A memorial for Tibetans killed during the Chinese occupation of the country was placed outside San Leandro City Hall before Monday night’s discussion of a controversial raising of the Chinese flag over its seat of government. PHOTO/Shane Bond 

SAN LEADNRO CITY COUNCIL//FLAG FLAP | San Leandro’s most ardent and emotionally boiling topic in recent years continued to stir angst Monday night as the city council considered the raising of the flag of the People’s Republic of China for a second time. Mayor Stephen Cassidy suspended the initial vote to approve the raising of the flag two weeks ago. He voiced strong opposition to raising another country’s flag over San Leandro city hall.

The council voted in a superseding resolution instead to create an ad hoc committee to revive the Civic and Culture Committee to hammer out a policy on raising other country’s flags over city hall. Although idea to discuss action toward a new policy was first proposed by Cassidy, he spoke with disappointment over the council spending so much time on such a divisive topic.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions, but we spent probably four hours that is completely outside of our city goals and taking us away from other things we need to do,” said Cassidy, “I suspended this not because I disagreed with the decision because I obviously voiced my opinion and lost but I did it because we were going to have a major protest and we were going to have to bulk up the police presence and for what? To raise a flag at city hall?”

Cassidy said “we botched this,” and believed if anyone was to deal with creating a flag policy was the Human Services Commission. But Cassidy’s ire for the flag raising was just as fiercely met by Councilmember Jim Prola’s support for the flag.

Prola wanted Councilmember Benny Lee, who first proposed the flag raising and was absent Tuesday night because of a business trip to China, to join Cassidy on an ad hoc committee in hopes of creating a compromise over the flag raising. “I’m sure you two can come back with a compromise and we will vote, 7-0,” Prola said. “We have flown flags from other nations before and we have done it at City Hall. We don’t fly them in place of the American flag. We take down the city flag and put it there,” said Prola. “I am tired of this dissention and division also, but I think we need to unite as a city and let’s try to come to some sort of compromise.”

Prola further strongly opposed pushing the issue off to the Human Services Commission, “They deal with grants to non-profits,” explained Prola, “They may not be able to handle this.”

The rest of the council agreed with Prola that an ad hoc committee should be created and different councilmembers should serve on it rather than forwarding to a commission. “This should stay within the council,” said Councilmember Diana Souza. The council overwhelming approved the resolution to create a temporary committee with only Cassidy voting against it.

But outside of the moment of bellicose speeches between Prola and Cassidy the chamber was filled with Tibetan human rights activists primed with anti-Chinese government signs in hand. Most of the speakers Tuesday spoke in opposition to the flag raising and even went so far as to create a memorial on the steps of City Hall for Tibetans who have died under oppression by the  Chinese government oppression. However, a few speakers who spoke largely in Mandarin showed their support for the Chinese flag raising.

Even though the issue isn’t about economic or sociological matters in San Leandro it was intended to be a symbolic gesture to Chinese to help foster solidarity for one of San Leandro’s largest ethnic groups and prominent voting blocs.

Chinese Americans in San Leandro are known to vote largely in unison and Cassidy’s hard fought stance against the flag raising despite Chinese Americans voicing support for it may take a bite out of potential support for Cassidy. However, Lee’s initial move to propose the flag raising appeared to be an undercooked proposition without consideration to the passionate opposition it would invite. Even though, this issue will likely play a role in next year’s election cycle.

In the meantime, no council members have been selected yet to serve on the committee. Instead the council decided to wait for Lee’s return before deciding. Other council members besides Cassidy want to see a third council member on the committee other than Lee and Cassidy.

Shane Bond is an East Bay Citizen contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Shane_Bond_.