MOVING ALONG: A woman walks by last year's location of the embattled nativity scenes. The scenes once stood in Palisades Park before a city ban stopped the longtime practice. (File photo)
MOVING ALONG: A woman walks by last year’s location of the embattled nativity scenes. The scenes once stood in Palisades Park before a city ban stopped the longtime practice. (File photo)

OCEAN PARK — After decades in Palisades Park, Santa Monica’s nativity scenes have another new home.

Last year, the nativity scenes were erected in front of Watts Commercial Properties on the 2700 block of Ocean Park Boulevard, but for the 60th anniversary of the nativity scenes, the group moved to Mt. Olive Lutheran Church at 14th and Maple streets.

The nativity scenes were ousted from Palisades Park last year after City Council banned all unattended winter displays. The decision came after a holiday season during which atheists flooded City Hall’s lottery, winning 18 of the 21 slots traditionally allocated for displays.

“We were very thankful to have last year’s location and we believe that it worked well,” said Hunter Jameson, head of the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee, which is comprised of various religious institutions. “And we were given the understanding that we might be invited back in a couple of years, or possibly down the road, but that it would not be a site for successive displays one year after the other.”

Last December, a federal judge threw out a case brought against City Hall by defenders of the public nativity scenes. The nativity advocates appealed that decision and the case is now with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Both sides have submitted their pleadings, Jameson said, and it’s now up to the courts to make a decision or call for oral hearings. There is no timetable for the decision, he said.

Primo De Jesus, an activist and member of Trinity Baptist Church, one of the churches traditionally involved with the scenes, is suing City Hall and one of the atheists involved in flooding the nativity lottery in 2011.

His suit, which makes numerous allegations including hate crimes and irreparable injuries, is asking for more than $5 million in damages.

De Jesus, who will represent himself, said that he would use the cash to hire Boy Scouts to set up and take down the nativity scenes every day during the Christmas season. This, he said, would cost about $30,000 a year.

Damon Vix, the atheist defendant named in the case, had not heard about the suit before he was reached for comment from the Daily Press. He is no longer involved with the Santa Monica displays, he said.

The nativity advocates will return to Palisades Park this Sunday at 3 p.m. for the opening ceremony of the scenes.

“That’s our historic spot,” Jameson said. “We’ve been there for almost the 60 year history of the scenes and we felt that it would be a fitting and appropriate spot to continue our historical presence there, which is certainly done in conformance with all the rules.”

They plan to unveil a 24-foot-long banner at the ceremony that will depict nativity scenes and include text narrating the story. It will be staffed and on display at the park at various times throughout the season, Jameson said.

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