you are erroneous,” he said. “There are boys and girls overseas right now that are dying and shedding their blood for that flag […].That’s the flag people in my church are waiting to stare at with great tears as they become citizens.”

Deputy City Attorney Danny Aleshire said that someone could file a lawsuit but that the council was agreeing to a process, not which flags to fly. He added that other cities with similar polices haven’t faced legal challenges.

“It will be a disaster in January,” Councilmember Tina Hansen said, adding that the policy is too broad. “Are we passing something today that’s actually going to have any meaning? I don’t think we are at this point.”

Woods said she stands behind her comments from the previous meeting that commemorative flags could be framed or encased at the entrance to city hall along with educational information.

“This is a government institution and should remain so in its flag policy,” she said.

“I have specific concerns about using the traditional and nationally-recognized flagpoles containing the federal, state, and city flags as a place to also celebrate and acknowledge our diversity.” 

Councilmember Edward Wilson said he believed there should be a process in place to consider commemorative-flag requests and that he is a strong supporter of the federal flag.

“If this policy were to lower that standard to me, I would not be in favor of it,” he said. “I just want to make sure everyone has the same opportunity.”

Wilson also said that the same problems of choosing whom to recognize would apply if the city had a separate location.

“It’s not a matter of the location,” he said. “We either have to decide we don’t want to do anything commemorative or we think it’s good to do things that are commemorative.”

Vice Mayor Robert Copeland said the council can always change the policy if it doesn’t work.

“Are we going to be frozen by the fear of not being perfect?” he asked.

Councilmember Keir Jones put forward a motion to approve the policy, seconded by Copeland.

Copeland, Jones, and Wilson voted in favor, thus passing the resolution 3-2 amending the city’s flag policy, with Hansen and Woods dissenting.

Jones said he appreciated the civic dialogue.

“Tonight we have the largest crowd in the city hall I think we’ve had for six months,” he said. “It’s all about inclusion, making sure your voice is heard, making sure we’re all part of what makes the city bright and that is why this policy came about. […] These conversations, while they’re not easy, are what bring us together.”

Water-rate increase
A council-appointed subcommittee shared its findings with the council on how municipal water rates need to increase as of Feb. 1, 2020.

City Manager Charlie Honeycutt said that Signal Hill has been fortunate to operate its own water system to manage costs and deliver water at rates lower than most neighboring cities and private water companies.

He added that the City has invested in the water system to ensure reliable water delivery, adequate fire protection and accommodate new growth.

“The most recent investment was the addition of Well 9, our groundwater well and treatment system,” he said. “This will improve the city’s ability to be self-reliant, reduce the need to purchase expensive imported water and improve the city’s emergency preparedness.”

Honeycutt explained that the City made a series of rate adjustments in 2015– its first since 2010– but did not then anticipate that California would declare a water-shortage emergency and mandate conservation.

“The Signal Hill community responded to the call for action and cut back on water usage,” he said. “Several homeowners and businesses have received recognition from the City for their sustainable efforts.”

However, those water-conservation efforts reduced the revenues needed to support water-department operations and make capital investment to the water system, Honeycutt said.

Matt Tryon, water-systems superintendent, gave an overview of the City’s water system, noting that the city owns about 2,000 acre-feet of water-extraction rights and its annual consumption is about 1,800 acre-feet, serving about 3,000 customers through 50 miles of pipeline.

“What that means is that there’s enough room or enough water to meet all the demands of the city,” he said, adding that importing water from the Metropolitan Water District nearly doubles its cost.

Finance Director Scott Williams said the city’s current water fund totals to $3.8 million, $1.2 million earmarked for critical capital improvements.

Without an increase, those funds would fall within three years to below the minimum threshold to maintain daily operations, Williams said.

Not only that, but funds necessary capital improvements to maintain the water system make that deficit even larger, he added.

Signal Hill’s water rates will still be among the lowest compared to surrounding communities, even with an increase, Williams said.

Sara Russo, a management analyst with the Public Works Department, said that past rate increases have always been less than inflation and not enough, especially with increasing costs of water-replenishment quality requirements.

She also said the water fund is receiving about 19% less in revenue than it projected because of the city’s conservation efforts.

