Sufism Reoriented says it, not the county, initiated the request for an EIR for its new sanctuary

In a February 26 post, I wrote that the Contra Costa County Conservation and Community Development Department has asked Sufism Reoriented to prepare an environmental impact report for its controversial plans to build a 66,000-square-foot sanctuary in the Saranap neighborhood. I had received two different versions over who made the initial request for the EIR: the county or Sufism Reoriented. 

When I spoke with county senior planner LaShun Cross, she told me that the county had come to the decision to ask for the EIR. She said the county concluded that it should require maximum scrutiny of the project’s environmental impact because of the project’s size and concerns expressed by residents.
Meanwhile, Sufism Reoriented leaders say it was their idea to ask for the EIR, even though though they believed a smaller environmental study would suffice.
They talked about asking for the EIR in in their March newsletter, a copy of which was shared with me on February 13. In that newsletter, they said they hoped the county “approves our request for an EIR.”

After I published the February 26 post, a Sufism Reoriented representative contacted me to say his organization did “not put a distorting spin in our newsletter about who originated the EIR. … we did indeed initiate the request to the County.”

To assure me that this is how the EIR came about, the representative, Steve Sardella, attached a letter, dated February 3. It is addressed to Cross and comes from Marie Cooper, an attorney representing Sufism Reoriented on this project. This letter is also published on Sufism Reoriented’s website. Two weeks after the letter was sent, Sardella said, the request for the EIR was approved. Here is the letter: 

Dear Ms. Cross:
I am writing on behalf of Sufism Reoriented, the applicant for the new sanctuary project. We request that the County prepare an EIR for the project even if staff would otherwise prepare a proposed Mitigated Negative Declaration for the Planning Commission’s consideration.

As you know, an EIR must be prepared only when the record contains evidence that there may be unavoidable significant impacts. A Mitigated Negative Declaration is permitted when there is no such evidence. The studies conducted by our consultants have not revealed any unavoidable significant impacts. Experience at the existing sanctuary establishes that the new sanctuary will generate few vehicle trips. Also, the new sanctuary project proposes redevelopment of a developed site in a developed neighborhood. All these factors indicate that a Mitigated Negative Declaration would most likely be appropriate for the project.

However, the new sanctuary has generated controversy among a significant minority of our neighbors, and we want to make sure that all the issues they raise are fully vetted. An EIR would also give the County decision makers more flexibility to weigh and balance evidence and arguments, allowing them to arrive more easily at the best possible decision in this matter.

We understand that preparation of an EIR would involve more time and effort than would preparation of a Mitigated Negative Declaration, and Sufism Reoriented confirms its commitment to pay all reasonable processing costs, including those associated with an EIR. We also understand that the decision regarding what document to prepare lies solely in the County’s hands. We make this request to alert the County to our position, confirm our agreement to pay costs, and explain why an EIR would be appropriate.

41 thoughts on “Sufism Reoriented says it, not the county, initiated the request for an EIR for its new sanctuary

  1. The Mormons would Never had to jump through all these hoops.

    Because, The Mormons Rule. Or, The Mormons Sue.

    Yes, they Do.


  2. I am confused by this post, SM, because you admitted in the prior post on this topic (Feb 26) that you are totally against the project, yet this post sounds like an apology.

    I mean, it would actually sound like a mea culpa if you had in fact said “I WAS WRONG” or “CORRECTION” or “ERRATA” at the beginning of it, like a real reporter would have, given the facts you then present.

    So please explain, are you now admitting that there is concrete proof that the Sufism requested the EIR? Certainly the facts you present support the Sufism people's contentions that they requested it.

    So I'd like to hear what you were intending by posting this, but I am still at “YAWN” overall – another clearly-not-news-for-anyone-living-in-Saranap.


  3. Dear 7:56,
    Sorry, it's not clear to you.

    I'm not apologizing, and I never said I was totally against this project.

    As I wrote, I am saying there are two different versions of how this EIR came about. The county says one thing; Sufism says another. I'n presenting those two versions.

    If my reporting on this new development (or non-development) is not interesting to you, then don't read it. If you think I'm not doing an adequate job reporting, then don't read what I write.

    Members of Sufism Reoriented wanted me to present their side of this EIR issue, so I am. The organization wanted to let any readers not bored by this topic know that they see things differently.

    I do not, nor have I ever, objected to this organization wanting to build a new facility for themselves.

