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November 1, 2011

A matter of religious freedom?

On its website, Sufism Reoriented says that the white, multi-domed design of their proposed 66,000- square-foot sanctuary embodies "our most sacred beliefs and supports our worship."

"Throughout the world, people design their churches to reflect the principles of their faith and locate their places of worship near where they live," says the page titled "A Sacred Design." "This is especially so in America, with its founding principle of religious freedom and its history of ever-increasing religious pluralism."

Religious freedom. Which gets us into the  First Amendment. 

Those are pretty heavy-duty concepts that have hovered around the ongoing debate over the 350-member group's proposal to build its new sanctuary in the unincorporated Saranap neighborhood near downtown Walnut Creek. The debate has divided a once tranquil neighborhood and aroused private charges of aggressive proselytizing from one side and religious intolerance and rampant NIMBYism from the other.

The third of three public hearings in as many weeks takes place tonight  before the county Planning Commission. The commission will make the final decision on whether Sufism Reoriented can build its new church on three acres off Boulevard Way. Planning staff have recommended that the commission approve the plan, saying the new sanctuary conforms to the guidelines set out in the county General Plan and won't create a neighborhood nuisance.

In the two previous hearings, people lined the Martinez chamber's aisles and spilled into the hallway, according to the Contra Costa Times. Public testimony went on for hours. 

Neighbors opposing the sanctuary say it's too big for its location in a residential neighborhood, with proportions siimilar to the new downtown Neiman Marcus or the Walnut Creek Library.Then there are the 12 white domes surrounding a central rotunda. Sufism Reoriented compares them to the domes that sit atop national monuments or other faiths' houses of worship. Neighbors have compared them to something out of a sci-fi movie, and say they don't  fit in with the character of the older neighborhood with its mid-century ranch houses and remodeled Craftsman bungalows. Neighbors worry about increased parking and traffic and the removal of trees to make way for construction. They also are concerned that construction and excavation to house two-thirds of the facility underground will cause flooding to nearby homes. 


Sufism members and other supporters say the facility won't become a neighborhood eyesore. Far from it. It will be an architectural asset to the community. Surrounding greenery will veil the above-ground portions of the sanctuary from passersby. They also say the new church incorporates many environmentally friendly elements and won't increase traffic in the neighborhood because their membership levels are stable. 

And, while the congregation has only several hundred members, many of those live in Saranap. The congregation also has the support of thousands more non-members, including those whose kids attend or have attended the Meher School, a private school in Saranap run by the organization. While not Sufism members, many who attend the Meher School have had positive experiences with Sufis and view them as good, contributing members of the community. 


So far, Sufism Reoriented has not come on strong about the religious freedom aspect of its church plans -- except for what the organization states in its published materials and website. And the county planning staff has not mentioned it as a reason for approving the project.

But along these lines, Sufism Reoriented would have a very powerful weapon it could deploy if the county Planning Commission wasn't amenable to their proposal. 

It is a 2000 federal law, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which bars government entities from imposing land use regulations that create a "substantial burden" on a group's right to religious assembly.  Over the years and in communities around the country, there have been many legal battles over RLUIPA. Like the Sufism sanctuary debate, these conflicts arise from a church's desire to build a big new facility or expand it in ways that neighbors don't like.  

Legal scholars who oppose RLUIPA say it violates the separation of church and state in that it it gives religious landowners special rights to challenge land use laws that their secular neighbors don't have. Municipal organizations often don't want to deal with costly RLUIPA challenges, and neighbors opposing a church's plans don't have the resources for a legal fight, either.

As I've stated in previous posts on this issue, I don't live in Saranap but in the neighborhood next to it. I have friends who are Saranap residents.

I support Sufism's desire to built a new center. But all along, I've scratched my head over  the group's need for such a large facility for such a small congregation. 

I've also been baffled as to why Sufism Reoriented would come up with this design in the first place.  The dome idea is a lovely one, if the group were building its new facility in, say, the National Mall. 

