Governor calls removing flag mural 'unconscionable'

Flag painted after 9/11 but state just realized it was on government property

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Friday he's unhappy that the California Department of Transportation has painted over a mural of an American flag on a concrete slab near the Sunol Grade section of Interstate Highway 680 in unincorporated Alameda County near Sunol.

Several people painted the flag after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but Caltrans spokesman Allyn Amsk said today that it was painted over with gray concrete paint on Wednesday after maintenance crews discovered it was on state-owned land.

In a prepared statement, Schwarzenegger called the flag patriotic and meaningful.

He said that to remove the flag, "only a few days before we celebrate our independence and reflect on the freedoms we are lucky enough to enjoy in America is unconscionable. I extend my apologies to the artists whose mural inspired drivers along 680 for over eight and a half years."

Although the flag had been there for eight years and nine months, Amsk said today that maintenance crews only recently determined it was on state-owned land.

Graffiti isn't allowed on state property, and removing the flag doesn't have anything to do with a lack of patriotism on the part of Caltrans, Amsk said.

He said if the people who painted the flag on the concrete slab wanted to paint a flag there again, they could apply to get a permit from Caltrans.

"There are art projects near our highways across the state, but artists need to follow our procedures," Amask said.

Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Andrea McCarthy said the state Business, Transportation and Housing Agency, which oversees Caltrans, "will work with the community and the artists to try to reach a resolution."

Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News

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