    I objected to how they handled their initial community outreach, and their strategies.

    I'm also not a fan of the design. I think it's big, white, and trying way too hard at something. I can't see how it will fit into the surrounding area.

    I also wonder why they need such a big building for 350 members. These are my opinions, and I'm not alone in having these opinions.


  4. Soccer Mom, it is completely disingenuous for you to say that you are not against the project. To quote you, on February 26, 2010 8:09 PM:

    “…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.”

    As such, quoting you, there is no way any critically thinking, bored or not bored, reader could ever think that you are not opposed to the project. This quote and a rather significant amount of other things you have posted also clearly show that you are opposed, and have been since the beginning.

    For those of you who actually want to know what SM is really up to here, the quote is here, about 60% down the page:

    Whatever you might be elsewhere, IMO you are not a real journalist in this matter, SM, and your original post and the subsequent comments re: the Feb 26 post, irrevocably prove it.


  5. well, well, what do we have here?

    I see you're back at it again, SM, trying to influence people on how to view the Sufi sanctuary.

    Look, you say you only object to this or that specific piece of it – that you do not care if they build something – well, guess what – that's up to the county and its interpretation of RLUIPA.

    If you were posting this in response to a Sufi request, then why not say so at the beginning? And why add in all the other superfluous innuendo to imply that the Sufis are lying, because that's what you did – yes, it was by omission, but nonetheless, this grouchy ol' grump sees through that technique and most intelligent people do.

    So, I am guessing that's why responder #2/#4 asked for clarification, because it sounded extremely carefully worded so as to suggest that the Sufis are once again being underhanded… unfortunately, the reality is that only you SM, ended looking underhanded here.


  6. Hey to all you douchebags who don't like what Soc Moms views are on this subject. Go commit an unholy act to yourself.


  7. I don't see the problem with the Sufism Reoriented building plan.

    I'm relatively new to the area (moved here three yrs ago from San Francisco), but the plans on the SR Web site look good to me. Note the landscaping and the enhanced view of Mt. Diablo, for starters:

    Beyond that, their Web site refers to much of the building being underground; to the park/green space being an open public space; and to the group's members walking to services or carpooling to minimize the effect of traffic or parking demands. This group really seems to be bending backwards to address the larger community's potential concerns.


  8. It's a joke to think this is an either/or. This is a nonissue. The significance of this letter is exaggerated by both sides. The County makes its review decision based on a variety of factors; not just on a letter sent to a planner from an attorny representing the project applicant. This is one “comment” among thousands of factors collected and reviewed for this kind of project.

    If there's a hint of possible legal challenges to a Negative Declaration the county almost always opts for a full EIR, especially for larger, controversial projects such as this one. If a Neg. Deg. is challenged by a credible source (architect, lawer, planner) the County must do a full EIR, by law, so a premptive EIR is common. It saves time and money in the long run.


  9. Oh Jesus. Enough with the Sufis already. Their story has become more than tiresome. More like Sufism Disoriented.


  10. and I, for one, look forward to becoming Disoriented!

    It's all this focus that's causing me the confusion – so some disorientation could be helpful!


  11. SM- fellow Saranap Resident here. Thank you for printing this, and thanks for the clarifications as well.

    For those who are not interested in the Saranap area (7:55), scroll down the blog and read about cupcakes and come back later. Some of us live there and WE are interested.

    And 8:33- read the quote you posted. She doesn't say she objects to the building of a church- she said she didn't like the plans for it. I am also not against the building of a church. Generally speaking, churches are really good things in a neighborhood, but SM raises some good points. The design doesn't “fit” the neighborhood in any way, shape or form. The re-grading necessary to build it is going to tie up Boulevard for a long, long time, and I, too, question why such a large facility is necessary for a church with 350 or so members. These are fair questions for people who actually live here to be asking.

    Finally, anyone who is even mildly interested in this subject can find themselves very confused about what the actual “truth” is. The confusion over the EIR, although not really super important, is indicative of how the whole thing has been handled to date.


  12. ok, so not to antagonize, since we'll all probably just have to agree to disagree here at some point, but…

    actually, 6:52 – I do live here and I did post some of the comments – there are more of us supporting them, as I understand it, than there are of you, who seem to think that you have any say in the design a religion uses to reflect its faith – for you do not and I do not. I actually might have designed something slightly different, but THAT IS NOT MY CALL and that's why the RLUIPA law exists – so NIMBY folks can not force out freedom of religion and expression.