Sufism Reoriented has cited in previous materials that Thomas Jefferson's harmonic design principles have been a major influence. If that's the case, I wonder why the group apparently never considered following the route taken by the architects who built the beautiful new visitors center at Jefferson's Virginia estate, Monticello. I had the privilege to visit Monticello a few years ago and to walk through the exhibits of the new visitors center.

Built of natural materials that visually blend into the wooded surroundings -- and not a white, Monticello-like dome in site -- this center sits "llightly on the landscape. The center achieves a harmony with its landscape of which Jefferson would be proud.

Yes, I know, that ship has sailed.

For Sufism members, the dome structure creates a tranquil and uplifting interior space, which awakens the heart for "prayer, meditation, and communion with God," as the organization explains on its website. For this reason, "domes are found in houses of worship everywhere":  in Christendom, in Buddhist temples, in synagogues and in mosques.  As for the color white, it "symbolizes purity, unity, and inclusiveness because all the colors of the rainbow blend together to produce white light."

According to the faith they profess, the Sufis have had strong reasons to want the domes and to want the white. But do the tenets of their faith matter more than their neighbors' desire to control matters that they say affect their ability to enjoy their own homes and properties?

Whatever the outcome of the county planning process, the hard feelings between the two sides in the neighborhood are likely to contine.

42 comments:

Anonymous said...

Way too big. Way too bright white. The Sufi Steamrollers are like whiny babies. There's no law that says you have the right to walk to your "church."

Crafty Annie said...

Not sure there's anything that can be done about it other than keep them in court for a few years debating the issue. But to what end? At least it's not purple...

Anonymous said...

If the Sufis had authentically wanted to be good neighbors and community members, they would have discussed and socialized their design ideas many years ago involving non-Sufi neighbors in the process. They might have had their building already.

Old Fart said...

I am SO glad Martha came back around and wrote an article on this topic. For the first time, I feel her article is truly evenhanded, and as a non-Sufi neighbor, I am very grateful for this approach.

I have attended all of the Planning Commission meetings and I am in support of the development, mainly because, even if they weren't a church, it is their property and they have designed within the ordinances of the county.

We just can't let neighbors tell us what to do with our property - it is just un-American to me.

The county is also promoting Traffic Demand projects, so it would be against their own commitment to not support the reduced number of spaces, so folks should not expect that to stop it.

But the two things so far that get me are 1) the blatant lying by the people opposed about speeds and never seeing the Sufis walk, and 2) how many people (~15+) who are vehemently opposed live within 500 yards of the freeway on Blade Way, Nicholson, Dewey, etc...

To the former, it's unconscionable to me that you would lie in a public hearing like that.

To the latter, the freeway is louder than the Sufi development will ever be... How could you be fine living that close to a freeway and yet argue that this mostly underground facility just should not be built? Come on! ...

It is highly unlikely that any of you will regularly pass by the new sanctuary given where you live unless you have a parent in Rossmoor - so really, why do you give a crap at all about it going in?

So, you'll see some dump trucks go by when you turn from Nicholson to Blvd Way to Mt. Diablo - really? is this really enough for you to attend these Planning Commission meetings and try to delay a project that so many others think will increase not only the value of homes, but the look and feel of the entire business-y section?

The Planning Commission has to allow people to talk so the county won't get sued, RLUIPA aside, so this will go one until every one is done SOLELY for that reason.

But - the Commission hears NIMBY comments all the time and still approves staff-recommended projects time and time again. They are not going to tour the project, because then they'd have to do that for all the other NIMBY complainers . . .

Here's the nutshell: this is the opposers only opportunity to try to derail this thing without spending a lot of money of legal fees, so now we have meeting #3 - it's just stupid, and if anything it's this dog and pony show that will maintain the animosity, it's the apparent delay tactics.

I respectfully request that the opposers start to ask themselves why they are bothering - so much on this project has been asked and answered - perhaps it's time to accept and reconcile.

Anonymous said...

I am a follower of Meher Baba (not of the Sufi variety) who just has to pitch in here and say that there is a clear and undeniable precedent for tall white domes in the Meher Baba faith.

Meher Baba's tomb has a white dome, and is 30+ feet tall, and is also on one side totally shielded by a glen of trees.

