A Christopher Columbus statue that’s been the subject of repeated vandalism and an impassioned campaign to oust it from San Jose City Hall may finally find a new home after this week.
The City Council on Tuesday will vote on whether to fork out $12,000 to remove the 6,000-pound marble monument, which activists have long decried as a symbol of genocide and colonialism.
Public Works Director Barry Ng will present the council with four options. The city can leave the statue in place. It can crate it up and store it in a service yard until the offending sculpture is eventually re-gifted. It can install the piece in the Bank of Italy building at History Park. Or, it can place the statue behind a security checkpoint at the Mineta San Jose International Airport.
The monument, which was donated to the city in 1958 by the San Jose Civic Club and the Italo-American Societies of San Jose, has been defaced multiple times. In 2001, someone shattered parts of the statue’s legs, arms and torso with a sledgehammer. More recently, this past September, someone smeared the offending fixture with red and black ink.
That last incident prompted the city to install a curtain behind the statue to block the rear view from the exterior window. A week later, in mid-October, police and security guards had to disband a group of protesters who marched into the lobby and confronted city staffers and passers-by about the Columbus memorial.
In response to mounting pressure to remove the statue, San Jose State University convened a panel discussion that drew about 50 attendees—virtually all of them opposed to having Columbus memorialized in such a prominent public location. Meanwhile, Ng’s staff met with a representative of the city’s Italian-American community to talk about possible relocation sites, which led to the short list up for discussion this Tuesday.
At every hearing on the statue in recent months, virtually every person who spoke during the public comment section voiced disapproval of the statue. In a memo penned back in September, downtown Councilman Raul Peralez said the monument is unsuited to its current location.
“The history of Christopher Columbus has long been a controversial discussion for many Americans, especially Native Americans, who are the original inhabitants of the Americas,” he wrote. “Subsequently, the Christopher Columbus statue at City Hall has also been a controversial topic. As people walk into City Hall, a public place where they come to receive resources and support, having the statue as a main focal point in our lobby can provide some individuals with a feeling of oppression and frustration thus making them feel unwelcomed and discouraged to come to City Hall.”
The Brown Berets—a Chicano activist organization—garnered more than 2,000 signatures in a Change.org petition to remove the Columbus statue. The group plans to stage protests at City Hall tonight and on Tuesday afternoon to urge officials to relocate the monument.
More from the San Jose City Council agenda for January 30, 2018:
- San Jose is re-evaluating its workers’ comp programs after failing a crucial state audit in 2016 and as it closes in on a follow-up review at the end of this year. If it fails yet another audit, the city could be on the hook for some costly penalties—up to and including San Jose losing its ability to self-insure for workers’ compensation claims. If that happens, San Jose would need to buy insurance from a private company, which would likely be far more expensive for a program that already sees nearly $27 million in claim costs and $3.7 million in admin costs. “In addition to claims and administration, an insurer would include profits and overhead in the premium cost and insure against the risk of future claims and costs,” Deputy City Manager Julie Edmond-Mares wrote in a memo. “This easily could raise costs to more than $35 million a year.”
- The city is still trying to get its municipal clean energy program off the ground. Though the California Public Utilities Commission already authorized San Jose Clean Energy, the official launch date may get pushed back to this summer.
- San Jose’s designated lobbyist will present a report on the city’s legislative guiding principals for the year ahead. Chief among the priorities is to protect local control, followed by supporting policies that ensure the region’s competitiveness through economic development, increasing local funding and building more affordable housing.
WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260