By Michael Hernandez
VENTURA—City Council member Jim Friedman (District 5) directed City Attorney Gregory Diaz to see if the final decision on the Junipero Serra statue could be placed before voters in the November general election despite being told by City Clerk Antoinette Mann that the Ventura County deadline for placing measures in the general election ballot was July 1st. The California deadline is August 1st.
City Council members were told by city staff at the beginning of the meeting that no decision could be made on the Junipero Serra staff because of a technical issue where the City had to check on the environmental impact of removing the statue.
The City had already determined that the statue was not subject to any historical landmark rulings because that designation pertained to earlier Junipero Serra statues (the first statue erected in 1936 and the second in 1974 as Historic Landmark 3) and not to the bronze statue erected in 1989 which did not qualify as a historic landmark. This conclusion had been reached following a Historic Preservation Committee meeting on July 1st. Some 20 public comments were made at this meeting. Staff believe that the City Council has the authority to decide the future of the statue whether historical or not?
City staff admitted at the beginning of the meeting that the City of Ventura was facing potential lawsuits for removal of the statue. City Attorney Gregory Diaz also informed the City Council they had the option of removing the Junipero Serra statue (for its protection) until they made a decision on what they should do? The Junipero Serra statue stands on public land in front of the Ventura City Hall.
Mayor Matt LaVere (elected to the Ventura Board of Supervisors) recused himself from the Ventura City Council special meeting. Local media outlets reported last month that Mayor LaVere had attempted to broker a deal between the City, Father Tom Elewaut of the San Buenaventura Mission Church and Julie Tuamamait-Stenslie, a Chumash leader and elder with the Ventureno/Barbareno band of Mission Indians to remove the statue.
City Council members were also told as recently as Friday night there had been efforts to vandalize the statue (with nine separate incidents); which has a chain link fence surrounding it as well as cameras installed on it.
The City Council meeting generated 123 public comments (over 180 individuals sought to make public comments before public comments were capped. Not all waited the five hours to make comments). Of the 123 public comments, those seeking the removal of the Junipero Serra statues outnumbered those in favor of keeping the statue by a margin of 78 to 45. However, many more (over 1,000) submitted their opinions in other ways to the City.
Both sides seemed to support letting voters decide the fate of Junipero Serra.
Some comments made for removing the Junipero Serra statue:
- Amber: “Junipero Serra does not represent our values. It does the town of Ventura harm.”
- John: “I demand the removal of the Father Junipero Serra statue. The Spanish missionaries committed heinous acts of rape and genocide against the Chumash Indians.”
- Steven: “This statue must come down. It was a mistake to place the original statute in 1936. We need to remove this statue and Serra’s name from schools.”
- Dana: “We need to reclaim our cultural identities which were all stolen because of missionization. This statue symbolizes inequality and represents pain. How can we heal when this man beat us and forced us from our homelands.”
- Vera: “Serra had a devastating impact on the Chumash and indigenous communities. He represented a colonial system.”
- Sara: “Why is this even a debate? We celebrate someone who was wrong. Take this statue down. He represents the pain of our past.”
- Paul: “We have talked from our heart about the pain (from) this person who is a symbol of colonization still remains on public property.”
- Marie: “Remove this statue. Why is there a religious statue of a Catholic saint placed before a public building? Remove it no later than July 14.”
- Joe: “The sainthood (of Junipero Serra) by the Catholic establishment is an insult. He was an imperialist, a colonialist and was part of the Spanish inquisition. He is anti-Jewish and anti-Protestant.”
- Joey: “Why do we glorify genocide? We have a right to be heard; so do the indigenous people.”
- Thomas: “San Luis Obispo and San Juan Bautista took down their Junipero Serra statues.”
- Naoimi: “Remove the statue so we can have an era of healing from generational trauma.”
- Nate: “No one is going to be crying when this statue is gone.”
- Deb: “Stop this glorification of saints. Stand up for justice against white supremacy.