This is a freedom of religion issue and here is a link to a photo of that done:

http://www.pbase.com/junglegeorge/image/69427988

Good luck Sufis!

Anonymous said...

How does freedom of religion and building codes / process cross?

Anonymous said...

Just want to correct something I wrote (forgive any typos - I have stiff fingers these days):

All those who live on Dewey, Nicholson, Clover, Del Hambre, Blade Way and Blade Court, and I really think there were at least 20 of you, if not more, who stood up and opposed the noise and how big it is - all live within 1,000 feet of the main arterial highway in this region.

Now if that structure is not 50 feet high, then I do not know what is - and I am sure you all can actually see (and hear it) it from your backyards, while with the Sufi center you won't be able to - so what's I ask again is the fuss other than them being not of your religion?

I drove down all those streets this afternoon and I could hear the freeway loud and clear. This is no semi-rural or rural neighborhood - not even close. You all are just trying to hoodwink those Commissioners, but even a kid could see how close it is to the freeway.

The approximate distance of this new sanctuary itself from the freeway is just over 2,000 feet as the crow flies, so this semi-rural stuff is plain hogwash.

Old Fart said...

Just want to correct something I wrote (forgive any typos - I have stiff fingers these days):

All those who live on Dewey, Nicholson, Clover, Del Hambre, Blade Way and Blade Court, and I really think there were at least 20 of you, if not more, who stood up and opposed the noise and how big it is - all live within 1,000 feet of the main arterial highway in this region.

Now if that structure is not 50 feet high, then I do not know what is - and I am sure you all can actually see (and hear it) it from your backyards, while with the Sufi center you won't be able to - so what's I ask again is the fuss other than them being not of your religion?

I drove down all those streets this afternoon and I could hear the freeway loud and clear. This is no semi-rural or rural neighborhood - not even close. You all are just trying to hoodwink those Commissioners, but even a kid could see how close it is to the freeway.

The approximate distance of this new sanctuary itself from the freeway is just over 2,000 feet as the crow flies, so this semi-rural stuff is plain hogwash.

Anonymous said...

Hi SM - Glad you are feeling better. I wanted to offer a contrary vignette regarding your statement about "...ability to enjoy their own homes and properties?"

If "enjoyment" is an issue that should be considered for all development issues, then I think the 24/680 freeway running right through this "semi-rural" neighborhood should be taken down, because I get woken up by it often, especially in warm summer months - it affects my ability to enjoy my sleep.

This is in fact true about me and this freeway and I have a love/hate relationship with living here that I am trying to resolve, though I confess to some hyperbole to make a point - so should one continue with that line of thinking:

Yes, I say, that freeway should go, it's interrupting my enjoyment of life and that huge tall, wide, pink brick wall doesn't fit in with the houses - in fact, it's, well... it's urban blight and even if the developer can show that need that size, and even if they violate no zoning or ordinances to get there, I should get my way - - see the thing is, I just don't want it "that big" in my backyard.

Anonymous said...

As a family member of two Sufis and as a parent of children attending the Meher School, here's my observations: The members of Sufism Reoriented have been living and worshiping in the Saranap neighborhood for approximately 30 years so why is it that just in the last 5 their members have become so active and present in their surrounding community? Prior to their desire for approval to build their new sanctuary, they have always maintained a very insular social dynamic and culture. Prior to about 2007, Sufism Reoriented never organized a neighborhood rides service for the needy, held a used clothing drive, thrown block parties, or expanded their Easter or Halloween celebrations beyond the Meher School population to the neighborhood at large. Are these wonderful acts of selfless service (a key tenent of Sufism Reoriented)? You bet. Are these events examples of how a neighborhood can become connected, appreciated, and exemplary? Indeed. Unfortunately for my family, what should be seen as solely and purely motivated from the heart appears to be motivated by something else entirely. How else can I explain why this kind of outreach has not been evident since the 1970's? Had it been, my guess is that Sufism Reoriented would not have had such an uphill battle to fight for the approval of their new sanctuary as they would have been seen as an integral and supportive part of Saranap historically. It is a missed oppurtunity for Sufism Reoriented. As it looks like there is very little standing in the way now of county approval, I can only hope that they do not revert to their insular ways once they get what they want as they clearly do have positive things to contribute outside the walls of what might become their very large and very white sanctuary.

