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Santa Fe city councilors to propose moving veteran banners to downtown, Railyard

The Santa Fe New Mexican - 7/8/2022

Jul. 9—Two Santa Fe city councilors plan to introduce a resolution at a meeting next week that would change the location of where banners honoring local veterans could be hung.

The resolution, proposed by City Councilors Chris Rivera and Michael Garcia, would allow the banners to be flown downtown, on Guadalupe Street and the Railyard District.

The banners, part of the Hometown Heroes program, had hung on light poles along Cerrillos Road since the effort was approved by the city in 2019. But the city changed course after safety and liability concerns arose, with fears the banners could act as sails in the wind and dislodge the poles from bases.

The banners — which have featured the names and photos of Santa Feans who served in the military— were removed by the city earlier this summer. The about-face detonated a storm of controversy, particularly within the veterans community. At least 150 people showed up at a City Council meeting last week to support the program and ask city leaders to find a way to keep the banners aloft.

Some were in tears as they spoke of loved ones who had served in the military.

Both Garcia and Rivera said the proposal was a "temporary solution" that came out of a Friday morning meeting between veterans groups and city officials. The councilors said they hoped the proposal would buy the city additional time to carve out a long-term plan.

"That longterm home could be the Railyard, it could be downtown, it could be a different location in the city, but we have to do the due diligence work on all the poles throughout the city to determine where they can be hung safely and then we can have additional conversations with the veterans," Garcia said.

Rivera, who purchased a banner for one of his family members, said the selected locations have room for about one-third of the 350-plus banners currently awaiting a home, adding discussions are still ongoing about whether the city rotates the banners or simply keeps a smaller number of them up.

He said based on Friday's meeting, people seemed "amenable" to the idea, but the ultimate hope is to find a way to erect the banners on Cerrillos Road between St. Michael's Drive and the Interstate 25.

Don Christy, the Air Force veteran who helped spearhead the program's arrival in Santa Fe and was highly critical of the decision to take them down, declined to comment Friday evening.

Rivera said the city is still exploring whether poles on Cerrillos Road could be used for at least one banner.

"My understanding is that our manufacturers have poles with banners on them," he said. "It seems like they have the capacity for at least one, so we plan on getting in contact with them and the city manager [John Blair] has agreed to do that."

The city has based its stance in part on an email from Hapco, the poles' manufacturer, that seemed to indicate the light standards were not intended to hold decorative banners. That led to questions about potential liability if the poles fell and hurt someone.

Garcia said if the resolution is approved by the July 27 council meeting, the banners could be installed by August.

Who will install the banners, however, remains a question mark.

Rivera said it was "questionable" whether city staff could take on the burden, or if an American Legion post would have to take on not only the cost to install the banners, but also the added cost to rotate them.

Councilor Signe Lindell said during a council meeting that she had spoken with the Public Service Company of New Mexico, which said it was willing to donate time and labor to help install the banners. Rivera said he hoped that option was still in play.

"I think it is possible, but we are looking at all possibilities," he said.


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