County requests EIR for controversial Sufism Reoriented Sanctuary project

Nearly two years after Saranap residents began hearing about the sanctuary plans of a religious organization, based in their unincorporated Walnut Creek neighborhood, the Contra Costa County Conservation and Community Development Department has asked that the organization, Sufism Reoriented to prepare an environmental impact report.

County senior planner LaShun Cross says the county came to a decision to ask for the maximum scrutiny of the project’s environmental impact because of the project’s size and environmental impact concerns expressed by residents.

Sufism Reoriented proposes to build a white, 66,000-square-foot, multi-domed building on a 3.25-acre site wedged mostly amongst single-family homes in this older, residential neighborhood. The project has hit a raw nerve in this once tranquil neighborhood, with longtime residents complaining that such a large, white “spaceship-looking” building 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.
A comparison to two other big white buildings might help give you an idea of the project’s size: It is larger than the White House, the new Walnut Creek library, and the eight-story, 58,000-square foot building, vacant and set-for-demolition, at the corner of Newell Avenue and South Main Street.
Sufism Reoriented leaders say the building will be used for religious, cultural and educational programs for its 350-member congregation. They add that  building, particularly the domes, was designed to blend in with the surrounding, grass covered hills. They also say it would be eco-friendly and “nestled in a glade of trees.” Visually, its impact on the surrounding neighborhood would be lessened, they say, because two-thirds of it– 46,000 square feet—would be built underground.

That underground construction is one of many environmental concerns raised by neighbors. With 46,000-square-feet of the sanctuary underground, the excavation will need more than 3,400 dump truck loads over five months, according to estimates by Save Our Saranap, the organization opposing the project as it is currently planned. Rather than “sit lightly on the earth,” as Sufism claims, the project would crash onto the earth, “like a meteor, complete with crater,”

SOS members also question the claim about the project “nestling in a glade of trees,” To build it, SOS members say, the plan calls for the destruction of all vegetation and buildings on the site and the removal of all 42 existing trees, including six heritage oaks.

Sufism Reoriented leaders have agreed to the county’s request for an EIR, even though the study will delay the project by up to four months and cost them some money. Actually in a statement they made in their most recent newsletter, they make it sound as though they approached the county and volunteered to do the EIR, despite believing that a smaller environmental study would suffice.

That’s not how Cross described the decision-making process over the EIR. Whatever.

The Sufism leaders say: “We have engaged professional consultants who have prepared various CEQA-related studies. … Based on these studies, our consultants have concluded that any impacts from our project will be relatively light. … Of course an applicant would not normally request an EIR if it were unlikely to be required. But we have concluded that it is in our best interest for the county to proceed with an EIR at this time, rather than the smaller environmental study that they might choose to do for a project like ours with a low likelihood of environmental impact.

The leaders go on to say that cost to do the EIR now could save potentially larger costs down the line. The EIR could also give “county decision makers more flexibility to weigh and balance factual evidence to arrive at the best possible decision” and would offer reassurance to all “our neighbors.

37 thoughts on “County requests EIR for controversial Sufism Reoriented Sanctuary project

  1. It's not my religion but having studied world religions Sufism is an admirable one. I can think of a lot worse uses for that land than peaceful quiet neighbors. How about a few hundred low-income housing units, more condos, or another worthless strip-mall. All with more traffic and noise than a temple.


  2. Why choose examples of worse uses? It seems to me the current zoning of single family homes is the appropriate use. The 350 Sufism Reoriented members could make a lot of people happy by restricting their building needs to the commercial area of saranap where they already own a considerable amount of realestate.


  3. Residents of Saranap need to keep their eyes and ears to the ground cuz County has less than a stellar record on environmental & design review… want an example?, just look at those f'in ugly houses with tall skirt walls on or near Twin Peaks Dr.

    EIRs are required when thresholds of significance are exceeded – not simply because residents ask for one. EIRs are just that – a report. The important questions to be answered is what can or will be done to address the identified impacts.

    Lastly, places of worship are protected by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). You all need to carefully review that because it may come into play when the decision comes down. Is requiring a new design for the current “spaceship looking” design a compelling government interest?

    Also stay focused on the land use & design issues rather than the type of religion or ethnic origin of persons participating.


  4. Are these the purple people? That building in the picture across from Kaiser is a marvel of building ugliness, it reminds me of the outfits Mr. Farly wore on 3's Company.


  5. Come on' AKA Soccer Mom – not this story again!

    For whatever it is worth, I think it is becoming clear that it is a waste of energy to fight this thing people.

    I find it disappointing that AKASM can't find better topics instead of just rehashing the same ol' same ol' – For instance, that whole dump truck thing was de-mythed last spring, it will never be that many trucks – perhaps half is more realistic. All the contentions presented will be addressed through the public comment process and I as a non-Sufi neighbor, am looking forward to that.

