Supporters of an Orcutt veterans' monument make a stand against Caltrans

Cars honked and curious passersby lent support to an Orcutt Vietnam veteran who recently took his fight against Caltrans over a proposed memorial onto an embankment near Highway 101’s Clark Avenue exit.

click to enlarge Supporters of an Orcutt veterans' monument make a stand against Caltrans
THE MARINES HAVE LANDED: : Vietnam veteran and president of the Old Town Orcutt Revitalization Association Steve LeBard (right) and U.S. Marine veteran Rick Pushies (left) waved American flags near the Clark Avenue exit ramp in Orcutt to protest Caltrans’ policy banning political expression on right-of-ways under the department’s jurisdiction. The action stemmed from Caltrans’ denial of a memorial LeBard proposed that would incorporate a 60-foot flagpole into the design.

Steve LeBard, president of the Old Town Orcutt Revitalization Association (OTORA), wants to build a monument honoring veterans near the site, comprised of a 60-foot flagpole surrounded by five pillars representing each branch of the Armed Forces. Caltrans has denied the project, citing a 2003 U.S. Court of Appeals ruling defining display of the American flag as “expressive [First Amendment] activity.”

Defying Caltrans’ resulting policy banning political expression on its right-of-ways, LeBard stood like a sentinel with Old Glory in hand, vowing to return every day during high traffic hours until Caltrans takes action against him or changes its policy.

“I’m calling Caltrans out,” LeBard dared. ”If it’s against their policy, they need to do something about it.”

From his perch, LeBard made reference to the U.S. Court of Appeals case and warned his conflict with Caltrans could turn into a similar legal nightmare.

“They know I’m out here; I made them aware of it,” he said. “So if they don’t do something about it and the next guy comes along, they put themselves in the same position.”

LeBard was joined by Rick Pushies, commandant with the Marine Corps League’s Coastal Valley Detachment 1340, who would maintain the memorial if it’s allowed to be built. Choking back tears, Pushies called the situation “ludicrous.”

“We’ve earned the right to fly this flag. It’s just that simple,” he said. “I don’t think the state of California has the right to tell us we can’t.”

According to Pushies, the Marines are readying for a battle over the proposed monument. The Marine Corps League Department of California is asking all state detachments to urge Marines to show support for SB 443, a bill authored by Sen. Tony Strickland that would allow the Old Town Orcutt Revitalization Association to build the memorial.

“There’s going to be a lot of letters written by some very angry Marines and they’re going to wonder what in the world is going on,” Pushies said. “We will stand up and right the wrong.”

Taking his newfound mission in stride, LeBard planned to travel to Sacramento on April 12 to testify before the State Senate on behalf of the Strickland bill.

“It’s kind of fallen into my lap, and I just feel obligated to do it,” LeBard said. “If we don’t leave our kids with patriotism, we’ve lost our country.”

On April 12, Jim Shivers, a representative for Caltrans, told the Sun there’s been talk of LeBard’s project being resubmitted as a “gateway memorial,” but it would have to be built on private land adjacent to the highway.

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