Sufism Sanctuary gets OK from county commission

The Contra Costa County Planning Commission voted 4-2 to approve Sufism Reoriented’s plans to build a controversial 66-974 square-foot religious center in Walnut Creek’s Saranap neighbor.

The Contra Costa Times reported, though, that opponents are likely to appeal the commission’s decision to the Board of Supervisors. Neighbors have until Nov. 18 to appeal.

22 thoughts on “Sufism Sanctuary gets OK from county commission

  1. Great news for the neighborhood!

    I watched the video this afternoon and I was glad to see that the Planning Commissioners addressed all of the concerns people raised and provided conditions to solve the ones that were complaints within reason. I like that they are putting the onus for any road damage on the Sufis and I like that they added the provision that the Sufis would have to pay for traffic calming solutions.

    I understand that people may feel the need to follow through on the appeal. It's certainly within their rights to do so, but I question the value of doing that when Mr. Clark so clearly stated that RLUIPA backs the Sufi project.

    I wish everyone well in working to get past the disagreement. I hope folks can get to a more harmonious place about it. And thanks Martha, for not editorializing; I think it will help folks start to calm down.


  2. I don't see how RLUIPA applies here as there is nothing holding the Sufis back from building a structure more in line with the neighborhood and still maintaining the architectural scope they set out to do.

    Just seems they are too lazy and pig headed to put in the last bit of effort to straighten out the horrific appearance. Wouldn't take much.


  3. I don't see how RLUIPA applies here as there is nothing holding the Sufis back from building a structure more in line with the neighborhood and still maintaining the architectural scope they set out to do.

    Just seems they are too lazy and pig headed to put in the last bit of effort to straighten out the horrific appearance. Wouldn't take much.


  4. It is exactly because of RLUIPA that they are NOT required to suit you or anyone else in their religious practice. That is the POINT. They don't need your permission and it is not majority rules here. It is specifically NOT majority rules! It is about protecting the rights of minorities from the wishes of the so-called majority. However, in this case, the majority (by staffs own estimates and numbers … available for all to read on the county website) are IN FAVOR of the project. But for almost 3.5 years the project and Sufism Reoriented has gone through a laboriously tedious lawful process. It has more to go…but they are doing it by the book. And in the end, it will be approved. They have agreed to all conditions and all mitigations, and are not asking for a single variance. And the in about 5 years no one will remember what all the fuss was about! Time for everyone to move on.


  5. Horrific appearance???

    I think it's wonderful, and the gardens around it complement it beautifully. It's just what that corner needs. Blvd way is a dump near that corner. It needs beautifying badly.


  6. “Just seems they are too lazy and pig headed to put in the last bit of effort to straighten out the horrific appearance. Wouldn't take much.”

    If you were not asking them to give up their version of the crucifix, then perhaps they would change it, but that's the equivalent of what you are asking them to do.

    So, not only will they not do it, they very probably feel that they CAN'T do it.

    It's just not possible for them to change it; it would not be a church to THEM if it were changed. Without the domes and the white, I think it would then in fact be just some kind of business center , and thus would not hold the religious importance a church holds for its members.

    That's why I think it is time for folks to start trying to calm down a bit: as I read it, the design is not going to change.


  7. The county has no design standards for churches or ANY OTHER KIND OF BUILDING. Just because you like rambling ranch doesn't mean my craftsman bungalow is not allowed, and if I like Italianate I'm good, and if my next door neighbor likes swiss chalet…more power to them…This is the same thing. Your intergalactic craft is their house of worship.


  8. I have a couple more comments on this project.

    What I think no one has said precisely enough here is that the people who are resisting seem not to understand that what they have asked is that the county make both a Federally ILLEGAL decision against the Sufis and a decision that would violate the county's own codes and practices in order to appease the aesthetic interests of a relatively small group of people.

    What would be Federally Illegal (and stated so by Commissioner Clark, who I recently came to learn, is a lawyer): Asking the Sufis to alter their design at all (symbolism), including the size of it, because they have documented and explained their need for that size in order to conduct their rigorous religious activities (as any other faith has been able to do).

    What would be a violation of CCC's own Ordinances and Codes (and would also be a Federally Illegal decision because of RLUIPA):

    The height is fine and they are within the setbacks for such a building, so the size is fine. The parking adjustment is covered under the Traffic Ordinance (i.e. also a county code/law) and is a program the county is strongly promoting.

