The nonprofit Coalition for Historical Integrity has sued the city of Ventura over the Ventura City Council’s decision to remove the statue of Father Junipero Serra from the front of Ventura City Hall.
The statue was removed during early Thursday and is to be moved to Mission San Buenaventura.
In a memorandum of points filed with the Ventura Superior Court by the Coalition for Historic Integrity’s attorney Jim McDermott, the plaintiff accuses the city of Ventura of “manufacturing a post hoc rationale” for its decision to remove the statue. It alleges that after individuals started agitating for the statue’s destruction in June, the city quickly decided to remove it and got around California Environmental Quality Act guidelines that would have prevented its removal by the city’s Historic Preservation Committee, concluding the statue didn’t qualify as a historic resource.
The memorandum claims this conclusion was reached despite “extensive evidence documenting the historic nature of the statue.”
The city’s HPC report determined that the bronze statue of the California Missions founder that was erected in 1989 and stood until Thursday morning isn’t a historic landmark. Rather, the original stone statue from 1936 that the bronze statue replaced is actually “City of Ventura Landmark No. 3.”
Designated a landmark in 1974, the 1936 stone statue was removed for its bronze replacement due to the original deteriorating for years as a result of age, weather, and even getting doused in paint by vandals in 1980. The stone original is now sitting in “an advanced state of decay” in the open storage yard of the crane operator who removed it in 1989, according to the memorandum.
According to the HPC report, the bronze statue “Does not meet the 40-year threshold generally required for historic designation in the City of Ventura.”
It continues, “As a commemorative statue that is a replica of a 1930s cast stone original, the 1989 statue is not potentially significant in its own right… Therefore, it is not a historical resource as defined by CEQA and its potential relocation would not constitute a significant impact to the environment.”
The plaintiffs argue the conclusion runs against several key points, including: the bronze replacement being referred to as a “landmark renewed” during its 1989 unveiling ceremony; the city of Ventura’s Downtown Specific Plan specifying the Father Serra statue as a historic resource; the city requiring a developer who proposed a condominium project in 2018 to make sure the project “integrates into the context of the Father Serra Statue (Landmark No. 3);” and the statue’s inclusion in a 2007 Historic Resources Group survey of historic landmarks in Ventura.
Removing statues and monuments of the United States’ historical figures from public spaces has become a hot issue as of late. A petition calling for the removal of the Father Serra statue from the Mission Santa Ines in Solvang circulated in the Santa Ynez Valley before Ventura’s decision to move the statue.
In a statement responding to the petition, the Santa Ines Mission said that while Father Serra’s involvement in Spanish colonial policy is “problematic” and the Mission system “far from perfect,” “there is no historical support for the attack on his character found in the wording of the petition and subsequent statements.”
It appears unlikely that the local statute will be removed, as the city of Solvang has no jurisdiction over its placement because it is located on private property.
“We recognize the desire to remove statues that are on public property, but as a place of worship for thousands of Catholic faithful, we respectfully must affirm our First Amendment right to keep the statue of St. Junipero Serra safely on our mission grounds where it stands and where the faithful can visit and venerate it,” the statement read.