WILL THE EASTER BUNNY or the Spring Bunny hop his way through child-friendly celebrations this season?

In Livermore and Walnut Creek, the Spring Bunny will bounce into appearances at the citys breakfasts. At the San Ramon Eggciting Eggstravaganza, none other than the Big Bunny pokes his pink nose in the fun.

But it seems the fuzzy creatures Christian-free implications at Walnut Creek grabbed headlines after a local paper published a March 1 letter to the editor from a resident who wrote, The Easter Bunny isnt welcome in Walnut Creek.

That letter, said Walnut Creeks Public Information Officer Brad Rovanpera, sparked this nationwide controversy.

The citys bunny predicament was mentioned on Fox News by conservative commentator Bill OReilly and by liberal comedian Stephen Colbert. After OReilly added his two cents to the topic, Rovanpera said he received a flood of pro-Easter Bunny e-mails.

Whats strange is that Walnut Creek changed the name of its Easter Egg Hunt to a Spring Egg Hunt four years ago after a Jewish resident complained it was inappropriate to use city funds to promote Christianity.

Michael Runzler, the author of the letter, said he didnt know about the name change until he recently picked up one of the citys recreation catalogues.

His reaction: Spring Bunny? Youve got to be kidding. Its anEaster Egg hunt. Its the Easter Bunny.

Runzler, who operates the Web site defendtheeasterbunny.com, said he has since appeared on Fox News and the networks Hannity and Colmes show.

Like Rovanpera, he said he was surprised by the reaction his letter received.

It was posted on friendlyatheist.com, a site run by Chicago-based Hemant Mehta, who is the chair of the board of directors of the Secular Student Alliance.

Mehta said people are free to have their own Easter celebrations, but were (for) removing the religious element from a government-sponsored event.

As for San Ramons festivities, which sell out quickly and require reservations, its always been an egg hunt that we keep embellishing. I dont think it ever had Easter connected to it, said Kathi Heimann, the citys special events coordinator.

Livermores inaugural event is actually happening two weeks before Easter and celebrates spring, said Recreation Supervisor Julie Lange.

Despite those arguments, the bunny issue rages on.

In a March 9 reaction letter to the editor, Walnut Creek resident Stephen Barkley wrote, calling it the spring bunny is actually more accurate ... Easter was a (pagan) celebration of the death of winter and the rebirth of the earth with the coming of spring.

To contact Cheryl Winkelman, call (209) 832-6144 or cwinkelman@trivalleyherald.com.