The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday to place a litte cross atop the depiction of the San Gabriel Mission on the county seal.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas cast the third vote needed by Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Don Knabe, who made the motion. Supervisors Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky voted “no.”
Until 2004, the county seal depicted the Roman goddess Pomona (representing agriculture), the Spanish galleon San Salvador, a tuna, a cow, the Hollywood Bowl, an oil well, two stars representing the County’s motion picture and television industries and a cross.
The post-2004 seal replaced Pomona with a Native American woman and added a depiction of the San Gabriel Mission, but without a cross on the roof.
The redesign of the seal would include a cross on the roof of the mission. The cross was removed from the actual mission for renovation in 1989 and restored in 2009.
Antonovich and Knabe’s motion states that the goal of the change is to make the seal historically accurate and acknowledge the importance of the San Gabriel mission in the formation of Los Angeles County.
Pre-2004 county seal
“In order to commemorate the significant role of the San Gabriel Mission in the historical and cultural development of Los Angeles County, its image is on the County seal…” the motion reads. “The current rendering of the Mission on the seal is artistically and architecturally inaccurate.”
Of the several commenters who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, some were in favor.
Steve Lanb of Altadena didn’t see the motion as a promotion of religion
“If we were going to remove all reference to religion from the county government, we’d have to change the name of the county,” he said.
He also noted that the depiction of the cross on the pre-2004 seal represented the sunrise service at the Hollywood Bowl and was also not a promotion of religion.
Antonovich, in his comments, emphasized that his motion was mainly concerned with accuracy.
Adding the cross “supports a historical fact,” he said.
“What we have is correcting a situation where the mission has the cross, because it is historical,” he said. “We are not adding. We are just correcting…”
Antonovich also noted that the history of California mission is something taught in fourth-grade classroom across the state.
Yaroslavsky, who voted against the motion, took issue with the fact that putting a cross back on the seal could expose the county to litigation.
He also said that using a religious symbol on a government seal is unconstitutional.
“The cross that was on that seal (pre-2004) was clearly stated by the county to represent religion,” he said. “(The) issue of accuracy is an interesting one, but it is not a constitutional one… There are a hundred ways we could depict that history, but the one’s that been chosen is a cross.”
Another commenter who did not give his name, spoke in support of the American Civil Liberties Union and said that he believed the cross to be a “sectarian religious symbol.”
“Religious pluralism has flourished, because the government doesn’t support one religion,” he said.
A new draft of the county seal artwork has not yet been released.
Statement from Supervisor Mike Antonovich:
A motion by Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Don Knabe to fix the inaccurate architectural depiction of the San Gabriel Mission currently on the Los Angeles County seal was approved on a 3-2 vote with Supervisors Antonovich, Knabe and Ridley-Thomas voting in favor and Yaroslavsky and Molina opposed.
“To accurately reflect the role of the San Gabriel Mission in the historical and cultural development of Los Angeles County, today’s action corrects the current rendering of the mission on the county seal which is artistically and architecturally inaccurate.” said Supervisor Antonovich. “The history of Los Angeles County began with the founding of the San Gabriel Mission by Father Junipero Serra in September, 1771. Also known as the ‘Pride of the California Missions,’ its doors opened directly to the El Camino Real which connected all of California’s great missions, pueblos and presidios.”
“For hundreds of years, the mission has been the historic center for culture and art in our region and has had a vital influence on the expansion and development of Los Angeles County. It was the site of the area’s first hospital and the birthplace of the last Spanish governor of Alta California, Pio Pico.”
“Learning about the missions is a part of the California 4th grade curriculum where students are asked to build model missions and complete reports on a particular mission. In addition, two other California counties, Ventura and San Benito, have missions with crosses on their seals, as does the city of San Luis Obispo.”
“At the time that the seal was redesigned in 2004, the cross had been missing from the top of the Mission since 1989, when it was taken down to retrofit the structure after damage from the Whittier Narrows earthquake. The cross was subsequently returned to the top of the mission in 2009.”
“We appreciate the input and participation from the community whose strong support for the mission, its significance to our county and the need to ensure the architectural accuracy of the county seal, resulted in today’s action.”