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Comments on the Proposed Sufi Sanctuary in Contra Costa County

| February 28, 2012
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Tomorrow at a special meeting of the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors, this agenda item:

HEARING to consider appeals filed by Sufism Reoriented, Saranap Homeowners Organization, Sherilyn Fry, Marvin and Carol Rasmussen, Mark Redmond, Patricia Perry, Steven Siegal, Terrence Barnum, Sally Wood and I. Harold Houseley, Curtis and Deborah Trenor, and Robert Nuzum et. al. (Appellants) of a County Planning Commission Decision to Certify the Environmental Impact Report and Approve the 66,074 square foot Sufism Reoriented Sanctuary Project with a Minor Subdivision, Transportation Demand Management Program and Tree Permit. The site is located at 11 White Horse Court, 1354, 1360, 1364, 1366, and 1384 Boulevard Way in the (Saranap) Walnut Creek area.

As we’ve been reporting and you may have heard on KQED Public Radio’s Forum show today, some residents of Saranap, a community just outside Walnut Creek, are opposed to the Sufism Reoriented project, and that opposition has led to charges of NIMBYISM if not out-and-out religious bigotry.

We asked people to respond to the issue on our Public Insight Network, and the topic received the second-highest number of replies in the almost year-and-a-half since that tool for collecting community opinion launched. (No. 1 was the GGNRA dog plan.)

Drawing of what the planned church will look like after one year, from Sufism Reoriented

Here is some of what people replied on the network, followed by selected comments from the Forum message board.

  • There is one special impact I’m aware of: There are two day care centers run out of homes on Warren Road, which is one of the streets bordering the sanctuary site. Concern was expressed during the public hearing on 2/21 that construction of the sanctuary could jeopardize the livelihoods of the persons who run these day care centers, by causing parents to take their children elsewhere for daycare because of the noise and dust during the construction. An effort should be made to help these people.
    –Bruce Obendorf, lives within 300 feet of planned complex
  • It will not impact my life, however, I feel it is absurd for a group of that
    size and average age to have such a large meeting place. 80 % of the membership is 65+ years old. The group claims to follow Meher Baba. He lived very simply in a small home in
    India. This extravagant structure is in no way in any relationship to Meher
    Baba’s teaching.
    –Ueschi, lives 2 miles away, ex-sufi and follower of Meher Baba
  • Everyone who wanted to speak on this issue has had his or her say and I thank God the founding fathers made the principal of religious freedom a cornerstone upon which this nation was founded. The sanctuary’s design is an unchangeable religious expression and must be recognized as such.
    –Ruben Ramirez, lives within quarter-mile
  • The Sufi community really DOES walk alot (I know because they walk by our house en route), so I believe that they will honor their plan to limit traffic as they say they will.
    –Kathleen Smith, lives “very close”
  • For the past three years, opponents, in statements to neighbors, on their website and before the Planning Commission have disparaged our current church and proposed sanctuary as “walled compounds”. Obviously, the use of this term is loaded and derogatory. When one realizes there is no truth to it the intention behind the term becomes clear. It is meant to marginalize us and make us seem vaguely dangerous. The fact is, access to our current church property has always been fully open for pedestrians and vehicles. Our parking lot is shared with the office building next door, and the wood fences on the property border were erected by adjacent property owners–not us. Because our church sits right on Boulevard Way, we erected two tall sound walls at the sidewalk on either side of the open pedestrian access, to dampen street noise for our worship services and for recording our chorus. Our new Sanctuary also can’t be characterized as a compound. Because the sanctuary is set well back from Boulevard Way and surrounded by trees, there will no need for a sound wall at the new facility. Instead we plan a six-foot fence beautifully planted with flowering pocket gardens along its public frontage, and, quite unlike a compound, we have made it very clear that the inner gardens will be open to the public to enjoy for quiet contemplation.
    –Steve Sardella, Sufism Reoriented, lives within 300 feet
  • I am embarrassed to be part of a neighborhood that has continued to put up embarrassing “save our saranap” and misleading visuals that describe he building as a spaceship. The area is all ready walled off now and it will be in the future, so it will be difficult to see the building itself.
    –Jordan, lives one mile away
  • People are suspicious about the amount of bathrooms we want in our Sanctuary. However, if you are a female and have to wait in line during the intermission at the theater, you would understand why we need that many bathrooms. I like to enjoy the intermission; not spend the 15 minutes waiting in line to use the bathroom.
    –Ann Pinkas, member of Sufism Reoriented, lives within 300 feet
  • You should know that although the opposition is vocal and visible, the supporters of the Sanctuary far outnumber the opponents and always have.
    –Judith Nielsen, lives within a few miles and is moving within a few blocks
  • I have a very strong impression that a significant bloc of the opposition to the center is based on the perception that Sufism Reoriented is a cult. One doesn’t often hear that said expressly, but one does hear it. To call Sufism Reoriented a cult is inaccurate and a slur, in my view. I can see how misunderstanding and fear can give rise to such perceptions and accusations. But misunderstanding and fear should not govern public policy. The new center would be a positive addition to a neighborhood that is fairly gritty now (by Walnut Creek standards). It has been designed by a first-rate architectural firm to be attractive while fitting the scale of the neighborhood.
    –Edward Lempinen, lives about 5-6 miles away
  • What many media reports fail to mention is that there is a 1,500 page Environmental Report that has been completed over the past 4 years that covers all of the issues and required mitigations involved in the project. At some point the media might find it helpful to publish information which compares the issues driving the debate and how they are addressed in the EIR.
    –David Jamieson, lives 4 blocks away, lists faith as Sufism
  • The opponents are literally making up lies, at one point the Save Our Saranap website said “Sufi’s are all Muslims who carry guns..” These opponents are just scared that something different to them coming out of it’s shell. This fear comes across in many negative comments about the number of parking spaces or toilets, when truly it is just the fear of new change being projected onto different aspects of the project.
    –Sara Pastor, lives within 300 feet
  • If you listen to the Planning Commission videos, there are several people who make it clearly known that they are bigots – one even angrily claimed that “they will be teaching the Koran!” These Sufis are NOT Islamic, and even if they were, so bleepin’ what? It was fine for all these stand up people to send their kids to the Meher Schools for tuition 2/3rds the price of another school for decades, but yet, when the Sufis want to build themselves something, here these people turn against them. The Sufis have given so much to the Saranap; they deserve our support. 7) On the SOS site, the Murshida is referred to as the equivalent of the wicked witch of the Wizard of Oz, with her band of evil monkeys – is that not veiled bigotry? I think it is.
    –Helen Oppenheimer, lives within 300 feet
  • I’m a supporter of this center mostly because I’m so offended by the xenophobic, bigoted response to it being built. These are fine people. They are not radical Islamists or anything remotely of the sort. They teach peace, and they practice peace. We are all benefited by this center and I’m for it without reservation.
    –Nolan Mecham, lives within 1/2 mile

