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City quickly sells its cross

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VENTURA, Calif. (AP) — The contested city-owned cross looming on a hill behind downtown is being sold for $104,216 to a private nonprofit group hastily formed to buy the landmark.

The City Council voted 6-1 last week to sell the cross and an acre of land around it to the Grant Park Conservancy, which submitted the highest of five bids.

"I'm beyond thrilled," conservancy chief Christy Weir said.

The deal will be finalized in about 20 days, as long as the bidder pays the city in full for the cross property and agrees to a number of conditions, including muted lighting of the cross and keeping the property as open space.

The council decided in July to sell the cross after San Francisco attorney Vince Chhabria warned that city ownership and maintenance of it violates the constitutional separation of church and state. Chhabria told the city to divest itself of the religious icon or face a lawsuit.

Chhabria made the demand on behalf of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and three area residents.

Ventura has had some version of the cross ever since Father Junipero Serra founded the Buenaventura mission in 1782. The current wooden cross has stood high above the downtown since 1941.

There had been some fear that a group would buy the cross in order to have it removed.

"Ventura would lose an important part of its history if that were to happen," said Ventura realtor Bill Duston prior to the vote. "The next thing they might try and do is to take down the Father Serra statue in front of City Hall."

Contributing: Ventura County Star.