    It's SM who does not live here and yet has time and time again used her blog to infer that the Sufi people are being underhanded. I for one am sick of her pretense of being a journalist in this matter: she left that at the door long ago. I stated that SM is against the project and she is – no matter what qualifications she puts on it: what if the Sufism changed the plan – should they keep doing so until SM agree with it? About the size people: they have explained it and, guess what, I believe them.

    It's been long acknowledged by many that as church people, perhaps the Sufi people did not plan for negative reaction and so perhaps did not “out-think” in terms of “PR” to deal with opposition – but in my view, and most of my neighbors’ view, they have long rectified any lack of information. Their website proves it: .

    Fact is, they have the right to build what they want on their property. This is not Russia or some other country of social oppression. Roads being temporarily a bit of a pain used to be called “progress” and in my mind the Sufi people are doing just that – acting in a step of progress for their congregation.

    It's time to stop thinking that we all should be telling them what to do. In fact, I'd argue that we OWE them some concessions in the situation: they have offered this neighborhood no less than 30 years of service, most notably with the Meher Schools. IMO, it's our turn to pay those contributions back by not acting like children and trying to get in the way of their PROGRESS!


  13. Several of the anonymous posts all seem to have been written by the same person.

    I don't recall environmental impact being a key point of contention here.

    The point of contention is the building doesn't fit the neighborhood. It's ugly, man.

    Do a redesign to fit the character of the neighborhood and keep your CoCoa Puff anonymous comments to yourself. They are coarse and very uncreative, just like the building.


  14. Why should sacred spiritual spaces blend in with surrounding residences. That just sounds ludicrous to me. Show me an Islamic Mosque, Christian church, or a Jewish Synagogue that blends in with the neighboring houses. There are religious buildings in neighborhoods no different than Saranap all over Walnut Creek. Unless you belong to some draconian homeowners' association, can't you paint your house any color you want? And sure we like rectangular houses because it's easier to find shelving and furniture that fits nicely within their walls. But is there any intrinsic value in the rectangular shape? It's more of a tradition. The smallest (atoms) and largest (galaxies) elements of the universe and everything in between seem to be imbued with curves or be circular or spherical in shape. Our own earth is spherical in shape, despite the fact that we overlay it with grids that make it seem flat. Some of our most useful inventions, such as wheels and ball bearings, are circular. How many Saranap residents own aircraft and plan to fly over the new sanctuary for the sole purpose of getting enraged by a structure that will be obscured from view on the ground? Or will people be embarrassed to think that their friends are seeing the sanctuary on Google Earth or Google Maps and thinking less of them because there is a domed structure near their houses? Most of Saranap has no sidewalks either, and one can feel vulnerable to passing cars, especially on parts of Boulevard Way. I think it would be nice to have a peaceful garden to walk around, especially with small children.


  15. Re the shape: it is what it is and they will be allowed to build in conformity with the symbols of their faith.

    I bet no one here who is opposed, including SM, would be telling a mosque to change their dome into a pyramid, or a Christian church to “bag the cross”, and yet that's exactly what some people seem to think is okay to be telling a minority religion.

    Get over it people. There are bigger problems in this world to argue over than the shape of your neighborhood churches.

    Five grumpy old cents.


  16. to DumbasBricks –

    YUP! I wrote three of the posts and I am the same person, and I said I was the same person, so…so what? The First Amendment says I can and here I can do it “anonymously” – which mostly I do to avoid be accosted in some grocery store by someone who may think that would be a good place to argue… I don't, so ergo, “anonymous”.

    The First Amendment also allows the Sufi people to build what they want – whether it is white or not – whether you like it or not – whether I like it or not – whether LaShun Cross personally likes it or not.



  17. OH MAN! not this topic again!

    ok, so for whatever it is worth, I found out there is no county design review and no county standards for churches, so I believe that means they won't weigh in at that level of this conversation – which I think is a good thing for every church.

    AND I know it's been said before but: People! We're in a process here as a neighborhood and we have to live with each other after the approval happens.

    I personally would like to remain engaged in the structured public process that's underway, so I hope this “debate” here can come to an end and we all work to get along.