    So, why AKASM continues to get her data from SOS is beyond anyone who's been paying attention. As long as she continues to get data from SOS – a group whose site posted some rather religiously biased thought – I would ask readers to consider that there may have been a spin that AKASM put on to whatever LaShaun Cross may have said.

    And so, though I generally plan to stick to the public comment process, IMO, 1:18 PM says it all: RLUIPA! RLUIPA! RLUIPA!

    AKASM – maybe you can tell us: just where does your axe to grind come from?


  6. Well, it certainly is less obtrusive than the New Library, the huge bilious colored shipwreck that hovers over Civic Park. Gawd, it is so Ugly.


  7. Hi Old Grouchy Grump,
    I don't think Soccer Mom is grinding an axe. This is a news story and she's reporting it. The people responding probably do tend to grind their axes, later perhaps aiming them in different directions.
    It's interesting for me because I was helping a friend in Saranap yesterday and she commented about all of her Sufi neighbors that had been supportive during hard times she had lately with friends dying of cancer. That made a positive impression with me about their group.


  8. so…. this “not even close to being news” story might then be titled:

    “Sufi newsletter reports that county is covering its butt: EIR, asked for by [who cares?!?!] will be done before county rules in favor to avoid violating Federal RLUIPA!”


  9. yawn…. boring story… fluff out of nothing… AKASM does not even live in Saranap… will get passed by county… next! …


  10. This is a non story. BTW…for those of you who might like the truth: The county did not require the EIR at all! Sufism Reoriented requested the full EIR, to put to rest ridiculous and zealous charges continually raised by the shrill few in the neighborhood. Those for whom lie and innuendo are a way of life. The vast majority — and I mean thousands — support the project. Get your facts straight Soccer Mom! You do your readers a disservice to suggest that they are being made to do it, and just fall in with the malicious SOS crowd. You are just doing their bidding! Also the county hires outside firms to complete EIR's. It is not done by the county and it is always paid for by the applicant.


  11. Heritage trees! This is another red herring. I have been told by planners at the county that these are not heritage trees. They told me there are about two heritage trees in the entire Saranap area. Just because someone calls it a heritage tree…DON'T make it one! This is about creating fear and using scare tactics, because the few opposition folks have pretty much got nothing. And describing it as a “meteor complete with crater,” this is just ridiculous slander against someones's religion. More fear mongering. The building above ground averages less than 17' tall! It was mostly put underground to accommodate the neighborhood. So much for trying to make people happy 11:36~


  12. Ok- I can't put an addition on my home because of a heritage oak (per the city of WC) and they can pull up SIX of them? WTF? How does that work?


  13. city of WC often makes different decisions than does CCCounty…

    Saranap is an unincorporated portion of county so county rules on issues in it.


  14. As I understand it, they are not currently heritage trees by the county's definition – however – at the time to apply to remove them, an application that includes an assessment of whether or not they are heritage is required.

    If they are borderline or even if they are heritage at that point, the developers can offer a mitigation for their removal – that is, they can offer to plant a myriad of trees, perhaps in the 18-24 range, say 3-4 new trees for every one of the six removed, as a way to offset any possible adverse impact on the earth there.

    and thems more like facts that don't resort to quoting off one side or the other's website….


  15. Ok AKASM, I think what is bothering me here is that last time you brought up this so-called news story, you at least gave the Sufis an opportunity to comment, and the story sounded as though you were being a journalist.

    This time, you are again hammering them like you were in the spring, which is why I asked about the axe to grind. I am not trying to start a huge debate, but perhaps you could explain why you seem to have gone to the SOS side so strongly without doing more journalistic research…

    and I'll grant that you could have done some calls to the Sufis and were not responded to, but I personally doubt that, given how open the Sufis have been.

    So, you don't need to answer the axe to grind, but at least understand from whence it came.


  16. Dear readers,
    I have been in contact with representatives of Sufism Reoriented… And they provided me with their newsletter as explaining their position on this most recent development. In fact, they contacted me, saying that they had decided to go along with the EIR plan.

    I just needed to verify this new development with the county.

    Do I have an axe to grind? Not anymore, believe it or not.

    I was initially annoyed by how one member of the organization represented himself to me, in an evasive, deceptive, condescending way. I learned that's how other Sufism reps came across to other residents, who are friends of mine…

    That annoyance has subsided, but I still think, in my amateur design critic way, that the look and size of the project is just not appropriate to the site, and to the surrounding area.

    I don't live in THAT neighborhood, but I live close by.

    And, it will just look silly and weirdly pretentious.

    As I told the very nice guy who is representing the Sufism project, I just think a big, white massive domed structure, in that particular location, right next to ranch homes and 60s apartment buildings, will stand out in a not very attractive way.