- Jeanette: “I demand the removal of the Serra statue. He represents an ugly time of California history.
- Ray: “Serra led a religious genocide against the Chumash Indians. We have been asking for the removal of the statue for 20 years. I vote to remove it immediately.”
- Daniel: “We need to take down the Serra statue to an appropriate place.”
Some comments made for keeping the Junipero Serra statue:
- Dominic: “Junipero Serra founded this beautiful city. Keep it intact in its original place.”
- Angelo: “This is not about one statue in one city as an isolated incident. This is part of a national trend to remove or cancel any historical figures. We need to stop this cancel culture.”
- John: “This is a violation of the Brown Act and of the California Environmental Auality Act. We will take legal action on your procedural misconduct. Councilmembers (Lorie) Brown and (Christy) Weir should recuse themselves for their deliberate bias.”
- Katie: “I am defending the reputation of our city founder against baseless slurs and filth thrown at him against his reputation.”
- Anna: “Tearing down our Father Serra statue is not a phenomenon unique to Ventura. Do you want to protect (this statute) or cater to a mob? I am taking a stance to defend our statue. I hope you make the right choice.”
- Gabriel: “I am in support of the Father Serra statue. There is no historical evidence in support of the lies we are hearing.”
- Pete: “Keep this statute safe from vandals. We need to send a message that we live in a city that stands against the whims of a mob.”
- Jack: “The Junipero Serra statue represents hope to future generations.”
- Jim: “You (City Council) are moving too fast on this historic decision about a historic landmark.”
- Josh: “Keep this statue. Mayor LaVere recusing himself was the right thing to do. You are playing a shell game to remove it. Where is the environmental report?”
- Garrett: “I oppose removing this statue. Do not erase the past. The majority of Venturans do not want this statue removed.
- Veronica: “I will not vote for removing of this statue in an undemocratic way (not placing this issue to the voters).”
- Scott: “I will take legal action for your procedural misconduct (in removing this statue).”
- Joan: “We are talking about a real person. Not a religion. Did you know that he defended the Native Americans that killed his missionary friend in San Diego?”
- Michael: “I am an attorney. You need to acknowledge Brown Act violations and many other violations. The City is making a lot of mistakes and needs to slow down to do significant analysis before making a decision to tear down this statue.”
- Francisco: “Do not follow the rule of the mob. I will help fund the legal action against the city. Serra loved the Chumash. He deserves a place of honor in our city.”
- Wendy: “I am defending the Father Serra statue. The video shows on the June 20 protest (to remove the statue,) defenders linked arms and prayed and faced obscenities and hatred.”
No mention was made at the City Council special meeting of the four petitions on Change.org (two petitions for removing and two petitions for keeping the Ventura Junipero Serra statue) which broke down as follows: 9,296 signatures for removing the Junipero Serra statue and 5,334 signatures for keeping the statue (a total of 14,630 signatures). For comparison, a petition to remove the Junipero Serra statue in Hillsborough received 135 signatures.
The Ventura City Council will once again address the fate of the Junipero Serra statue at a special city council meeting on Wednesday, July 15. The cost for a special election to decide the fate of Junipero Serra is $250,000 if Ventura County does not allow the issue to be voted upon in the General Election.
City Council members up for re-election in November include:
- Cheryl Heitmann (at-large) who was first elected in November 2011 and has served as both Mayor and Deputy Mayor. She is a licensed clinical social worker with a private practice for 18 years and has served eight years on the Ventura Community College District Board (including two terms as President).
- The council seat of Mayor Matt LaVere (elected to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors District 1) elected in 2016 and principal of LaVere Huff LLP, a law firm based in downtown Ventura. LaVere has served on the executive board of the Ventura College Foundation.
- Christy Weir (at-large), first elected in 2003 and has served as Mayor. She has been a school teacher and a freelance editor and writer. She served at one time as Managing Editor for Gospel Light Publications.