Helen said...

3:44 PM - Your points are well taken and I would guess that at least some Sufis are seeing that a more open broadcast of how they work in the community, here and in the rest of Contra Costa, might have helped them "sell" the project more easily.

However, let's be crystal clear here: they HAVE been providing selfless service for over 30 years through the Meher Schools.

My understanding is that the reason the tuition is 1/3rd less than tuition at other schools is that the Sufis do all the maintenance and other overhead tasks at no charge and therefore do not need to put such costs into the tuition - that is selfless not selfish.

Should they have broadcast the number of hours of free service the families here in the area received for 30+ years? So, they say it's about 2,000 hours per year times 35 years - that makes it +/- 70,000 hours of free service to Saranap that has not been shoved in everyone's face. I guess you all think they should apologize for not sloganizing themselves to everyone.

Unfortunately, as I understand it, as with the "no proselytizing", their beliefs state that they should not seek public attention for good deeds, i.e. "no bragging". This project has required them to verge on bragging and I think that's been why they had a learning curve with some of their messaging - they just did not have a lot of experience with "promoting" the organization.

As for the service activities of recent years, I also have wondered about this and thought about what might happen. Like you, I know some Sufis fairly well and I think it might go something like this: 1) they have a new teacher and so things are different these days based on the work related to this teacher, and 2) maybe some things will stay and some things will go - the founder Meher Baba was apparently well known for starting service projects and when the point of them was over he stopped doing them, BUT he would start other ones, and maybe would not brag about them either.

The next two ideas are not from any discussions with Sufis: 1) maybe the rest of the neighborhood should get involved in some of these very good projects so that if the Sufis are called to do other programs in the future, the good programs will not fall by the wayside, and 2) where are all the good deeds the neighbors were doing for years such that they think they really in a position to question the good deeds of anyone?

Here's the kicker: I think those of us supporting them already recognize and honor the 35+ years of really hard work they have already given to their own neighborhood - the new service activities are just icing on the cake.

Anonymous said...

So - for all of you who just kept yammering on the increased parking during the public events - look where that got you!

You got your pound of flesh! You forced the Sufis into a corner so they had to give up the public events - so 3:44PM, it's totally on the opposition that the Sufis can't do anymore of the public events.

As I recall, that means no more Halloween party, no children's spring event and no Holiday event.... and you CANNOT for a second blame them for it - it was all your own doing!

Anonymous said...

Dear Helen and 10:51 p.m.,
Your points dovetail nicely with mine. First, the amazing volunteering that happens at the Meher Schools is a perfect example of the insularity within the Sufi community. I never expect nor hope that they brag about their efforts as that would be contrary to the selfless service principle. However, I do believe there is a connection between their current selfless service contributions to the larger Saranap community and the fear that has been bred among non-Sufi residents. As I was saying in my earlier post, if the Sufis had been a familiar entity to the community at large for the past 30ish years rather than coming on fast and strong only in the last 5 once they wanted approval for their new sanctuary, fear about public events, parking, etc, would not have taken such a strong hold amongst the Saranap community and, opposition- in my view- would have been much less. It's human nature to fear what one does not know after all. It's also human nature to have selfish interests, even if one is spiritual and/or religious. I wish the Sufis and the Saranap community the best.

Anonymous said...

4:42 PM "Your points dovetail nicely with mine." from 10:51 PM -

No way do my comments dovetail with yours. I think it is time for people to start thinking about coming to terms with the situation, as even you admit there is little that can be done to stop it.

I sat through that mtg last night and it's just b.s. to imply that "if only the Sufis did something different"

The neighbors are not hiding their religious bigotry (more than one calling it a mosque and another claiming that they are Islamic when they are not). One guy even implied he'd take matters into his own hands if it did not pass (do I hear restraining orders, anyone?)

Those people's point of views, my dear, have nothing to do with "if only the Sufis did more outreach"

Not buying it. Good try though.

