November 30, 2009

Is Saranap's Sufism Reoriented sanctuary debate heating up again?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed these blue flyers affixed to telephone polls and other signs along Boulevard Way in the Saranap neighborhood. These flyers once again raise questions about the size of the proposed sanctuary to be built by Sufism Reoriented, a Saranap-based religious organization.

“Too big for story poles?!?!?!” ask the flyers, one of which is pictured here.

“According to Sufism Reoriented, the sanctuary building is too large and too complex to put up story poles.”

Okay, what are story poles, what project am I talking about, and who is behind the flyers?

Sufism Reoriented proposes to construct a white, 66,000-square-foot, multi-domed “sanctuary” on a 3.25-acre site wedged mostly amongst single-family homes in this older, residential neighborhood in unincorporated Walnut Creek.

The project has hit a raw nerve in this neighborhood, with longtime residents complaining that such a large, white “spaceship-looking” building (bigger than the White House) would not fit in the character of their semi-rural neighborhood. The address would be on Boulevard Way, and there are apartments and office buildings along one side.

Sufism Reoriented leaders say the building, particularly the domes, was designed to blend in with the surrounding, grass covered hills. They also say it would be eco-friendly, “nestled in a glade of trees,” and, with two-thirds of it tucked underground, it would not be visible to most neighbors.

Opponents claim it would be highly obtrusive and have asked the 350-member religious organization to erect what are called “story poles.” If you’re not in construction, story poles are wooden structures, often built of 2X4s that are erected on the site of a proposed development to give builders, neighbors, government officials a visual indication of its size and visual impact.

Sanctuary opponents say Sufism is refusing to erect the story poles because they don’t want the neighbors and county planners, who are reviewing the plans, to see how massive the sanctuary truly will be. Apparently, a representative of Sufism reoriented said earlier this year that it would be very costly to erect the story poles and that they are an old-fashioned, inefficient way to really judge a project’s size and visual impact.

Sanctuary opponents, leaders of an organization called Save Our Saranap, deny posting the flyers. It’s also possible that the flyers have been up there a while. However, although I don’t live in the Saranap, I still drive, walk, or run through that area on an almost daily basis, and it wasn’t until a couple weeks ago that I noticed these flyers.

I’ve e-mailed a representative of Sufism Reoriented to see if the organization has any comment on the flyers and the story pole issue, but haven’t heard back from him yet. If I do, I’ll pass along what he has to say.

As I reported back in March, many Sufism Reoriented members have made the Saranap neighborhood their home, and have apparently co-existed peacefully with their non-Sufism neighbors for decades. But things started to become tense in the neighborhood, when Sufism Reoriented went public with its sanctuary plans. Friends who live in the neighborhood were telling me stories about being bombarded with aggressive door-to-door visits by Sufism members and pro-sanctuary press releases and expensive newsletters.

Sufism Reoriented says it wants to build a beautiful house of worship for its members, where they can also participate in the organization’s many religious, civic, and arts activities.

It’s not clear whether the appearance of these flyers represent some new rise in tensions over this controversial issue. But I’m told that county planners are finishing up their review of the project, and possibly, by the beginning of the new year, it will go back to the neighbors for further discussion and debate.


Anonymous said...

Good luck to the Saranap neighborhood with this effort. It seems only fair that they have a visual concept of this development. Let's hope the city puts up story polls at the proposed WC Bart Transit Village...residents and visitors alike need to see what effect 50 foot condos will have on their view of Diablo and the foothills from the Bart platform.

Anonymous said...

I know we are a very tolerant community but I don't think that a Sufi house of worship fits into our culture in this community. The Sufi Reoriented claims that they want to build a beautiful house of worship for its members, where they can also participate in the organization’s many religious, civic, and arts activities. Sounds like a great safe haven for breeding terrorists to me.

Anonymous said...

First: snore Soccer Mom snore... I feel sure you have better topics to sling hash about.

This project is making its way through the system and, as a Saranap neighbor of the Sufis, I think posting the blue flyers is just intended to pick more fights, as this issue was raised and responded to in the spring. In fact, I hope only a few people respond to your post of what’s basically a total re-hash.

I offer my thoughts here on a few specifics, but I really hope people choose instead to use the “live and in person” venues that will be available as the process unfolds and not turn this supposedly “new” blog topic into another yelling match.

So, what purpose do the flyers serve? No purpose whatsoever since they are NOT a required part of the process. On the Sufi website they show a lot of visual concepts of what the development will look like; for me, story poles are a waste of time.

To 9:08 - yes, thank you, good luck to us here in the neighborhood to help prevent violations of the Sufis' First Amendment rights to freedom of religion and religious expression; thank goodness the Sufis have the RLUIPA law on their side. Also - to 10:27 - thanks for not trying to hide your religious bigotry. What makes you think that they would be "breeding terrorists"? Is there an obstacle course or a firing range on the Sufi's diagrams or something?

