San Diego, California - - Update



Mount Soledad Cross

D espite a 5-3 vote by the San Diego City Council on March 8, 2005, to remove a long-disputed cross from a veterans’ memorial on top of Mt. Soledad, the cross hasn’t been moved yet—and if tens of thousands of citizens get their way, it won’t be moved at all.

San Diego’s municipal code allows residents to demand the city council to change its vote on an issue if they can gather 33,000 valid petition signatures in one month. People fighting to keep the Mt. Soledad cross on city land gathered 89,237 signatures between March 8 and April 7—making it the largest known petition drive in San Diego history, said Joshua Gross, director of media relations for San Diegans for the Mt. Soledad National War Memorial.

That forces the city council to do one of two things: Change its 5-3 vote to remove the cross within 10 business days, or put it on a ballot measure for the people to decide—either in a $2 million special election or the next general election. That’s a staggering response, said Charles LiMandri, a local attorney affiliated with the Thomas More Law Center who’s worked on the case. This really is a democracy in action. The elected officials weren’t doing what they were supposed to be doing, so we’re just taking it to the people, and they are responding.”

Local atheists have been fighting to have the war memorial cross removed from city property for I5 years, saying its presence violates the separation of church and state.” Last December, the federal government got involved by passing an amendment to President Bush’s budget that made the Mt. Soledad National War Memorial a national landmark; however, it fell to the city council to take the final step ofprotecting the cross by donating the land to the federal government, and it voted 5-3 not to do so.

The San Diego City Council has let down the people of San Diego, and it’s time they set things right,” said Phil Thalheirner, chairman of the War Memorial group. “The people have spoken again and again. They want this important 50-year-old symbol of San Diego’s heritage with its plaques and cross to be protected. Transferring the property to the federal government will accomplish that.”

Four of the five council members who originally voted to take the cross down refused to comment to the press after the petitions were delivered April 7; only one said the petitions wouldn’t make him change his mind.

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