San Leandro Councilmember Benny Lee addresses an audience at the city’s marina following a flag-raising ceremony in honor of China’s national day. PHOTO/Steven Tavares 

SAN LEANDRO//FLAG FLAP | They couldn’t fly the Chinese over San Leandro City Hall, so over 100 Chinese Americans in San Leandro, instead, moved it Tuesday to the city’s scenic marina. Meanwhile, pro-Tibetan protesters in Alameda scuttled a similarly planned flag-raising in front of their City Hall to celebrate the country’s national day.

Lee raising the Chinese flag at
the San Leandro Marina
PHOTO/Steven Tavares

Demonstrators carrying signs protesting the Chinese occupation of Tibet chanted and placed themselves in front of a banner celebrating the founding of the current Chinese government, said those who attended both events. Representatives from the Chinese counsel general’s office urged their group to refrain from moving forward with the ceremony.

Although the current controversy over the flying of the Chinese flag in public spaces started last Sept. 16 after San Leandro Councilmember Benny Lee asked for approval to fly the banner over City Hall in recognition of the city’s growing Chinese American community, the event at the marina came off without a hitch. Seven different singing acts entertained those in attendance without much reference to Mayor Stephen Cassidy’s decision last week to suspend the council’s 4-3 vote approving the flying of the Chinese flag over City Hall. Cassidy’s power to negate the vote falls under provisions of the City Charter.

Although the ceremony did not occur at City Hall, Cassidy was not in attendance for the late Tuesday afternoon program at the Marina. The four members of the council who voted for the resolution last month, Councilmembers Jim Prola, Ursula Reed, Diana Souza and Lee, were among the dignitaries for the over two hour ceremony. Council members said an email sent by Cassidy this week instructed them their attendance did not amount to the city endorsing the flag-raising. During his comments, Lee referenced the controversy following Cassidy’s suspension of the council vote.

The two-hour program Tuesday afternoon
featured seven singing artists and groups.
PHOTO/Steven Tavares

“Things got unsettled at City Hall,” Lee said during his remarks and noted Tuesday’s event was solely the work of the community, which scrambled to put together the ceremony in just eight days. Lee helped raise the Chinese flag, while Prola did the same for the U.S. banner. “When we look at these flags together we see a bright future,” said Lee. “We see hope.”

Former San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos, a frequent critic of Cassidy, said the current mayor has insulted a large portion of the community. “It’s an affront to the Asian community in San Leandro,” said Santos after the flag-raising. “Whether he likes it or not, they make up about 30 percent of the population.” As mayor in 2008, Santos led a city delegation to Yangchun for a cultural and economic exchange. Incidentally, Lee, not yet an elected official, was part of the same delegation.

The flag issue may still come up in the near future. The City Council next meets Oct. 7. However, Lee will not be in attendance. He is among a group of local officials coincidentally travelling to China this Sunday. Still unresolved, though, is Cassidy’s assertion a council policy for raising foreign flags over City Hall does not exist. Prola said Tuesday he hopes an ad hoc committee or standing commission could tackle the question and provide potential solutions. Lee told The Citizen he believes Cassidy’s made his decision last week to suspend the council’s decision while “operating on limited information.” In fact, foreign flags have been flown over San Leandro City Hall in the past, including the Chinese flag in 1988.

CORRECTION: The next San Leandro City Council is Monday, Oct. 7, not Oct. 8.