Balboa Island residents holding firm after Newport flags their patriotic displays

Fourth of July banners are strung house to house across Topaz Street on Balboa Island.
(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

They’ll admit it’s more tempest in a teapot than Boston Tea Party, but some residents of Newport Beach’s Balboa Island are staging their own revolt of sorts leading up to this year’s celebration of Independence Day.

Their protest is red, white, blue and plastic.

Strings of small triangular flags hang about 20 feet above the asphalt on a handful of the island’s narrow avenues. The garlands are stretched across the streets home to home, attached to a chimney here or a balcony there.

Residents said they added them a few weeks ago as a show of patriotism for the Fourth of July.

“It adds a festive touch to the island,” said Sharon Lambert, whose house helps hold up one of the dozen or so strings of flags on Topaz Avenue.

Join the conversation on Facebook >>

On Monday, however, Lambert and some of her neighbors got a letter from the city of Newport Beach. The neighborhood’s flags had run afoul of the municipal code.

“This is a friendly reminder that all pennants, banners, lights, decorations, etc., are permitted to be placed out on private property only,” the letter reads. “All items strung across property lines or which impede the public area is not permitted.”

The letter said residents had until the next day to remove the garlands or “further enforcement actions may be taken.”

But on Tuesday morning, the flags still flew over Topaz Avenue.

About a dozen more strings fluttered stiffly along nearby Coral Avenue, along with about a half-dozen a few blocks to the east on Amethyst Avenue and a sprinkling here and there on at least three other streets.

Most residents plan to comply with the city’s “reminder” — just not yet, said Pat Galt, whose Coral Avenue home was decked out Tuesday in red, white and blue decorations alongside a USC flag.

“I think we’ve all decided we’re not going to do it until after the Fourth,” she said.

Tim Leedom, who has lived on the island for 20 years, called the city’s letter an absurd demand to take down harmless decorations.

He contends the flags are hung high enough that they don’t interfere with the public right of way.

“No bicycler is going to be decapitated,” Leedom said. “Nothing is going to happen even if a truck came through.”

He recalled seeing similar decorations on the island as long ago as the 1960s. “It’s kind of a tradition,” he said.

Lambert and others who began hanging the garlands last year said they were never told to stop before.

But this year, a resident complained about the flags, which prompted code enforcement officials to send out the letter, according to Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff.

“To me, this is silly that we’re even involved in this,” Kiff said Tuesday.

But, he added, hanging the decorations over public property is technically barred by the city, making it hard to ignore.

Such a violation could trigger fines if residents don’t comply with the letter, but Kiff said he plans to make an executive decision to forgo such a harsh penalty at this point.

“They do need to come down soon, but ‘soon’ can be after the Fourth of July,” Kiff said.

As for next year, the City Council may want to consider whether to change the rules, he said.


Jeremiah Dobruck,

Twitter: @jeremiahdobruck