    Since the neighbors brought another similar project up, I checked out the BOS's Sikh Temple decision in El Sobrante. The Sikhs got an additional and very visible 70,000 sq.ft. set of buildings approved in a residential area WITHOUT an EIR. I watched the Planning Commission video last night so I know some facts on it.

    They too had opposition, but after handling some EIR-related items and a similar parking program issue, the BOS denied the neighbor's appeal and so voted to be in alignment with the laws of this nation. Good for the BOS. That should make all of us more comfortable with their leadership.

    And so if county staff has used the same methods to reach conclusions that they use on other buildings, and used the same methods they did in the Sikh Temple situation, then I believe the BOS would be violating how the county has interpreted codes and ordinances for other buildings, as well as a major Federal law. I can't see staff there making exceptions for the Sufis or anyone else, and I can't see the BOS violating RLUIPA.

    You made your opposition about the project known, and I respect that, but, again, if no one told you, what you have been asking for would require the county to make ILLEGAL decisions and there is just no getting around that.

    I hope everyone learns from the situation and makes their peace with the obvious decision that is to come.


  9. Well said! I found it interesting though, that the two who voted No on the project did not give a reason.

    It would have been nice to know why they voted the way they did.


  10. Oh I think that's been easy to develop an opinion about, given their known backgrounds and their behavior during the hearings.

    Karen Peterson is new to the PC, works for Seacology, has a B.A. in Creative Writing, and is in a program to develop women politicians, so I think she probably just views the PC as a stepping stone to “higher office”, and so likely voted thinking she would gain wealthy support, somehow not realizing that renters vote and give money to politicians too. Besides she already voted yes on the other item, so it was safe to vote “her (uneducated) conscience” perhaps?

    She very likely has never been exposed to RLUIPA, in part because, as Clark said, no one mentioned it during the hearings, so there was no lengthy discussion for her to know that she would be breaking Federal law by voting “no”. Anyway, she was clearly sucked in early by the older neighbors, gave them smiles and so forth during the hearings, and that pretty much gave it away long before the vote. At least Steele kept a poker face. I just do not think she is that educated on the matters coming before that board, but people get on these commissions for lots of reasons. They should be briefed by county counsel on any specific laws that apply to each matter. It's clear they don't do that; it would improve the decision making if they did.

    Did you know that Peterson's actually a duplicate representative from district 5 since they changed the districts? I have wondered if Sufism could get her vote kicked because there was no one there from District 2 and there is supposed to be; not that they need to, but that's a big hole in the situation there.

    As for Steele, I think he knew it was going to pass but wanted to make the point to the county departments that he disagrees with their practices. How better to do that? Get the one item in that really makes a difference on the parking (number of ADA spots) and then vote no to the whole thing. With his level of energy about it, I think at some point he will probably try to get them to change lots of policies and maybe that's why he sought the position. He sounded like a builder/contractor, so maybe he got too many things turned down by the county, so what better way to change his chances than get on the board and change the policies? I also think he does not know much about RLUIPA, since he came from the HOA world and did not really get how that impacted the situation.

    That said, the BOS were all there (except Michoff?), for the Sikh situation, and they know at least some about RLUIPA. Theories abound, I suppose, but these will work for me.


  11. “In every country and every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot … they have perverted the purest religion ever preached to man into mystery and jargon, unintelligible to all mankind, and therefore the safer engine for their purpose.” — Thomas Jefferson, to Horatio Spafford, March 17, 1814


  12. “The appropriation of funds of the United States for the use and support of religious societies, [is] contrary to the article of the Constitution which declares that 'Congress shall make no law respecting a religious establishment'”
    ……….James Madison, 1811, Writings, 8:133


  13. Here's actually what the First Amendment says – reads quite a lot different than Madison's writings:

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,

    or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

    or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    Ahhh, that feels better; I detect the wafting of more bodily gas in Saranap.


  14. “Again, if no one told you, what you have been asking for would require the county to make ILLEGAL decisions and there is just no getting around that.”

    Yep! That's the problem that SHO faces. I am going to love hearing them try to tell the Board of Supervisors that they should take on the Constitutionality of separation of church and state.

    Yeah, right, like that's gonna happen.


  15. I was going to wait until they announce the appeal date, but I think that this neighborhood has reached emotional fatigue and so in the spirit of thinking ahead, here's just more two cents from an Old Fart.

