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City asked to back out of El Barrio Park event sponsorship

The city of Claremont will no longer co-sponsor the 40th anniversary celebration of El Barrio Park to be held next Saturday, June 16.

The Claremont City Council entered into co-sponsorship with the Arbol Verde Preservation Committee in late May. However, the approval was preceded by an hour of heated debate regarding the city’s stance on donating money to an event with religious ties, a potential violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause. Mayor Pro Tem Opanyi Nasiali first called into question the appropriateness of the city’s sponsorship because the event includes a Catholic mass.

Despite ruling in the group’s favor, the Arbol Verde Preservation Committee asked the city earlier this week to retract its involvement because of further controversy subsequent to the initial debate.

“I don’t want to make a political circus out of this,” said the committee’s chairperson, Al Villanueva. “The bottom line is there was a solution to the problem, and we solved it without fanfare.”

After the city’s approval of co-sponsorship, the Arbol Verde Preservation Committee was prompted into action by threat of a lawsuit against the city. Mr. Villanueva wished to keep the group anonymous.

“From a legalistic perspective, they have a very good argument,” he said. Instead of fighting the issue, the committee submitted a formal request for the city to remove its sponsorship to City Manager Tony Ramos on Monday.

“We are all here to protect Claremont,” Mr. Villanueva concluded.

Though City Attorney Sonia Carvalho believed the city’s co-sponsorship was not in violation of church and state, declaring “the overriding purpose of the event is to celebrate the history of the park and to celebrate Mexican American baseball in the Inland Empire,” others were unconvinced.

“A formal mass held under the sponsorship of the city is something which pushes the boundary of this church/state linkage,” said resident Dean McHenry to the council, suggesting the city sponsorship start after the mass ends. “Church is clearly involved here.”

The Arbol Verde Preservation committee will now take responsibility for costs of insurance and equipment, previously to be covered by the city’s sponsorship. It is expected to cost the group about $1000.

Mr. Villanueva said the preservation committee wishes to keep the event focused on its intended purpose, not on the controversy of the city’s involvement. In addition to celebrating El Barrio Park’s 40th anniversary, festivities will recognize the centennial of the Arbol Verde community and the book release of Mexican American Baseball in the Inland Empire.

“Such a controversy would take away from the intended focus of this event, which is history and culture,” said Mr. Villanueva, adding, “Times have changed. Everything has to be so politically correct now. You have to play by certain rules and regulations in order to avoid controversy.”

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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