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Veterans, Santa Fe still trying to find solution to hang banners

The Santa Fe New Mexican - 6/22/2022

Jun. 23—The long-running saga surrounding a popular veterans banner program remains in flux as Independence Day weekend nears, with supporters complaining a new location isn't materializing fast enough, while city officials maintain progress is being made as quickly as possible.

Don Christy, the Air Force veteran who helped spearhead the Hometown Heroes program, said the effort is still moving forward, despite what he said is a lack of progress following a closed-door community meeting on the matter more than two weeks ago.

The program, which is intended to hang banners bearing the images of Santa Fe veterans on light poles along Cerrillos Road, was in limbo after safety concerns from city officials and others surfaced.

A day after the city removed the last of about 20 veteran banners, Christy wrote Wednesday in an email the banners will be installed somewhere in the city "one way or another."

"It's never dead in the water," he wrote.

City Manager John Blair reiterated Santa Fe is committed to honoring its veterans, but did not elaborate on where the banners could be hung.

"We just need to figure out the way to balance that honor and respect they deserve, while also addressing the safety of the public," Blair said in a Wednesday interview.

The popular banner program originally was brought to Santa Fe in 2019 by Christy and resulted in more than 100 placed on Cerrillos between Interstate 25 and Airport/Rodeo roads. The banners, which feature the image of a veteran's face, rank, branch and years of service, have been showcased in past years from Memorial Day to Veterans Day.

A City Council resolution later was approved to expand the program to St. Michael's Drive, but momentum shifted after concerns were raised by the city and Public Service Company of New Mexico staff about the banners acting as sails and uprooting light poles.

In what seemed a potential death knell for the program, Blair on June 7 issued a statement that the city did not intend to move forward with installing the banners along Cerrillos. A day later, the city held a closed-door community meeting to discuss finding another location for the banners or laying the groundwork for another way to honor local veterans.

That decision came several months after the City Council voted to shift financial responsibility for installing the Hometown Heroes banners to a local American Legion post. The city said the original 2019 deal on the banners violated a the state Anti-donation Clause and could put the city on the hook to make similar accommodations for other community groups.

Blair said the meeting resulted in both long- and short-term solutions the city is poised to explore — including a study of all of the city's light poles to determine which ones can be used for decorative banners, and a potential proposal to replace all of the current Hapco light poles with standards that can support banners.

He also said the city is looking into whether poles at the Santa Fe Railyard, including the Baca Street area, could be used for the banners. However, he added that if the Railyard is the ultimate location, it still would take a City Council resolution before anything could be installed.

When asked how long that process would take, Blair replied he could not provide a definitive answer.

"That is a legislative question," he said.

City Councilor Michael Garcia, who authored the resolution expanding the program through to St. Michael's Drive, said even if a resolution identifying a new location was introduced at next week's City Council meeting, the process still could take some time.

"There is a lot going on here and I think this is where I am finding it very hard to kind of wrap around how to move forward, given there is still a lot of missing information," he said.

He said he would like to see a studies on whether the Railyard's poles could hold the banners and on the stability of other poles around the city.

He pointed to banners hanging on poles on Guadalupe Street and near the La Fonda on the Plaza as needing review — though those poles are not the same as the ones on Cerrillos Road.

"I'm very surprised by the existing banners that are hanging," he said. "We haven't conducted an immediate review of those poles to ensure those are safe."

In the meantime, Christy wrote he is disappointed about the situation.

"There are thousands of cities across the country that have banners on their poles, but for some reason Santa Fe is the only city that they can't fly because of safety issues," Christy wrote. "Give me a break."


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