Anonymous said...

I think the Sufi-ism people explained really good that they are what you might call some kind of monastery. Then I can see why they need that much room. And them being accused of hiding, well look, I never did know what nuns were doing behind their gates neither and no one made them prove they were believing in God. So I say to move on people and live in peace with each others.

Anonymous said...

ERRATA:

One guy even implied he'd take matters into his own hands if it DID PASS

Anonymous said...

Here's the thing:

Even if the Sufis had engaged the neighbors in early planning, it's clear that the Sufis would still have come to this design, or one really close to it, and been stubborn about it. Why? Because it expresses their faith.

Whether it were 5 years or 35 years of "in your face" service would NOT have changed the design outcome, and in fact, most of you all (who are probably only not commenting because your lawyer told you not to) would have been even more angry if you had been involved in design discussions, only to have the Sufis tell you that it was still going to be what it is given their faith and given the guru's white dome on his tomb. So I think they were smart to just design it according to their needs and not involved the neighbors.

AND - if they were really being insular, they would not have opened a school to serve children at all. They would have been like nuns in a silent convent.

Besides, even though Anon 4:42 PM thinks they are "too insular", she sends her kids there to take advantage of their non-insular, inclusiveness teaching... do I smell hypocrisy? yeah smacks of what's in it for Anon 4:42

And others too - It seems to be fine to send your kids to their school for generations, saving all that extra money you did not have to spend on tuition on vacations, big cars, or whatnot, but hey, when the Sufis appropriately request to build something they need on their own property, it's just more of what's in it for you; maybe it's time for this neighborhood to learn a little selflessness.

Perhaps that's where the Sufis failed, if they did at all: perhaps they did not charge you all enough for the school - then perhaps you would have paid more attention to them and not have thought that they should again just "take it in the shorts like they always have" ... because it's clear that to some of you, they are just suckers who aren't smart enough to charge full freight for the school, so you'll just take, take, take because their quiet ways are part of the reason you think you should be able to demand "what's in it for you" in this case too. Well, there may be nothing in this for you. If no one told you yet, life is not going to ensure that everything in it is designed to make you happy.

I would argue that other than their programs, they have not been insular. They were original members of the SCA before the old board bailed and made it look as though the Sufis took over. Notice how they have not defended all that at the Commission? I personally think they should have spelled out how Dennis and his peer mismanaged the SCA and did not pay the bills they should have, but I think the SCA and the Sufis did not do that so that fences can mend at some point; I think they really are that generous to be thinking that far ahead - not many of you are, and that's too bad.

Not a Dummy said...

All I have to say is that anyone who buys a house hanging over a 100 foot cliff is an idiot to begin with. Eventually those houses will succumb to erosion that has nothing to do with the Sufism center.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anon 12:51,
Hypocrite? Nothing in my posts states a lack of support for the new sanctuary. Nothing in my posts indicates a disdain for the Sufis or lack of appreciation for their selfless service. I am in awe of the Sufi's ability to create good things within the community. I just simply wonder, why now and not then? And, that I hope they continue to put good things out there in this larger way. That's it. Simple. My posts were intended to reflect a possible rationale for why some of the Saranap neighbors feel the fear that they do. I am saddened that your anger got in the way of seeing my intention.

Dear Anon 6:26,
Hindsight for any given situation is always 20/20 and opposing sides can and should reflect on what they could have done differently and recognize that the truth of the situation usually lies somewhere in the middle. I am saddened to hear about the guy who made a threat at the meeting. Sounds like he is very fearful and, like most of you posting here, very angry. Sad.

Anonymous said...

"I hope they continue to put good things out there in this larger way."

You obviously missed the last meeting and what Anon 10:51 was saying: At the last public hearing, the Sufi representative agreed with neighbors and said that because the newer public events have become so popular, the Sufis are not able to handle the parking under the traffic program.

This was a complaint that at least 10 neighbors focused on, thinking that if they could show that the Sufis intended to violate the Traffic Program, perhaps it would stop the project.

So, the Sufis, backed into a corner on this issue, clearly had to decide between offering public events, where they admitted they could not control the traffic, or to stay within the Traffic Plan of the project itself, which they have been able to document that is has been under control for 4 years.

