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Santa Cruz County Flag, during BayWalk. South of Salinas River, Monterey County, date. Madelyn Choi and Kim Steinhardt in background.

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Secret History

A Flag for Santa Cruz County

Countries have flags. All of these united (!?) States have flags. Even Planet Earth has a flag. But, I'll bet you didn't know (unless you've been with us on an adventure) that Santa Cruz County has a flag.

California counties have flags? I did a bit of research inquiring of our neighboring counties if they have a flag. Results: Monterey, San Benito and Santa Clara counties all have flags. Not very creative flags, I must say…they simply took their county seal and put it on a white background. San Mateo County? No flag.

The History of the Santa Cruz County Flag
Back sometimes in the dim dark years of the early 1980s, for reasons not completely clear (maybe one of you knows??), Santa Cruz County began the process of designing/selecting a flag. I know this because I was selected as a member of this august committee. The only other member of the committee that I can remember was Bruce Bratton.

We solicited potential designs from local schools and after an endless string of rainbows and sea lions, we agreed that we couldn't decide. We issued our report suggesting that, whatever the Board of Supervisors decided that the flag not include a rainbow. This was in no way a response to any other rainbow flag (see LGBT flag explanation below). It was simply that we were sick to death of rainbows.

Ed Penniman designs the flag and it is dedicated – July 4, 1983
Long-time Santa Cruz artist was invited by the County to design the flag, and after it was reviewed by the Santa Cruz County Arts Commission (Mary Hubbard was Chair), it was adopted by the Board and officially dedicated on July 4, 1983.

Mr. Penniman explained the flag: "The evergreen tree on the field of white strongly suggests nature and growth, for which the white background symbolizes a reverence. Below the trees, bands of colors—red, yellow, orange, blue and green—represent the five districts of the County and communicate a bold, positive stance. The overall theme, then, might be summarized as a reverence for nature and growth, upheld by a foundation of optimism and unity."

It was noted that this new flag joined others that had flown over the present-day County, including that of Spain, the Mexican Republic, and the United States. And, of course, the State of California. But this flag represented, to quote the official program, "…a celebration of the richness and beauty of our County, in which we, as its citizens, all share."

The program concluded with the admonition that communities throughout the County "…fly this flag in the spirit of the unity that it is intended to symbolize, and to find inspiration in the boldness of its design and the brilliance of its colors."

In the spirit of this unity, the County had a full-sized flag for each of the four incorporated cities (Santa Cruz, Watsonville, Capitola and Scotts Valley) but when "Capitola" was called to come up and get its flag, nobody came forward. At the end of the ceremony, while we original committee members were milling around commenting on the prominence of the rainbow, Supervisor Robley Levy walked over and handed Capitola's flag to me. "Here. I guess Capitola doesn't want a County flag. You can have it." And that's how it happens that I have a full-size County flag. Carolyn Swift, the official Capitola historian, follows me around and continues to ask for it…Hah.

The Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgendered Flag
The Ensuing Confusion – The LGBT pride flag

Meanwhile, in 1978, the "rainbow flag" was designed by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker and first flew in the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade, June 25, 1978. Originally the flag had eight horizontal multi-colored stripes, but over time (due to the unavailability of certain colors at the flag factory – particularly hot pink) the number of stripes was reduced to six. But, other than large gatherings of the LBGT, the flag was not widely known, and the folks responsible for adopting the Santa Cruz County flag were not aware of the widening use of the rainbow as a national and international symbol for gay pride.

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