City needs to find moral compass
regarding park

Ventura County Star


City needs to find moral compass regarding park

By Patricia Clark Doerner
December 16, 2004

Re: Ventura Public Works Director Ron Calkins' Dec. 4 column, "Tell Ventura leaders how to change Cemetery Park":

In his answer to the unsigned question, "I heard the city is considering improvements to the park. What is going on?" Calkins states that he is "happy many residents enjoy" the use of Cemetery Memorial Park. He would do well to mention the 3,000 people buried in the park who may not be particularly enjoying their stay but have no prospect of moving in the near future.

In the approximately 350 words Calkins devotes to showing his intention of considering all claims for "park" improvement, not once does he mention that the site is, after all, a cemetery! What in God's name is the city of Ventura thinking? A cemetery is a cemetery is a cemetery! The city removed the headstones, the crypts and the markers from the cemetery 40 years ago, but it has not removed the bodies -- bodies of the founders of the city and the county of Ventura, yet city leaders continue planning questionnaires for the neighborhood, just as though they had the legal right to ignore the people buried there.

The most important members of the "neighborhood" cannot speak for themselves. They are the first, the most numerous, the most illustrious -- employ any superlative you wish -- citizens of this neighborhood, yet the city intends to circulate a survey to which they cannot possibly respond.

At the Oct. 30 meeting of the Ventura Parks and Recreation Commission, 30 descendants of those buried in St. Mary's and City cemeteries appeared to plead for the city to consider rectifying the wrongs done to their ancestors. Testimonials were given by members of the Chumash community; descendants of Spanish and Mexican grantees; Spanish Basque; Irish; early judges and attorneys; lawmakers and lawbreakers; but all bona fide citizens of early Ventura.

As Bill Clark, secretary of the interior under Ronald Reagan, put it:

"I am morally certain my family acquired this sanctified earth and their headstones in the expectation of perpetual use and care. Recompense might include:

"-- Marking the graves of the 3,000-plus.

"-- Retrieving available headstones and establishing a secure section of the cemetery for their display. These headstones are priceless witnesses to the city and county's history.

"-- Identifying the site as a cemetery with appropriate signage.

"This ground is hallowed and should be treated accordingly."

Former U.S. Rep. Bob Lagomarsino stated: "Believe it or not, there are times when duly elected officials make mistakes. The duly elected officials of the city of San Buenaventura made a mistake in the 1960s when they made the decision to demolish St. Mary's and City cemeteries. I believe that it is the responsibility of today's city officials to do what they can to rectify that mistake."

Sorry, Bob, but the leaders of the city of Ventura would rather circulate surveys to the immediate neighborhood regarding kiddie play areas and health spas in the "park" than to consider righting a wrong done to city founders.

Conventional wisdom today has it that John Q. Public is suit-happy. Maybe that is because our "leaders" have lost their moral compass.

-- Patricia Clark Doerner, of Ojai, is a member of a Ventura County pioneering family.

Copyright 2004, Ventura County Star. All Rights Reserved.

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