C.A. Orders Publication of Its Opinion Affirming Denial of Order to Restore Statue of Father Serra
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Div. Six of the Court of Appeal for this district decided yesterday to order publication of its May 12 opinion affirming the denial of a writ of mandate ordering the City of Ventura to restore a statue of Father Junípero Serra to its spot in front of City Hall.
Ventura—officially designated “San Buenaventura”—uprooted the bronze statue on July 22, 2020, in light of concerns that Father Serra (designated in 2015 as a saint) was involved in the enslaving and killing of native Americans in the late 1700s.
The opinion by Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert says:
“This case illustrates the obvious; attitudes and values change. The City of San Buenaventura…removed a statute of Father Junipero Serra because it is now offensive to significant members of the community.
“…We do not judge the wisdom or the action of the City’s legislative enactments….We affirm because the City acted within its legislative prerogative.”
A concrete statue of Father Serra, founder of California’s early missions, was unveiled in 1936 and, in 1974, the city declared it to be Historic Landmark No. 3. A new statue—a duplicate of the original time-worn statue, except that it was cast in bronze—was dedicated in 1989.
At the base, a plaque identified it as “Landmark. No. 3.” In 2002, the city included the statue on its list of historic landmarks.
The Coalition for Historical Integrity, which unsuccessfully sought to bar removal of the statue, then pressed efforts to have it restored, argued that in light of the historic status of the statue, review under the California Environmental Quality Act was required, but had not taken place. The city responded that the 1989 statue cannot be deemed “historic” because it does need meet the 40-years-old requirement.
“It is true that for most of the statue’s history the City viewed the original concrete statue and its bronze replacement as one. Recently however, the City viewed the statues as two separate statues. The Coalition cites no authority that prevents the City from changing its view. It is beyond question that the original concrete statue and its bronze replacement, are in fact two different statues.”
Gilbert’s opinion rejects the stance of the coalition that the members of the City Council acted in a quasi-judicial role, that judges must be unbiased, and that the actual bias of some members of the body rendered the decision infirm. The jurist wrote:
“The City decided to remove the statue because it was offensive to some members of the community. The City was not engaged in finding facts under criteria established by a statute or ordinance. It was making policy. The City’s decision to remove the statue was quasi-legislative.”
The case is Coalition for Historical Integrity v. City of San Buenaventura, B319536.
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