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Officials Vote to Replace County Seal

Supervisors decide 3-2 to remove a cross and make other changes. But the debate continues.

September 15, 2004|Sue Fox | Times Staff Writer

After four months of often strident debate, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors stripped a tiny cross from the county seal Tuesday to avoid a lawsuit.

By a 3-2 vote, the supervisors adopted a new seal that, from a distance, looks a lot like the old one. It still features a hodgepodge of images, such as a Spanish galleon and a prize-winning dairy cow, meant to reflect local history. But the cross is gone. A drawing of the San Gabriel Mission was added to the seal.

And the supervisors made other changes.

The seal's central figure, the goddess Pomona, was toppled in favor of a Native American woman holding a bowl of acorns. The oil derricks of Signal Hill were erased to make room for the mission, which some criticized for its lack of a cross.

The supervisors ordered the redesign of the 47-year-old seal after the American Civil Liberties Union threatened to sue over the use of a religious symbol in a government seal.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday September 24, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 81 words Type of Material: Correction
County seal -- An article in the Sept. 15 California section about the debate over the Los Angeles County seal misquoted Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky as saying, "My religion is my business and your religion is your business, and it's not the government's business to make my religion your religion or vice versa." He actually said, "My religion is my business and your religion is your business, and it's not the government's business to make my religion your business or vice versa."

"Not only is it the law, I personally believe it is right," said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who voted with fellow Democrats Yvonne Brathwaite Burke and Gloria Molina to embrace the new seal. "My religion is my business and your religion is your business, and it's not the government's business to make my religion your religion or vice versa."

Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe, both Republicans, voted against the new seal.

The move to alter the county seal -- a round emblem emblazoned on vehicles, employee badges and other government trappings -- unleashed a thunderous protest from residents who condemned it as rewriting history.

In June, more than 700 people packed a board meeting to decry the removal of the cross, and thousands more wrote or called supervisors to complain.

But the board refused to budge, and over time the ranks of pro-cross demonstrators began to thin. Some have turned their attention to gathering voter signatures to propel the issue to the ballot.

On Tuesday, about 25 people showed up to protest the new seal.

Ellen Ward, the mayor of Signal Hill, bemoaned the loss of the oil derricks. Victoria Davidson-Castillo, a woman of Chippewa descent who lives in Van Nuys, objected to "the offensive image of a barefoot subservient Native American woman serving the people of the county."

Antonovich criticized the drawing of the mission as "the rear end of the church" instead of "an open door to bring good news."

Others rattled off a litany of complaints, including the use of foul language on television, that appeared to have little to do with the seal.

After an hour of debate, Knabe suggested using an unadorned seal that simply read "Los Angeles County."

Instead, a majority of the board approved the new seal, which will cost an estimated $800,000 to put into use. The changes will be phased as materials and equipment bearing the old seal are retired.

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