City Council members not facing an election until 2022 include:
- Lorrie Brown (District 6) elected in 2018. She serves as management assistant at the Department of Airports and was the daughter of seasonal farm workers.
- Jim Friedman (District 5) first elected in 1995 and served as a Mayor. After 16-years off the City Council, he was re-elected in 2018. Friedman has been in the financial services industry for 40 years and is a chartered life underwriter and financial consultant for businesses, individuals and families. He served six years as a Ventura Harbor Port Commissioner.
- Erik Nasarenko (District 4) elected to the City Council in 2013. Nasarenko is a Ventura County deputy district attorney where he prosecutes child molestation and rape cases. Previously he served as chief deputy to the Los Angeles school board president and as a communications director to the Los Angeles and Pasadena school districts. He is the son of Ukranian immigrants and has coached youth soccer.
- Deputy Mayor Sophia Rubalcava (District 1) elected in 2018. Rubalcava works as a district translator for the Santa Barbara Unified School District. She serves on the board of a youth mariachi program and serves as Chief Union Steward of her district’s chapter of the California School Employees Association.
(Editor’s Note: Those who see the Junipero Serra statue removed can sign this petition:
https://www.change.org/p/ventura-city-council-removal-of-father-serra-statue-name-change-of-schools. This petition has 9,064 signatures.
Those wishing to keep the Juniper Serra statue can sign this petition:
https://www.change.org/p/historians-fr-serra-statue-in-ventura-we-wont-let-iconoclasts-erase-history-6083485a-fd1b-47e3-94c7-73fbded3067d.. This petition has 4,848 signatures.)
The Junipero Serra statue story generated national media when LifeSiteNews (a nationwide Catholic platform) reported on how 20 heroic Catholic youths kept the statue from being torn down on June 20 by 200 Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists. A larger group of 75 pro-Serra supporters defended the statue from a BLM rally on the Fourth of July.
To see the LifeSiteNews story of the June 20 attempt to remove the statue go to: https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/catholic-youths-heroically-stop-california-mob-from-tearing-down-saints-statue. To see the Citizens Journal story on the July 4 Black Lives Matter protest go to: https://www.citizensjournal.us/independence-day-2020-venturas-bml-protest/.
Godspeak Pastor and former Thousand Oaks Mayor Rob McCoy explained why statues are important for American history during Fireside Chat 91 (a daily 7 p.m. livestream): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hT0NXwwHdBs.) To read the story go to: https://www.citizensjournal.us/pastor-rob-mccoy-explains-why-statues-are-important-for-american-history/
For a five minute video clip with Pastor John MacArthur, Grace Community Church (Sun Valley) on Black Lives Matter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYskKxGlefE.
In California, Junipero Serra statues have been torn down in Golden Gate Park (San Francisco) and at Olvera Street (Los Angeles). San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone asked: “What is happening to our society?”
Meanwhile in Baltimore, Maryland, a Columbus statue dedicated to the Italian-American community by President Ronald Reagan in October 1984 was toppled and thrown into the city’s Inner Harbor by rioters on July 4. Statues of Columbus have also been toppled or vandalized in cities such as Miami; Richmond, Virginia; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Boston, where one was decapitated. In Rochester, New York, a statue of Frederick Douglass, a Black abolitionist was torn down July 4. Other statues of founding fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson have been torn down in Portland, a statue of Ulysses S. Grant in San Francisco and a statue of Hans Christian Heg in Wisconsin. Heg died fighting for the Union Army during the Civil War. Protesters have also attempted to topple a statue of former U.S. President Andrew Jackson near the White House and the Emancipation Memorial of President Lincoln.
Michael Hernandez, Co-Founder of the Citizens Journal—Ventura County’s online news service; editor of the History Makers Report and founder of History Makers International—a community nonprofit serving youth and families in Ventura County, is a former Southern California daily newspaper journalist and religion and news editor. He worked 25 years as a middle school teacher in Monrovia and Los Angeles Unified School Districts. Mr. Hernandez can be contacted by email at [email protected].