The subcommittee examined three scenarios and recommended one that included replacing Well 8. Rates would increase by 15% in 2020 and 2021, 12% in 2022 and 7.5% each in 2023 and 2024, Williams said. Well 8 would be rebuilt in 2022, funded in part by a $1.5-million, zero-interest loan.

Typical rates would increase from $45.44 in 2020 to $67.64 in 2024 and the City will continue its discount, averaging 13%, for low-income customers.

The council approved the subcommittee’s plan, beginning with a community workshop Oct. 28, followed by a resolution of intent, legal notices, a Proposition 218-protest hearing, a second hearing in January 2020 and new rates implemented on Feb. 1, 2020.

Wilson, a member of the subcommittee, affirmed the value of investing in water-system infrastructure and having three wells to help them last longer.

“When you put money into […] any type of investment, that impact compounds and so you get a benefit of that increase up front and smaller increases toward the end and so you help build your funds and your reserves quicker,” he said. “The longer it takes to build it, the harder it is, and the more it’ll cost you.”

Commissioner appointments
The council also revisited a commissioner-appointment process it had discussed at its two September meetings. At the last meeting, the city attorney said the process contradicted the city’s charter, which holds that the mayor makes those appointments with the approval of the council.

Shin-Heydorn reiterated the process the council discussed, including that candidates can apply to up to three commissions, the council may interview at a special meeting if there are more than 10 candidates and nominate and appoint in the order of Planning Commission, Civil Service Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission. Council members would nominate a slate of candidates and those with at least three votes would be considered for appointment.

“Provided that the mayor concurs in the appointment and therefore makes the appointment, per the charter,” Shin-Heydorn added.

The council had a heated discussion of the problem of what happens if the mayor did not concur.

Woods questioned why that was the only place in the charter granting the mayor veto power.

Wilson said that if the council wants to change the charter, it can put it on a ballot so residents can vote to change it instead of trying to get around the charter by resolution.

The council expressed reluctance to change the charter and instead hoped the presiding mayor would participate in the agreed-upon process.

Hansen suggested the council ask each potential mayor if they would do so before voting to rotate that person in during its annual reorganization.

Copeland raised the point that the mayor could still change their mind when the time came, but at least would make clear what process they would follow so candidates weren’t confused.

Wilson recalled that the council had opposed his appointment method two years ago when he served as mayor, though he was only following the charter. He said he explained that process to each candidate he interviewed and also indicated so on the council agenda, which he said the other members may not have read.

“The council was blind-sided,” Woods said, adding that Wilson had changed his appointment method from his previous turns as mayor.

“I’m not going to vote for something that conflicts with the charter,” Wilson said of the current resolution.

Because the council could not agree to suitable language to add to the resolution for making appointments, it decided to approve the first four steps up to that point continue discussing the appointment-making step at a future date.

Small-business spotlight
Ron Klejin, owner of Rossmoor Pastries at 2325 Redondo Ave. in Signal Hill, presented about his bakery business, which has been operational since 1961.

Klejin said he bought the business a couple of years ago from its previous owners– Charles Feder and Janice Ahlgren, who had run it for 28 years– after visiting the bakery from his native Canada.

Rossmoor Pastries actually operates two businesses in its 28,000 square feet– a retail bakery and cake studio and a wholesale business that sells to other retailers, Klejin said.

Its wholesale operates throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties and recently expanded into San Diego with 35 clients accounting for 25% of its wholesale business.

“People will support you if you make for a good partner, you’re real about trust, you give quality products and you’re transparent,” he said.

Klejin credited his wife Shirley for the idea to buy the business and also expand into San Diego, and his 97 employees for making the business successful.

“The core of what makes Rossmoor special is our people,” he said. “We’ve got incredible artisans, incredible decorators. Just people that have a heart and care.”

Klejin added that he appreciates operating Signal Hill, including the safety provided by its police department.

“What I love about this city– it’s small, it’s real, people have faces, you can talk to people and people help you,” he said. “It’s just a pleasure to be part of this community.”

The next Signal Hill City Council meeting will take place Tuesday, Oct. 22 at 7pm in the council chamber at 2175 Cherry Ave.