Responding to opponents who had gathered more than 500 signatures on petitions, the City Council on Monday unanimously rescinded its decision to spend $50,000 on a statue honoring George Washington and the U.S. Constitution and agreed to a compromise instead.
The council, at the suggestion of Councilman Christopher F. Houseman, voted to create a committee to seek private funding for a statue celebrating the nation's founding and to find a suitable location for it. Mayor Barry L. Hatch will oversee the committee.
The council originally approved the statue expenditure on a 3-2 vote in March. But some critics questioned using city funds, and others questioned the need for the statue at all.
But Hatch, who since he took office in 1986 has wanted a statue to commemorate America's founding, said he was "totally embarrassed, appalled" by the attitude of the critics. "Those great men (who founded the United States), we couldn't even cast a shadow upon their feet," he said.
"I think (Hatch) has a misplaced sense of what patriotism is," resident Marjorie Kemmerer said in an interview. "He is overly fixated that we're not patriotic enough."
Hatch had also been criticized for his desire to remove a City Hall statue dedicated to the 1984 Olympic Games and replace it with the monument to Washington.
Houseman and Patricia M. Reichenberger, the two council members who had supported Hatch's proposal for a Washington monument, did not agree with his proposal to move the Olympic statue across town to Garvey Ranch Park.
Houseman's compromise resolution acknowledged the importance of the Olympic statue.
"We treasure the fact that the (Olympic) torch was carried through our city, and the monument which commemorates that will remain intact," Houseman said.
The 15-foot-high sculpture depicts the Olympic torch and five interlocking rings. It marks a spot near where a torch-bearing runner passed en route to the Los Angeles Coliseum. Monterey Park, which has since dubbed itself "an Olympic City with a Heart," was the site of the Olympic field hockey competition.
Judy Chu and Betty Couch, the two council members who originally opposed the Washington statue, indicated that they will go along with the compromise because city funds will not be used. Chu and Couch had said a city struggling to balance its books could not afford to spend money on the statue.
On Monday, statue opponent Kemmerer told the council that the city has "so many unmet needs" that it can ill afford to spend the $50,000. It would be better, she said, to spend the money to help the handicapped or homeless, provide better child care, hire more police or restore cuts to the budgets of the library and the Parks and Recreation Department.
Complaining about the critics, Hatch said Monday: "How much are we spending on new immigrants?" He said he had simply proposed "spending a little" to remember the nation's founders, who created "this great nation for all the immigrants around the world to enter."
But Hatch said creating a statue committee is an excellent idea because "it certainly would diffuse any concerns that residents have voiced."
Times staff writer Craig Quintana contributed to this story.