Photo by Marianne Muegenburg Cothern/Flickr/Creative Commons
One of those supporting the move was the city’s public works director, Deacon Phil Nelson, who filed a declaration that the statue was “at serious risk of damage.”
Under cover of darkness on the morning of July 23, the city of Ventura removed the statue of Junipero Serra that stood in front of city hall and shipped it off to an undisclosed storage facility. A lawsuit filed earlier this week challenges the validity of the city council’s vote to remove the statue.
The city council voted unanimously on July 15 to remove the bronze statue from in front of city hall and the identical wooden statue from the interior of the building. After hearing hours of public comment in support of and opposition to the statue and Junipero Serra himself, with many people calling Serra a “monster” or “rapist” who has no place in Ventura, some council members couched their votes in terms of inclusivity and “hearing” the people who claimed to be hurt by the statue’s presence.
The Coalition for Historical Integrity filed a lawsuit on July 21 and asked for a restraining order against the city to prevent it from removing the statue. The lawsuit challenges the validity of the city council’s vote to remove the bronze statue, primarily on the basis that the city sidestepped rules for historic resources by simply declaring the statue was not a landmark. The petition presents pages of evidence that the city formally recognized the monument as a historic landmark in 1973, repeatedly affirmed that designation in official documents, and did not question the historic designation until June of this year.
In the city’s response to the coalition’s petition, the city public works director, Phil Nelson, filed a declaration that the statue was at “serious risk of damage,” having been splashed with paint a month ago. The statue was under 24-hour camera surveillance and surrounded by a double layer of fencing, locked with bolts and chains. He declared under penalty of perjury that the city had “a high level of concern” that the statue would be damaged if left in its present location and that he was in charge of removing, storing, and “ultimately” relocating the statue. Phil Nelson is an ordained Catholic deacon, serving at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ojai.