The future of a statue St. Junípero Serra in the city of Ventura will be brought before the court of public opinion at a virtual community discussion to be held Tuesday, July 7.
The Ventura City Council is hosting a special public meeting, along with city leaders, to “determine the next steps” for the statue of St. Junípero located in front of City Hall on Poli Street.
“We want the community to know that we are receptive to their concerns and seek to provide a peaceful environment where all voices are heard and respected,” said Ventura City Manager Alex McIntyre. “This is a historic decision and must involve the voices of the Chumash tribe, the Mission San Buenaventura, residents of Ventura, and the City Council.”
The people of Ventura are invited to share written responses online, which will be reviewed by the City Council. There will be two virtual meetings open to the public as well. The Historic Preservation Committee (HPC) will meet on Wednesday, July 1, at 6 p.m. to review the landmark status of the Father Serra statue.
The following week, on July 7, the City Council will host a virtual meeting open to public discussion on whether the statue should be moved.
These meetings come on the heels of protests across the country, and in California, the destruction of several statues, including the St. Junípero Serra statues in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The Ventura statue was the target of protestors on Saturday, June 20, in a scheduled “Tear Down Junípero Serra” event. Nearly 200 Serra supporters, many of them Catholic, surrounded the statue, praying and holding signs reading “I ♥ Padre Serra,” “Save Serra,” and “Serra: Defender of the Chumash.”
Local Santa Barbara TV station KEYT reported June 21 that Father Tom Elewaut, the pastor of the San Buenaventura Mission, prayed with those defending Serra at the event.
"There are those who want to whitewash historical fact. To say Junípero Serra and the Mission era had no ill effect on the indigenous people known as Chumash is false,” Elewaut was quoted as saying.
“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. Junípero Serra is another Hitler or that the missions were concentration camps to exterminate the Chumash is also categorically false," wrote Elewaut.
St. Junípero founded Mission San Buenaventura in 1782, around which the city now known as Ventura eventually grew. Since 1936, his statue has been installed in front of City Hall. In 1989, the city replaced the original statue with the bronze one that stands today.