SAN DIEGO – After a 17-year legal battle between the city and a self-described atheist, a judge has ordered San Diego officials to remove a giant cross from a hilltop park or start paying $5,000 a day in fines.
Defying the order is something cash-strapped San Diego can ill afford. Its pension fund is more than $1 billion in debt, the federal government is investigating, and there’s been talk of bankruptcy.
Still, Mayor Jerry Sanders said he would ask the city attorney to appeal.
U.S. District Judge Gordon Thompson Jr. on Wednesday gave the city 90 days to comply with a 1991 injunction forbidding the cross on public property.
"It is now time, and perhaps long overdue," the judge wrote.
The 29-foot-high cross was dedicated as a memorial to Korean War veterans in 1954 on a hilltop that towers over seaside La Jolla.
Philip Paulson, an atheist and Vietnam veteran, has been challenging its placement on city-owned parkland since 1989. He declined comment on the ruling Wednesday, but his attorney, James McElroy, said he hoped city officials would finally back down.