Look, they've been here 30+ years and I don't see any evidence of their presence having resulted in the birth of a "Saranap terrorist group" and I think we'd have seen evidence of that by now should you be correct. However, your comments clearly infer that you think that (only recently) they do not fit in, that their type of building proves that in some way, they are not "us". As was put forth in the spring, would the building be okay if it were slant roofed and had a cross on top? I would contend that you are basically blatantly inferring that they are not Christian enough for you. Your inference harkens back to the spring dialogues about the notion that Sufism Reoriented is somehow connected to Islam or some radical terrorists who have associated themselves with Islam. The Sufis have clearly repeatedly stated that they re not connected to Islam, and in fact, one might think that we'd have seen them in Islamic garb were that the case, and yet we have not.

In sum, I appreciate not having to read through 100+ posts this time before someone reveals their biases, and I thank you for that. However, I do not appreciate your intolerance of religious diversity and should others sympathize with your ideas, I hope that they re-evaluate their reasons for opposing the development.

Anonymous said...

One might think some of the commentators are just dumber than a box of rocks:

The surface building of the CHURCH is about 20,000 square feet (the rest is underground).
The average height is 17.5 feet (that's right...shorter than a one-story home).
The tippy-tip-top of the highest point, in a single place, is 33.5 feet (lower than the roof of a neighor's home).
All of this information has been on the Sufism Reoriented website, for nearly a year!

But one of your loyal followers went to terrorism, and now it reveals itself as ridiculous and criminal McCarthyesque slander of the most insidious kind.

The religious freedoms our founding fathers set in place--fought for and protected for centuries by good American men and women--give these peaceful Saranap neighbors the RIGHT to do this.

They are following a lawful process to do so, and the rest is just stupid fear based innuendo of the most UN-AMERICAN kind...spewed by fearful bigots.

They have been in the same neighborhood...a block away...for more than 30 years, and have THOUSANDS of signatures on letters of support.

Story poles = red herring!

Anonymous said...

10:41 AM- wouldn't story poles put neighborhood concerns to rest? It might even be considered a gesture of good will. But calling the story polls a red herring makes you kind of wonder.....

Anonymous said...

If you put up 10 poles, or if you put up 20 poles, at the end of the day, you would have 20 sticks in a field. A bunch of sticks do not look like a building.

The Sufism Reoriented website (link shown in your article above) shows more than a dozen color, computer modeled and hand rendered illustrations of how the ACTUAL building will look, and at different stages of tree growth and from multiple vantage points (including before and after shots of the road visibility at the curve of Boulevard Way). You can also read all about the project and see plans on the site.

I think it is easy to decide which gives more--and better--information: Three dimensional renderings of the real building to scale--and over time, or some sticks in a field?

Seems an easy choice. But I think you might agree that perhaps Truth is not what is desirable by the stick people at all! Just another lie and misinformation point to be spread like fertilizer over unsuspecting neighbors.

Who is open about information and who plants anonymous flyers like thieves in the night?

Anonymous said...

That's an inappropriate location for such a massive structure. That's a residential area. I wish the residents luck in blocking that monstrosity.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to assume, and hope, that the 10:27 poster is a troll trying to bait us, rather than some poor deluded person who honestly fears that long-time members of the community are out to do him ill simply because they may be of a different religious faith. If s/he really does have that fear, I think I have a spare nightlight around here I can pass on --

From what I know of Sufism, it is typically one of the more tolerant and embracing faiths around. In fact, some hard-core Islamists in other countries look down on Sufis in those countries for being "too" tolerant. So there you go.

Anonymous said...

Sufism Reoriented is not connected with Islam, it is not a branch of Islam, was not founded by a Muslim, and if you have been told it is, you have been lied to.

That having been said, there is nothing any more wrong with Islam and its minority of crazy fundamentalists, than there is with Christians and their crazy fundamentalists...Crazy is crazy!

Anonymous said...

To 5:44:

Actually, it is in residential areas that churches are most often built, and this is the way of things in America. People build their churches where they live. It is legal, it is normal, and no amount of saying otherwise will make it not be so. Drive around the nearby cities and county and see where churches are built. The 20,000 square foot surface structure is in no way massive...especially when compared to the three story apartment buildings and condos nearby.

Anonymous said...

I still don't know why they don't put up the story seems like a reasonable request.

Anonymous said...

That size of structure or a Wal-Mart supercenter is not appropriate for that area. Go find something off a freeway frontage somewhere.

Anonymous said...

What a ridiculous comparison. A Walmart is between 60,000 sq. ft. and 225,000 sq. ft.! The midpoint between these numbers is 142,500 sq. ft., and most are quite a bit larger. So, an average Walmart is at least SEVEN times larger than the one story surface building proposed by Sufism Reoriented. This kind of wild distortion shows a level of plain old goofiness that can't really be taken seriously by people.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Wal-Mart Supercenters are between 98,000 sq. ft. and 267,000 sq. ft., with an average of 197,000 sq. ft. (per Wikipedia). The average Wal-Mart Supercenter would be almost 10 times large than the church proposed by Sufism Reoriented.