Like any of us would, they chose the project itself, and so have informed the county that they will no longer have public events. So your wish will not happen and it was not due to anything the Sufis did.

Clearly a case where the neighbors got an unintended consequence by trying to make the issue a decision point.

Perhaps the neighbors can work with the Meher Schools (a separate legal org) to bring back some of those events, but my guess is that the Meher schools would have to see some real and genuine interest on the part of the neighbors to consider it, given all the negativity.

BTW, the County TV rebroadcasts the meeting at 11 AM this morning.

Anonymous said...

"I am saddened that your anger got in the way of seeing my intention."

Oh you're good. I bet you are the alpha female in your group of women friends... polite but always controlling the inferences.

Anyway, look, you have enough of an issue with the Sufis to broadcast your analysis publicly, which clearly means you think they should do something differently - which is, in this case as you know, a highly charged situation.

You have tried to lay the responsibility for change on the Sufis, and this is where I take great issue with your point of view.

Why did you not confront the neighbors on what they may have done less than perfectly - perhaps suggest that they should have been more neighborly for 35 years instead of just the last 5?

But no, you did not do that. You jumped on the bandwagon of expecting the Sufis to in some way change, alter, or digress from their practices to suit you.

As such, you really are no better than the neighbors, in my opinion. You benefit from their service, and so you've just nicey-nice'd it up so you sound balanced.

Perhaps you could take your savings from the reduced tuition and donate it to the programs that you think should continue.

Helen said...

From Helen to Meher Schools parent:

How does volunteering equate with insularity? I would say that any volunteering is the opposite of being insular. I also don't think our views dovetail all that much. Sorry to disappoint.

BTW - regarding the man who said there would be "hell to pay". He was referring I think to if his family were harmed during construction, but the likelihood of his stated concern actually occurring was negligible. Still it was a clear and personal threat that I think the Sufis cannot take lightly.

I don't have much else to say about this situation. I believe that it will be approved, opposing neighbors will likely appeal, and that any appeal will not succeed.

Helen said...

I stand corrected by the person breathing down my neck:

regarding the man who said there would be "hell to pay". He was referring I think to if his family were harmed BY AN ACCIDENT on the corner.

Just when I thought I was done with this - ok, so to that I say - You should only hold the person responsible for the accident responsible should such a thing occur. And that reminds me, while that corner is anxiety producing, what is real are the CHP reports

As I recall, those reports show that there have been like 1 accident in 5-10 years at that intersection - and the Commissioners will believe the CHP more than people opposed to a project, any day of the week.

Anonymous said...

Correction to 3:44 who states:

"Prior to about 2007, Sufism Reoriented never organized a neighborhood rides service for the needy, held a used clothing drive, thrown block parties"

The neighbor helping neighbor program and Children's Clothing Drive are organized by the Saranap Community Association, not Sufism (and not the Saranap Homeowners Group).

The Saranap Community Association is made up Saranap residents, both Sufis and Non-Sufis.

Flatulence Wafts thru Saranap said...

To me, this is how the oppositional neighbors sound when combined:
• Saranap is rural, almost country
• Saranap is semi-rural, close to the city
• Saranap is urban, and there is blight
• Boulevard Way is a narrow country lane and can't handle more traffic
• Boulevard Way is a highway - people go 80 miles an hour on it
• I am fine with the Sufis having their church there (i.e. I accept that it is a church)
• The Sufis should not build a church there because they are really building a conference center (i.e. I do not accept that it is a church)
• The building is a mosque and they will be teaching the Koran and that is not okay
• I have no problem with the Sufis and Meher Baba (not Muslim); in fact, I like Meher Baba's teachings

ON TRUST:
• some or even many leave your children and grandchildren with the Sufis 5 days a week for most of the year at the Meher Schools, or did so in the past - so you know that Sufis can be trusted with your most vulnerable and most valued
• in fact you party with them on holidays and go to their public events; at least one of you claimed to "love" them
• and - the Meher Schools just won 2011 Best of the East Bay for preschools, and so they are WIDELY trusted