    This has been an interesting situation for me to follow. Us geezers need something to keep us occupied and what better than an old fashioned neighborhood squabble. You all know where I stand by this point and I feel strongly that the BOS will approve the project. Having said that, I want to suggest to the people who are resisting that they step back a minute and consider something on a very common sense level. I know some of you probably think I am a Sufi, but I think my comments below will show that I am on the side of fairness; fairness to Sufis and fairness in asking people to stand behind what they say or claim is true.

    There are still 5 or 6 homes adjacent that I'd bet Sufism Reoriented or individual sufis would be interested in or willing to buy, though maybe not today, or next week, and I would say, it might depend on how they are being treated, before and after the BOS decision.

    Keeping it real, as you all say these days, if they are sued, they would feel they could not engage in negotiations to buy any one's property who is suing them. I guess I am saying that we're getting towards the time for people who want to sell who live next to it to SMARTEN UP and get friendly.

    Quite frankly, I do not think the Sufis would lowball on price a whole lot; that does not fit with keeping friendly neighborhood relations now does it? The Sufis have been promoting their ethics and so they would have to abide by them in keeping with the claim that prices are not suffering around here. This would be your strongest shot to make them stand by all that testimony they gave in the Planning Commission hearings.

    Get your place appraised and if they lowball you more than 10% under appraisal, throw a public fit and use Soccer Mom's blog to do it.

    Look, it will cost you that much, if not more, for your portion of the legal fees that will only delay this thing, given what I know about RLUIPA, so I say: If you plan to leave anyway, take a small hit and walk.

    Now's your shot at getting out before everything you say you hate about it will happen and at a reasonable price. I am not saying they will be interested, but from my point of view and experience in life, we're coming up to your point of best leverage and we may already be there.

    So, read the tea leaves; I am not trying to “split” your SHO group power, but I'd suggest that anyone who is interested, perhaps contact the Sufis ahead to let them know you'd like a separate and quiet discussion. See, after the BOS decision is when groups like yours lose their steam and their energy – people then make their own decisions about how interested they really are in pursuing a lost cause or paying unending legal fees.

    You might want to be on the best side of how your own group organically will split on the issue.

    Two cents.


  16. Sorry Mr. Fart…I think that ship has sailed. By the way, they don't promote their ethics, they simply have them and adhere to them.


  17. “that ship has sailed”

    Too bad you felt the need to come here and pronounce that as if you know it to be the truth.

    I understand why the Sufis have felt the need to set a boundary during the approval process, but they have now already won, for all intents and purposes. So, the issue now is, as I see it, how does this play out long term.

    You can't tell me that eventually Sufis will not own all of those houses, because unless someone wants to stay just to be a turd, any common sense person can figure out that they will buy them up as a buffer.

    The issue is whether Sufis have a few in leadership who will ENJOY grinding the neighbors down on price one house at a time and let the bad feelings remain. If they do, then some of what the neighbors believe about will be reinforced as “the truth”, and IMO, the neighborhood will not heal. The fair price issue is a big one, and if the Sufis do not play fair on it, they will never stop the bad feelings some people have gained towards them.

    On the other hand, you can see how hard it would be for the Sufis to trust the neighbors during any negotiation if the potential for being sued is hanging over their heads. So all the sabre rattling has to go from the SHO/SOS side if the goal really has been to help the adjacent neighbors out.

    But this is where forgiveness from the Sufis towards the adjacent neighbors for them being reactive bigots would go a long way. Some might think they need to learn a lesson, but I think they already are.


  18. “they don't promote their ethics, they simply have them and adhere to them.”

    So they will have no problem paying fair price for the houses. Good to know.


  19. I hope the sufis would not be dumb enough to lowball on the homes there. I do think some architects might want to live next to it, so maybe it would not only be sufis who would be interested in buying a house for sale there. But as a sanctuary supporter, I would find it reprehensible if any lowballing goes on.


  20. On the other hand, some of those houses on Warren Road and Blvd Way are pretty dumpy. They should be priced appropriately if they ever come up for sale.


  21. Well, right, the one on the corner of Warren and Blvd Way is a bit beaten up, but the others look to be in relatively decent order – but none are top drawer though I hope the Trenors at least get their money back out of it.

    But if anyone tries to sell a house over a cliff and expects many people to be interested, oh please. Besides, the “cliff” side people go into their houses through gates and I believe they don't even have windows from which to view the new sanctuary. I don't think they could ever be on a Sufi to buy list regardless.


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