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Ventura County

Ventura City Council postpones decision on whether to move Father Serra statue

Serra statue Tueday night
Tracy Lehr / KEYT
Serra and city hall
Tracy Lehr / KEYT

VENTURA, Calif. -- After listening to four hours of public comments, the Ventura City Council voted to postpone the vote on whether to move the Father Junipero Serra Statue in front of city hall until next Wednesday, July 15.

Mayor Matt LaVere recused himself from the vote because he took a position and signed a statement to safely move the statue after meeting with Fr. Tom Elewaut and Tribal Chair Julie Tumamit last month.

People visiting the statue on Tuesday night wondered if it will be moved overnight.

A couple of young people tore down a Save Serra banner before 11 p.m. and took a flag down, too. Both items had been placed on a chain link fence put up around the stature to protect it from being knocked down.

There are surveillance cameras in place, too.

The first statue placed in front of the Ventura City Hall was created by John Palo-Kangas and dedicated in 1936.

When it was showing signs of age, the original cement statue was replaced in 1989 by a statue made by the late Wilbur Rubottom. The newer bronze statue is not considered a landmark.

Attorney Mike Alti threatened the city of Ventura with a lawsuit if it moves the statue in a rushed process.

Some people worry if they don't move it soon it will be damaged by violence.

Peaceful protesters, last month, were told by Chumash Elders not to harm it before it could be removed.

Fourth of July demonstrations brought people for and against the statue's location face-to-face.

When Chumash Elders met with Mayor Matt LaVere and Fr. Tom Elewaut, the pastor of the San Buenaventura Mission, in June, they discussed relocating the statue to the Mission Serra founded.

"We are of one mind that we do not want this to be done in a violent way or disrespectful manner and so we entered a joint statement of solidarity to have public comment and input for the relocation of the statue," said Elewaut.

A similar statue was beheaded at the Old Mission Santa Barbara in 2017 after Serra became a Saint.

"There are those who want to whitewash historical fact. To say Junipero Serra and the Mission era had no ill effect on the indigenous people known as Chumash is false. Throughout the state of Alta California, tens of thousands died due to  European disease that the Chumash had no immune system to fight these diseases. To say that St. Junipero Serra is another Hitler or that the missions were concentration camps to exterminate the Chumash is also categorically false," wrote Elewaut in a newsletter last month.

He said the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is open to moving it to the mission grounds.

Some public speakers would like to see the issue placed on an upcoming ballot. It appears too late to make it onto the November ballot and would cost an estimate $250,000 to place it on a future ballot.

People taking pictures of the fenced-off statue suggested replacing it with a statue of the Jim Carrey character Ace Ventura or a famous local surfer.

Many of the people making comments during the long meeting said now is time to recognize the distress it causes native people who see it daily on the property at the top of California St. in the roundabout in front of Ventura City Hall.

The San BuenaVentura Mission is just a couple blocks away.

Mayor LaVere said the city needs to protect the statue while they figure it out.

He said Fr. Tom is ready to accept it. He agreed it was the right thing to do in order to respect he feeling of the Chumash.

Education / Local Politics

Tracy Lehr

Tracy Lehr is a reporter and the weekend anchor of KCOY|KEYT|KKFX.