    Sufism members like to defend their dome design by mentioning the design principles of Thomas Jefferson, and his Monticello and the Jefferson Memorial in downtown Washington D.C. The dome has significance to their faith. Okay, I respect that.

    But with regard to their overall design plan, I visited Monticello this past summer. Beautiful building, beautiful space, on so many levels, as well all know. But, as I pointed out to the Sufism representative, Monticello works, and the big white domed Jefferson Memorial works, because of their setting and surroundings. Big, park like areas. Acres of green, and ponds, and river and hills and parks.

    As glorious and gracious as Monticello is, it would look of silly and out of place plopped on the site, just off Boulevard Way, where the Sufism organization wants to build its sanctuary.

    If I have an axe to grind, that's it.


  17. Let the Sufis build!

    From what I've read about this group, they're good community members and could be even more of an asset to the community with their center.

    A lot of buildings look absurd and disproportionately large and out of place from sky views but look fine from street-level. Every time some big new structure goes up somewhere, people freak out. Then, flash-forward years later, and people tolerate or even love and adore many of those same structures. (Hello, Trasnsamerica Pyramid!)


  18. hmmm… I still feel that you were grinding pretty hard on that axe… was your visit to Monticello motivated by your discussions with Sufis? If so, that's seems kind of telling.

    Monticello is 11' taller than the Sufi center, as its height is 44' 7″ vs 33' 6″ – or 33% higher, so I am not sure it's a fair comparison on a height/viewing basis, particularly as Monticello also presents a square face:

    It's also cloaked to some extent in trees – In fact, this shot shows exactly how well trees provide some significant shielding:

    and, in my mind, these Monticello arials prove out the Sufi claim that trees can be used to seclude a building from view:

    particularly this one which shows that regardless of how much other land is around it, some serious foliage would obscure the view, even up close:

    So – – while I can empathize that you have to hear it from your friends, and perhaps they ask you to post stories about it, the facts are that the building will be cloaked and Monticello provides a rather good example – particularly on the right side of how foliage can cloak the view from neighbors.

    What it comes down to – it's not up to you really in terms of design preferences, or even up to me – it's their legal and religious right to build what reflects their faith – and that, is a debate that's been had here ad nauseum, so I won't take this there except to say that AKASM, it's really getting old, and your participation in projecting that it should not be built as designed is getting old…

    Fortunately, your view is only counted as one opinion as far as the county is concerned, and RLUIPA protects religions from NIMBYs, because you have now clearly admitted you are clearly just that.

    – from someone who really knows what being Old feels like – and clearly not a Sufi, or I'd be at their service right now.


  19. Just making things clear here: AKASM said, in the same post:

    “Do I have an axe to grind? Not anymore, believe it or not.
    .(lot of detail on axe)
    “If I have an axe to grind, that's it.”


  20. Grumpy- Just a friendly reminder that this is HER blog. Her choice of subjects. Her opinions. But did you notice that she even prints long winded rebuttals to people that disagree with her? BTW- I would really like to read your blog. Gotta link?


  21. Old Grouchy Grump,
    Thanks for sharing your concerns about the axe that I'm grinding, and thanks for doing that research on Monticello.

    Oddly enough, my pathological obsession with this sanctuary debate did not drive me to visit Monticello. I was there on a family vacation, and had long wanted to visit. However, I confess that either during or after my visit, the thought occurred to me to make a comparison to the Sufism project. And, lo and behold, in a subsequent newsletter, the Sufism members brought up comparisons to Monticello in defending their dome design. Wow! Maybe I'm actually on some mystical wave length with the Sufism members. Or, maybe, they have found a way to tap into my thoughts! 🙂
    Joking aside, I just don't think the design of this building fits in to this particular site. It's rather institutional/monumental, and it could potentially be very lovely in a very large park-like setting. The kind of setting that surrounds Monticello. Actually, go to the Monticello website and look at images and renderings of the new eco-friendly visitor center built there. It was a gorgeous building. Low-key, understated, but very Jeffersonian, I guess you'd say, in the simplicity of its design, and its desire to blend in with setting.

    Now, that sort of design could fit in very well with the location where the Sufism members want to build. Geeze, if only the Sufism members had tapped into my thoughts earlier!

    But, yes, what does what I say matter? Really it doesn't. I'm just one person, and I don't even live in the 'hood. I know that.


  22. Thanks for clarifying that AKASM, because I think it's not helpful to the neighborhood's ability to get past this thing, once it's approved, to post with the slant that you took, as if thre really was some awful and new dispute about the EIR, because it wasn’t..

    It seems to me this “story” was really just a way to express your now openly expressed opposition.