BUT SOMEHOW, at the same time, you think:
• you should not trust Sufis to follow a traffic plan that they have documented following for 4 years; sure it's a promise of a sort, but there are some ways to enforce it - but here is the problem you guys have: you trust these people with your kids, so who the heck do you think you are fooling in this whole matter?
• Sufis took over the SCA (no, they did not; that's bunk. Both Sufis and nonSufis are on their board and the Chair of the SCA is not a Sufi)
• you can't trust Sufis to procreate more Sufis or attract anyone else to their lifestyle - well history shows something different
• you can't trust Sufis to not bring in multitudes - well history shows something different
• even though their philosophy is widely accessible for anyone to research (and I did), you seem to act as though they are Islamic extremists who are building some kind of bunker - yeah right - if they are as old as you all say they are, they could pose no real threat.

and I could go on endlessly, but this list should be enough of a buzz kill. I think this is how the Commissioners see this situation based on the "testimony" you "caring neighbors" took everyone through.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

[N]o man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
-- Thomas Jefferson

Anonymous said...

Dear 10:28, your assumptions about me continue to provide much of my daily amusement so thank u for that. BTW, I am a man. You might want to take a look at what appears to be your gender bias. Have a nice day.

Anonymous said...

The wall of separation between Church and State that Thomas Jefferson thought the First Amendment raised, in no way prejudies the practice of anyone's religion. However, it is important to realize that the first amendment is designed to insulate civil society from the excesses of the zealous.

BikerBabe said...

"all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."

that assumes, of course, that one's opinions have been sufficiently considered before expressed, and that people are intellectually capable of a mature civil capacity to begin with

Martha Ross, AKA Soccer Mom said...

Hello all,
I deleted two comments. One was making unnecessarily derogatory comments about the faith of other people, mischaracterizing it ways I don't want on my blog. The second alleged that someone committed improprieties. Again, I'm all for Free Speech but personal insults and comments that insult people because of religion, race, gender, sexual orientation or other qualities cross a line. My line.

BikerBabe said...

First, to 12:50 PM: Now there's the type of oppositional voice I have come to expect from this community.

Back to what I came here to respond to:

"They were original members of the SCA before the old board bailed and made it look as though the Sufis took over. Notice how they have not defended all that at the Commission? I personally think they should have spelled out how Dennis and his peer mismanaged the SCA and did not pay the bills they should have..."

Well said. I wish the chair, Lee, had taken a moment to clarify that the opposed SCA board members resigned en mass and so it just appeared that the sufis took over. As you probably know, the SCA board is comprised of about 45%/55% sufis and nonsufis at this point from what I have been told.
I feel that the (alleged) improprieties that occurred under Dennis and the other old board members should also have been made more public so that more neighbors would have a clear picture of what really happened, but I guess the SCA decided to just turn lemons into lemonade.
You know what's kind of ironic? I get how the sufis have members and so people can't attend unless they are members, but I do not find it reasonable that the SHO claims to represent Saranap when so many residents here are renters or condo owners and can't even join the SHO. It just doesn't compute. Though on the other hand, any group that would have 12:50 PM as a member, would you want to belong?

BikerBabe said...

ok, SM - I get why so I corrected it to say alleged, but will understand if you take it off - I thought it was well known that there were concerns there . . my bad.

Martha Ross, AKA Soccer Mom said...

Sorry Biker Babe,
It still doesn't work. If the allegations are made in court, as in a lawsuit, or by an investigative agency, such as police or a District Attorney's Office, that could work. But anyone mentioning those allegations would still need to show where they come from.

Anonymous said...

Posted on the Save Our Saranap website:

"Regardless of the outcome, regardless of which side prevailed, your involvement made a huge difference. The next step will be an appeal to the Board of Supervisors."

So the opposition actually feels certain that the application/EIR will be approved and that an appeal is their next step. I don't think they would win an appeal.

I hope you all do a bit more homework to get to some resolution: that you did your best to fight for what you thought was right for you but that there's more to life than fighting this perceived injury.