    Old Fart


  18. You just wanted to throw that out there? Maybe you should create your own blog and ask that question of all the churches in Walnut Creek… Yes, the first amendment protects your right to make anonymous statements, but one could argue that it's pretty undignified to hide behind the cloak of anonymity to take cheap shots.


  19. This comment:

    “Do their “priests” fondle children and retire to Rossmorr?
    April 11, 2010 1:07 PM”

    is perverse and ridiculous and shows how little the poster knows about our devout neighbors.

    The Sufis have but one Spiritual Director and she was a well respected licensed psychologist for 25 years prior to the “priest” position. I have met her on several occasions now, and quite honestly, this just makes me pretty damn mad, as I could not imagine any such actions by such a completely God-devoted person.

    Go read their website:

    Quit wasting everyone's time with such innuendo! If you have accusations to make, take them to the authorities – otherwise, you are just showing how low you are.


  20. Anon 2:01,

    Do you follow the local news much? I think the poster you are belligerently berating was making reference to the Catholic priest who admits himself to fondling children and now is retired in Rossmor.


  21. Anon 4:19 PM –

    That poster was intentionally belittling someone who is well respected in Saranap and was clearly implying that she is similar to a child molester –

    it would not matter whether or not SocMom (and real newspapers) had posted about him subsequently – the comparison perhaps even approaches libel.

    In other words, I knew from whence the allegory came and my response was not at all belligerent… I was telling the person to either file a legal complaint or move on.

    In fact, since you have gone “there”: the poster is likely the same type of person who last year inferred that the Sufi leader was like the Wicked Witch in Wizard of Oz, complete with evil monkeys.

    so, it is perhaps you who are uneducated and perhaps belligerent as to why some people might react strongly to such a comment – there is a history of such comments coming from those opposed and I personally do not feel they are justified in any way shape or form.

    This conflict is simply about property rights and I do not believe character assassinations have any place in such a debate.


  22. Hear! Hear! Anon 4:33 – yer Grumpiness agrees!

    If you must continue this debate, at least stick to the wicket!


  23. Hey everyone,

    Anon 1:07 here. Sorry if I offended you, I was actually trying to make a post in reference to the admitted pedophile priest who is now retired in Rossmor.

    I thought it was rediculous how people question the intent of the Sufis when a pedophile priest lives in our community.

    Any my post got taken 180 wrongly.


    Anon 1:07


  24. Hi Anon 8:03 PM:

    Thank you for clarifying. I too took it the way Anon 2:01 and Dion did.

    That said, it should be clear now that there are folks who strongly feel that far too many posters and others have attacked the Sufis – so I guess we have made it clear that we've had enough of all that and will speak up!


  25. sometimes it seems a little too pat when someone makes a despicable statement, and is called on it by several outraged people, to then say “oh…didn't mean it that way..that your priest is a pedophile when I referred to wondering if your priest was a pedophile.” Ass! I believe people are smarter than that. This stuff will not be tolerated, and we don't need SM to be the post police either. We will do it ourselves my friend!


  26. It's easy to post smack anonymously and mine the depths of your negativity. Can't we all be positive even if we have disagreements, and not just say “Eff the Sufis”? That way the momentum will be forward, even if we are on different paths and have different opinions. I am wondering why there are no sidewalks in most of Saranap. Could we all come together for a sidewalk raising?


  27. Dion Barca, many of us don't want sidewalks in Saranap. They'd ruin the rural character of the area. Additionally, I don't want the city or county taking the land I've worked hard to own for sidewalks.


  28. I think most reasonable people might have heard about street Right of Ways. ROW's are the portion of the land the city/county owns from the center line of the street. Within this ROW, most streets are paved, but usually some portion is reserved on both sides for widening due to increases in traffic, or for the addition of sidewalks. Some may be surprised to know that that land they think they have worked hard to own, in this supposed rural area (deemed urban on county maps), is actually owned by the County. If sidewalks are desired. They will not be taking your land…you have been using theirs all this time. Hey, that means we all own that land! Picnic anyone!


  29. I'm chuckling about the rural character. I spent 8 years of my childhood in Teton County, Wyoming in the 70's- that was definitely rural. But still, there was a little shoulder on the side of the road where you could walk, and hitchhiking was a version of public transportation. Once we went to visit a neighboring school in our district on a field trip. To get there we had to go over the Teton Pass into Idaho, then back into Wyoming to the school. The nearest fast food-McDonald's- was 100 miles away in Idaho Falls!


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