    So, Monticello comparisons aside, it is good now that we all understand that you clearly are approaching the project with a strong bias. You don’t actually that you will dislike the aesthetics of the site and it’s clear that you appear to be ignoring the renderings that show it won’t be much visible in a few years.

    As such, no one – especially news reporters – can now reasonably take your Sufi Sanctuary posts as even resembling journalism, but instead should be seen simply as opinion pieces. You admit so yourself.

    So, I for one appreciate your admission, so now we all can peal off your bias and the situation can be seen for what it is: a neighborhood's coming to grips with the rights of a small religious group, a group that has earned the respect of most of its neighbors through 30+ years of quiet service.


  23. should have read:

    You don’t actually KNOW that you will dislike the aesthetics of the site and it’s clear that you appear to be ignoring the renderings that show it won’t be much visible in a few years.


  24. What am I missing…the new Sufism Reoriented church WILL be in a park, and one that will be open to the whole neighborhood for quiet and contemplation. Who else has provided that? And for free? Certainly no one else that I know of, and certainly not the County! This church site, and the Meher School nearby are actually the ONLY public accessible open space in the whole darn area! Really, the lies are not only horrible, but exasperating to most people.


  25. i've never posted onto a blog and don't know if this will work. I want to ask why SM assumes that representatives of Sufism Re'd are lying to her or to any of us? i have had nothing but open and genuine converstions with any of the members for all the years I have lived here. So far, everything they have explained about their new sanctuary has been shown to be true. With all the nervousness that abounds in the neighborhood, it makes sense to me–given the care and diplomacy they have tried to apply to their project–that they would also offer to do an EIR, just as they stated in their newsletter. What makes any of us assume that they are spinning the truth? Do you know any of these people personally? I believe in my intuition and ability to recognize truth and sincerity; my personal experience tells me that I can trust them.

    And, as an aside, i can't wait to have a beautiful park in my neighborhood–who wouldn't want that?


  26. AKASM said:
    “Dear March 2, 8:35 a.m.
    Just pointing out that I was told two different versions of how this EIR came about.”

    Look, if you were “just” pointing anything out, as came out in our exchange, it is that you simply are an individual with a blog – not an objective journalist – who is opposed to the Sanctuary. You clearly admitted so – didn’t even both to post to deny it.

    With all due respect, I feel that for you to now try to imply that somehow you were “just pointing out” something in an objective manner is clearly disingenuous. Your tone was persuasive against the Sufis, and, in my view, you were attempting to manipulate your readers into believing that the Sufis’ are being less than honest over something that really is a non issue.

    Perhaps it is a bit like the well known blind men and the elephant example – whatever portion you touch of the elephant, you have the experience from that point of view. So, though I find it kind of hard to believe that a county employee was freely giving of her opinion or much information at all about the EIR process to you – a non-neighborhood individual during the middle of a structured decision process – I do believe that people can and do see things differently. As such, in such a situation, seeing things differently does NOT mean anyone is actively lying.

    Your tone, sarcasm and the minutia of the topic choice makes it clear: you were trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, as we old’uns say – and trying to persuade others to join you.

    It did not work.


  27. Yup…the Bard used Anon all the time. But in this case, bias is bias, and you needn't be a rocket scientist to figure that out.


  28. Why are the WC Sufis and their supporters so defensive? So threatened by these blog reports? Why don't they take the high road and let the process just play out quietly? Enshallah.

    I don't think the neighbors are opposed to their religious beliefs, after all they aren't “real Sufis”.

    “Defense, I've come to understand, is the first act of war. …”

    – By Byron Katie


  29. Yes, the Sufi defensiveness is difficult for everyone. There are ways to address different points of view in a positive non-judgmental manner. Listening to others, and allowing them to be heard is the first step.


  30. Walnut Creek, as I worked there in the mid-90's, was a beautiful place and probably still is. It attracted folks from all over the world.

    Now WC is similar to my Eastern US popular city; attracting folks from worldwide areas with their new cultures.

    We have a similar issue, but on a much smaller scale. I suppose when their septic tank overflows during their annual Amadou Bamba event then maybe they will find an alternative to using a 2000 sq ft house for their hundreds of followers.

    It's getting messy.

    Contrary to belief, they do nothing to support or help our community, not even maintaining their land at our community's entrance. But, at the last minute, are landscaping parts of their yard for their Sheik's soon arrival.

    We wouldn't be in this situation if the mayor had not accepted a donation from them for a planned ethnic center.

    Hope it does not run down hill.

    Keep up your blog. 🙂




  32. Google Meher, the founder of the Sufi in Usa who has tricked 350 people into giving all their. $$.

    Sufi is a part of Islam.


  33. you people need to take a chill pill good lord. back off akasm. f*** the sufi temple but if it ends up being built, saranap is walnut creeks butthole anyways. all saranap needs to be destroyed and rebuilt lol.


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