WWII Camp Wall board members and friends that stuck it out past midnight. Seated: Kanji Sahara. Standing, from left: Roger Yanagita, Marlen Sanchez, Kristen Tang, Nancy Hayata, Kay Oda, Kyoko Oda. (Courtesy Nancy Hayata)

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

TORRANCE — The Torrance City Council has unanimously approved a proposed monument that will recognize Japanese Americans who were incarcerated by the U.S. government during World War II.

The proposed memorial consists of 12 8-foot-tall walls ranging from 15 feet to 40 feet in width to be built in Torrance’s Columbia Park. Each wall would represent a different wartime concentration camp and would list the name of each person that was incarcerated in that particular camp.

The item was taken up during a public meeting that began Tuesday night. The council went into closed session when the meeting was disrupted by members of Black Lives Matter who were protesting the fatal shooting of Christopher De’Andre Mitchell by two Torrance police officers in 2018 as well as racist texts exchanged by more than a dozen Torrance police officers. The council resumed public proceedings after midnight.

The council approved the following recommendations by City Manager Aram Chaparyan and Community Services Director John La Rock:

• “Provide direction to accept the California state funding grant ($5 million secured by Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi) and to proceed with a World War II internment camp memorial”;

• “Approve Columbia Park as the location of the memorial”;

• “Provide conceptual approval of the proposed memorial layout plan and design”;

• “Adopt a categorical exemption per CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) Guidelines Section 15301e(2) and 15323”;

• “Adopt a resolution certifiying grant information package for the California Natural Resources Agency.”

The votes were cast by Mayor George Chen and Councilmembers Jon Kaji, Bridgett Lewis, Asam Sheikh, Sharon Kalani, Aurelio Mattucci and Mike Griffiths.

Kaji said in a statement on Tuesday, “As a Japanese American councilman on the Torrance City Council, I offer my congratulations to Torrance resident Mr. Kanji Sahara, along with the members of the memorial committee.

“The site at Columbia Park is significant since Japanese families had previously owned and farmed on the property and the City of Torrance is home to a large Japanese American and Japanese expatriate community.

“The memorial will be a meeting place for the South Bay community to learn from the tragedies of the past and to teach our visitors and young people about the need to protect the civil rights of all people.

“I’m looking forward to joining the groundbreaking and dedication ceremonies and community celebration!”

Among those attending the meeting were members and supporters of the WWII Camp Wall Committee — Kanji Sahara, Kyoko Oda, Kay Oda, Nancy Hayata, Kristen Tang, Kerry Cababa, Marlen Diaz Sanchez, Roger Yanagita, Jenny Chomori and Ivan Mandic — all of whom stayed until the vote was taken.

Sahara’s family was incarcerated at the Santa Anita Assembly Center, then transferred to the War Relocation Authority’s Jerome and Rohwer camps in Arkansas. After the war, they resettled in Chicago. Now retired as an engineering supervisor in the aerospace industry, Sahara volunteered as a docent for the Japanese American National Museum for many years.

“Kanji Sahara never gave up his dream to honor his parents and community who were incarcerated during World War II,” said Kyoko Oda. “Kanji campaigned for several years  to discuss the wall design, location, and meaning to anyone who would listen.

“We’re deeply grateful to Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi for his wisdom and strength to make this happen.”

“On behalf of the camp wall committee, I’d like to thank everyone that lent support to this project,” said Hayata. “The wall will be a place for people to see family history, a place of education, and a place for all to learn and spread the word that this must never again happen to any group of people, anywhere at any time ever again.”

Committee members previously met with city officials individually and garnered the support of former Mayor Pat Furey.

Groundbreaking is expected to take place next February.

For more information on the project, visit www.wwiicampwall.org.

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