Sept. 06--If the Petaluma skyline has seemed different lately, it might be because the iconic Dairymen's Feed & Supply Co. has been missing its stars and stripes.
For the third time in a year, vandals recently cut the American flag free of its rooftop flag pole mounted 108 feet above downtown Petaluma, saddening and infuriating those associated with the feed co-op on East Washington Street.
"You can't believe how frustrating this is to me," co-op President Arnie Riebli said Wednesday. "It's just complete disrespect for what we stand for."
The 11-story feed mill, storage silos and towering grain elevator dominate the skyline even as they provide a reminder of the city's long agricultural tradition.
The flag that flies above the 1937 building "is a fixture in Petaluma, that big, huge flag," Petaluma Police Sgt. Ralph Evans said.
But for the third time, the second since March, someone broke into the building over the weekend, climbed to the roof through the feed mill and slashed through the metal rings used to attach the 10-by-15-foot flag to its moorings.
"It upsets you, you know, to think that someone is stealing the flag. And for what purpose?" office manager Clarette McDonald asked.
That it was cut is even more offensive, she said, calling it "heart wrenching that people would do that to our flag."
"When they cut it, they desecrated it," said Evans.
Riebli said workers last saw the flag in its place on Friday evening.
When someone climbed to the roof Saturday evening to mount banners honoring a local youth baseball team recently returned from the Little League World Series, the American flag was gone, he said.
McDonald said a rear door found open suggests how the culprit entered. In March, around the 10th, whoever took the flag broke in through a side window that is now covered with welded bars, she said.
Riebli said he's heard that young people hang out inside the fencing around the feed mill, perhaps drinking or using drugs. It may be people have been dared to get the flag, he said.
At least five break-ins at the co-op have occurred this year, McDonald said. Surveillance cameras mounted in the area to try to end the break-ins have ended up broken, Riebli said.
In addition to the vandalism and thefts, there are potential liability concerns raised by the prospect of people climbing to a roof 108 feet up, he said.
A new flag was flying atop the co-op by Wednesday afternoon, but Riebli said he's not sure what the future will hold.
"There is a side of me that says maybe the best thing to do is just not put the flag back up," he said. "And that's unfortunate. ... It's unfortunate for the community that we can't display who we are."
Copyright 2012 - The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.