Pictured: Protestors wanting the St. Junipero Serra statue removed confront protestors demanding it be left in place in front of Ventura City Hall on July 4, 2020. Photo by Barry Harrington. 

by Kimberly Rivers

kimberly@vcreporter.com

No decision yet on Serra Statue

On Tuesday, July 7, in a virtual meeting that lasted nearly five hours for the single agenda item, the Ventura City Council voted unanimously, with one recusal, to hold another special meeting on Wednesday, July 15, regarding the removal of the St. Junipero Serra statue in front of city hall. This will allow the city to properly agendize the decision.

Mayor Matt LaVere recused himself at the beginning of the meeting, on the advice of the city attorney and to keep the meeting “fair and free of bias.” He noted that the statement he issued last month with Father Tom Elewaut of the San Buenaventura Mission parish and Julie Tumamait-Stenslie, chair of the Barbareño-Ventureño Band of Mission Indians, which called for the process of removing the statue to begin, indicated his position.  

Gregory Diaz, city attorney, told the council that at least one comment received was “correct” in pointing out that the city needed to make particular “findings” in order to legally remove the statue and that those findings had to be noted in the meeting’s agenda. That meant a final decision could not take place that night. 

Diaz gave councilmembers an additional option of removing the statue to “protect” it, as other cities have done, if they believed it was at risk of damage or vandalism. The council did not discuss or vote on that option. 

“There is already a fence surrounding the statue and storing it away would not directly address the core of community outcry regarding the statue…Last night I heard the people demand a decision,” said Lorrie Brown, Ventura City Councilmember. During the council’s vote to set a new special meeting, Brown hesitated before casting her “yes” vote. “I was weighing the reasoning of extending the decision beyond two days of deliberation. I am against unnecessary delays because the people want an answer.”

Local Chumash tribe members have been calling for the removal of the statue for decades and the issue has come to the head in conjunction with the Black Lives Matter movement and local marches and protests. 

There were over 400 people attending the online meeting, with about 180 people initially signed up to speak. Some of those people left the meeting as the hours passed. 

Most of those commenting supported the removal of the statue, but a strong showing was made by supporters of keeping the statue in place, with many calling for the issue to be placed on the November ballot to let a vote of the people decide. Some warned city council members that if they voted to remove the statue, they could be voted out of office.

Many of those calling for the statue to stay discarded the historical accounts — such as the colonization and decimation of the Chumash culture as well as the forced conversion and violence that went along with those efforts during the mission period — made by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

The video of the July 7 virtual Ventura City Council meeting is online at: https://www.cityofventura.ca.gov/718/Videos

July 4 Black Lives Matter march

On Saturday, July 4, a Black Lives Matter march started at Cemetery Park in Ventura, moved to E. Harbor Blvd., enveloping all lanes, and moved west to California St. over the 101 freeway overpass and up to the Serra statue. 

A Black Lives Matter march organized by the Ventura-based nonprofit Dark Matter Collective takes over E. Harbor Blvd. in Ventura on July 4, 2020. Photo by Barry Harrington.

About 400 people coalesced at the statue, now encircled by a chain link fence put up the city to protect it from harm. The fence was ringed by supporters of the statue and people holding images representing Jesus Christ. Ventura Police officers were on the scene monitoring the crowd.

Members of the public at the protests reported two incidents involving motor vehicles moving into and through the throng of protestors. 

“The safety people were blocking the street and the guy in the truck revved his engine a few times, then went to go forward and ended up running over one of the bikes,” said Tasha Salas of Ventura, a protestor who witnessed the truck’s movements. “Luckily, the person was able to drop their bike and get out of the way.” 

We did receive a report that a vehicle ran over a bicycle that belonged to someone  who was assisting as a traffic guard for the protestors,” said Sam Arroyo, commander with the Ventura Police Department. “Our detectives are investigating the incident.” He said no injuries were reported related to the march.  

The second incident,  confirmed in a video sent to the VCReporter, shows five men on motorcycles driving east on E. Harbor Blvd., at the California St. intersection. They drove through a line of people with bicycles and into the protestors who had taken over the street. 

Oxnard Police response to illegal fireworks

On July 5, Eric S. Sonstegard, assistant chief for the Oxnard Police Department, issued the following statement to the Oxnard City Council: 

“Last night between 4:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m., our Emergency Communications Center handled 907 calls for service. This might have been the busiest night in the history of the dispatch center.

We had a total of seventy-five (75) officers working throughout the day. This includes details dedicated to the beach, fireworks, and DUI enforcement.

Officers issued forty-eight (48) fireworks citations in the past 36 hours. This was over 2x the amount we’ve ever written on this holiday. The use of the UAS (“Drone”) was helpful in identifying many of the problem residences.

We assisted Oxnard Fire in the 4500 block of Hamilton on a traumatic fireworks injury. One adult male had his thumb severed off and a companion suffered moderate injuries to his face and hands.”

Reports of illegal fireworks came from all parts of the county throughout the night of July 4, in some areas the reports extended throughout the day on July 5. 

Citrus disease-smelling dogs now based in Ventura County

After three years of planning, Ventura County now has a team of specially trained dogs and a handler ready to scout local citrus orchards in an effort to detect the Huanglongbing disease that is destroying citrus orchards across the United States and has been detected in the county. 

On June 4, the team arrived to set up a West Coast headquarters at a farmhouse in Saticoy for the Florida-based company F1K9. The company is in the process of hiring a second handler. 

John Krist, CEO of the Ventura County Farm Bureau, and Leslie Leavens, chair of the Ventura County ACP-HLB Task Force, met Dr. Tim Gottwald three years ago in Florida during a live demonstration of the dogs at work. Gottwald ran the federally funded research project to train dogs to detect the disease. 

Dogs have checked county orchards twice in 2019 and in January 2020. They were originally scheduled to take up residence in the county in March, but the pandemic delayed that plan. 

Citrus growers interested in a grove survey can contact Bill Moraitis at bmoraitis@f1-k9.com or 386-586-8115. 

Local graduates of public online school

The California Connections Academy, Central Coast announced two high school graduates from Ventura County. Alexander Rocha of Oxnard and Andres Martin of Simi Valley have received their diplomas from the free, public, full-time school as part of 800 graduates in the class of 2020 across eight schools in the state. 

Authorized through the Cuyama Joint Unified School District, California Connections Academy offers a fully online educational model for K-12 students in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. The program uses fully credentialed teachers and curriculum that complies with the state “a to g” entrance requirements for state colleges and universities. 

According to school officials, there are currently 34 students from Ventura County enrolled in the school. 

More information at www.connectionsacademy.com/california-online-school