Santa Cruz County Flag: Rainbow Vision

Three flags fly at the Santa Cruz County Court House. You know the top two. Did you ever even notice the County Flag on the bottom?
Three flags fly at the Santa Cruz County Court House. You know the top two. Did you ever even notice the County Flag on the bottom?

Did you know that Santa Cruz County has an official flag? And not surprisingly, our flag is strikingly different from any other county flags out there. It is clearly not a requirement for counties to have an official flag; of California’s 58 counties, only 20 have them. Nineteen of them look very official and “governmenty.” They have the county’s name, and generally have some seal-like image that promotes the region’s local resources. But not Santa Cruz! No, Santa Cruz went for a feeling. The result: we have a redwood tree on top of a rainbow. That’s it. No text at all.

Flags from four other California Counties.
Flags from four other California Counties.
The Santa Cruz County Flag.
The Santa Cruz County Flag.

History Behind the Rainbow

Luckily, local historian Sandy Lydon presents some context for the county’s process (see his great website at Lydon was on the committee that contributed to the flag’s design and selection in the early 1980s. While even he is unclear as to the motivation that went into the decision to create a Santa Cruz County flag, he does know a bit about how it was created.

The committee solicited concept ideas from the local schools. They received primarily rainbows and sea lions and concluded they could not decide on a concrete image choice. The august committee then confessed its lack of inspiration, but did recommend to the Board of Supervisors that the new flag NOT include a rainbow. Lydon emphasizes this was in no way a comment on other uses of rainbow symbolism, such as by LGBT advocates. “We were just sick to death of rainbows.”

The Santa Cruz County Flag also flies at the County Transfer stations. These are at the Ben Lomond transfer station.
The Santa Cruz County Flag also flies at the County Transfer Stations. These are at the Ben Lomond transfer station.

Ed Penniman created the final flag and, apparently, neither he nor the Board paid much heed to their own committee given that a rainbow is the cornerstone of the design. The final design was also reviewed by the Santa Cruz County Arts Commission, adopted by the Board and officially dedicated on July 4, 1983. At the dedication, Penniman explained his rationale:

“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.”

Predicting the Future?

The flag’s design could be interpreted as sort of a telegraph into the future of green marketing and ecotourism. The focus for promotion of businesses these days is to highlight Santa Cruz’s beauty, lifestyle, and values as truly unique (and worth a visit)! Perhaps Penniman and the school kids got it right. We may not have a monopoly on rainbows, but we, uniquely, understand that rainbows inspire people in a deep way. When I see them I am often compelled to stop, look, briefly re-evaluate my life, and resolve to be a better person and better appreciate the world’s beauty. Twenty-first century social media agrees. Any photo with a rainbow in it is at least ten times more popular than the rest. The only thing that beats it is a photo of a breaching whale.

Perhaps the Board of Supervisors should update the official Santa Cruz County flag to add a breaching whale next to the tree?
What’s your take on the Santa Cruz County Flag?

  1. Sources Used

    • Secret History: A Flag for Santa Cruz County. Sandy Lydon. Website.
    • Flags of the Counties of the United States. Wikipedia.

About The Author

I really enjoy field trips. I love being in a cool place and having someone tell me about it. The problem is, you can’t always find a professor or park ranger-type to tell you all they know about the local rocks, plants, and history. So I decided to combine my love of things natural with mobile technology.

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  1. Pablo Yale

    Well I’m glad we resisted the urge to throw in the seal or words, but having a flag so close to an already well known symbol for lgbt rights doesn’t make our town stand apart. Maybe if we only had 3 colors, and made a white stripe in the shape of our coastline across the flag. Keeping green on one side for growth and blue on the other for the ocean and environment. I could get behind that.

    1. Nima Shariat

      Hey Pablo,
      I’m actually working on a design to bring to the Board as a flag referendum that aligns pretty well with the ideas you proposed. I would love to get your feedback and support.
      Nima Shariat

      1. Ranger Gaudinski

        Thanks Nima. How fun! Let me know when you present it and we can update this article or do a new one about your flag design and presentation to the County Board of Supervisors.


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