Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger apologized for a decision by state transportation officials to paint over a giant American flag mural on the side of a Northern California freeway.
The 35-foot long flag was painted on a concrete slab near Interstate 680 in Sunol by three men about two weeks after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.
Even though the mural had been in clear view of commuters for nearly nine years, a Caltrans spokesman said it wasn't until last month that someone in the agency asked if the flag was on state property.
Spokesman Allyn Amsk said it was covered up Wednesday morning.
"We don't allow graffiti on state property," Amsk said Wednesday, the San Jose Mercury News reported. "No matter what kind of graffiti it is, we don't show favoritism."
'Patriotic and meaningful'
However, Schwarzenegger issued a statement Friday expressing profound regret.
“It has come to my attention that Caltrans has recently removed a patriotic and meaningful flag mural that was painted on the side of Interstate 680 following the tragic events of 9-11," he said.
"To do so only days before we celebrate our independence and reflect on the freedoms we are lucky enough to enjoy in America is unconscionable," he added. "I extend my apologies to the artists whose mural inspired drivers along 680 for over eight and a half years.”
R.J. Waldron, Eric Noda and Thomas Hanley — the three artists who painted the flag at the top of the Sunol Grade — have since received messages of support from across the country, the Mercury News reported.
"I think that just gave me the chills and I got all choked up a for second," Noda told the newspaper after being asked about his reaction to the mural being covered.
He said Friday had been "quite a phone call-inundated day" for each of artists as people from all over the U.S. expressed their views. "I didn't realize the gravity of it until this all happened," Noda told the Mercury News.
Hanley sought permission from Caltrans officials to repaint the mural and was asked by Bijan Sartipi, the Bay Area director for Caltrans, to come for a meeting to discuss what to do, the Mercury News reported.
"We don't want to do anything illegal again," Hanley told the paper. "We want to go through the proper channels to get it repainted."