And some posts from the Forum web site:

Original post:

Would it be better to put a multi-apartment complex or other form of condensed living project warranted by Agenda 21 in this neighborhood instead? I certainly think not. More traffic would be generated by just one additional apartment block in this neighborhood than this group could ever generate.

Response:

If it’s a 66,000 square foot apartment complex, it would face the same opposition for the same reasons : inappropriate size, erosion of single family home boundary, development encroachment into a residential area. Bulldozing single family homes and old growth trees to make way for an oversize building is wrong.

Original post:

For those of us who live in this neighborhood and are very informed about this structure, I want to make sure to ask that EVERYONE stop using the religious aspect of bias. I have many Sufi friends in this neighborhood I applaud their beliefs. When in doubt there is always the need to make it about persecution… this takes the real fight away from the violations of land use regulations, the use of inappropriate calculations for TDM ( Transportaion Department Management) for parking ratios etc. I for am so tired of this of this pathetic and calculated endeavor to make us all look like bigots… Please stop with this nonsense.

Response:

I live here, but I am not going to tell you where so that my home does not get pounced upon by little yellow and black signs.

Look, the Sufis submitted their plans appropriately and so the calculations, as county staff said, do not apply – ergo, why are you all still harping on that as if it will have any teeth? It won’t because then the Sufis will have huge standing on which to sue, and I doubt the Supervisors will be into that since it’s an avoidable situation.

So, the only answer that sticks with me as to why you all are still hanging onto the parking issue is that it is not about land use. I personally am not going to let you all “scrub” this situation and pretend that there is no bigotry going on, so every time you post that there is no bigotry, I am going to remind you that multiple opposers at the planning commission meeting, to applause, stated:

1) It’s a spaceship
2) It’s a mosque
3) They’ll be teaching the Koran
4) it’s an underground bunker
5) it’s not as though it’s got a cross or a steeple

Original post

It should be noted that every new and innovative project is attacked. It seems to be a law. One classic example is the Golden Gate Bridge. The details are different but I think that those who like the design should be heartened by the complaints about aesthetics since the Golden Gate Bridge was described as follows:

Critics attacked Strauss’ engineering abilities, and described his
initial design as “an upside-down rat trap.” Still more criticism came
from residents who did not wish to disturb the aesthetic beauty of the
Gate.

Response:

The Golden Gate Bridge isn’t in a neighborhood!!!!!!! Scale the building down.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tom-Newsom/100002410101736 Tom Newsom

    Again, great coverage KQED

  • Jerry Carlin

    I also want to thank KQED. I’m a long time KQED member who believes that public broadcasting is important because you can tackle issues like this in much more depth compared to the commercial media.

    I also appreciate Michael Krasny’s professionalism in the interview he conducted earlier today. He asked penetrating questions but did so in an inquiring rather than deliberately confrontational manner.

    So once again KQED has earned my annual contribution!