My worry is that all you will have done, at the end of the day, is waste your money if you try to fight a county decision in court that has RLUIPA involved - and - that litigating will make healing the situation very difficult.

This morning I looked up to find out who Sanford Skaggs is and why the Sufis have him on board - now I know - perhaps it is worth a gander for everyone involved. He's no slouch.

BikerBabe said...

ok AM, then delete my 1:39 PM too

Anonymous said...

As someone who has unfortunately been involved in two legal situations, I think that Mr. Flashman has two choices:

1) mislead the SHO about their likelihood of success and milk them for fees

2) be honest and tell them they only have about a one in a trillion chance of stopping the project and it would likely cost well in excess of $100K to fight it

Anonymous said...

Biker Babe said:
"but I do not find it reasonable that the SHO claims to represent Saranap when so many residents here are renters or condo owners and can't even join the SHO. It just doesn't compute."

Actually, I am a condo owner, and I am a member of the SHO. In fact, I'm also a member of the SCA. :-)

But I do agree with you, it's unfortunate that they do not allow renters, many of who have lived in Saranap for many years, to join.

BikerBabe said...

Renters also pay property tax through their rent, and renters also vote. I know a good chunk of renters who are supporters of the development. Most of them are not members of the church and most of them are pretty annoyed that homeowners are inferring that only the opinion of homeowners should matter.

Old Fart said...

BikerBabe: You probably thought that about the condo owners because, as far as I recollect, the SHO/SOS only had single dwelling owners speak, probably to try to drive the point that they were a tax paying group to be reckoned with. Because they deal with taxpayers all the time, it's naive to think the Planning Commissioners would respond to that tactic.

On another topic, I agree with the list that Flatulence put together and I think it shows how an outsider would hear the "case" that the opposers put together (and kudos for your funny nickname). I'm not an attorney, but I am pretty sure that the public testimony can be entered into court proceedings and would show that the opposition was based in religious bigotry. As I reflect on the past few weeks, what comes to me most is that perhaps the unintended result of what the opposing neighbors did was to actually help define the case even more clearly as a NIMBY/religious bias situation.

See, when someone gets up and says "majority rules" and a Commissioner shakes his head "no" in clear response, it shows a clear lack of basic education about law. As James Madison claimed, in so many words, the point of law is to "protect the rights of the minority from the tyranny of the majority" and, as most of us in the neighborhood have come to learn, whether we like it or not, that's what the RLUIPA law is intended to do for small unknown religions who are exercising their property rights.

One speaker actually said something like "it's not as though it's got a cross or a steeple". It's my opinion that it became clear that saying it doesn't conform to the neighborhood was code for "it's not a Christian church and we don't want it here." I know that will piss some people off, but if they go back and watch the public comments again, it's all right there. Even the CCTimes pointed out the religious bigotry with people calling it a mosque when it is not. Time you all got the cotton out of your ears and got educated on the situation.

Anonymous said...

The old Saranap Community Association had 3 members of Sufism Reoriented on its board. The president, Dennis Collins, decided to be against the project even before it was submitted to the county for review. There was no SCA process to decide this. HE DECIDED. He thought of himself as The Decider. The "election committee" would not consider qualified applicants to run for open positions on the board. So TWO Sufis ran as write in candidates (along with several others). The SCA election committee found others candidates (including two who didn't even live in the area!). When the election was held, all the write in candidates were elected, and NONE of the others. Then the MAJORITY (you do the math 5 sufis...6 non-sufis) resigned in a huff, and accused the Sufis of taking over. Explain how the Sufis took over if the Majority resigns. No seriously...please explain. They also had not paid the state and federal taxes for several years. The new board paid them. I don't think they can be characterized as a bunch of muscle artists! These charges of a takeover are a ridiculous slander by pissed off losers of an election where they had overplayed their hand, and badly, and tried to shift blame to the righteous winners who had no intention whatever of taking over the organization, nor could they have with only 5 out of 11 votes. It was all a bunch of lies. Just like many other lies heard at the hearings.

All Things Tat said...

I live on Saranap in one of the apartments. I pass by this place when I walk my dog and didn't know what it was. It looks like a creepy cult complex.