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East Bay Sufi Sanctuary Under Scrutiny; View Design Plans

| February 28, 2012
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Helen Hathaway, a member of the Sufi congregation, supported the church at a meeting in Walnut Creek. (Cy Musiker/KQED)

A Walnut Creek-based Sufi congregation is facing community opposition to its plans for a new complex. Sufism Reoriented’s proposal calls for a 66,000 square-foot facility including a worship hall, classrooms, a cafe, a bookstore and a chorus rehearsal room. But some residents say the facility would cause traffic and parking problems.

A second hearing on the issue will take place tomorrow at the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors.

KQED Public Radio’s Forum program covered the issue today, talking with Robert Carpenter, sanctuary project manager with Sufism Reoriented, and Wayne Fettig, president of the Saranap Homeowners Organization, which is opposing the project

Listen to an archive of the show here.

KQED’s Stephanie Martin reported on this issue last week:

Sufism Reoriented, a congregation of about 350 members, is seeking to build a 66,000-square-foot sanctuary in the Saranap area, a quiet residential community just outside Walnut Creek City limits.

Just how big is 66,000-square-feet? Well, space-wise, Hearst Castle and the White House are smaller.

But congregation leaders say the building won’t look as big as it sounds, since two-thirds of it will be underground.

Design plans, from Sufism Reoriented

“The building will be only fourteen feet from the ground to the edge of the roof. At its highest point, the central dome it will only be 33½ feet above ground. This is fully within County code. The average height, including the domes, will be only 17½ feet. This is a modest height for a house of worship,” their website says.

Still, some neighbors are concerned about the project’s size and design, as well as potential parking and traffic impacts. More than 700 people packed the Lesher Center for the Arts Tuesday for an all-day hearing before the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors.

Stuart Flashman, attorney for the Saranap Homeowners Association, urged Sufism Reoriented to scale back the project.

“Perhaps all of it fits on their wish list for an ideal facility,” Flashman said, “But just because you want a Mercedes doesn’t mean you can’t drive in a Ford.”

Flashman and other opponents said the controversy has nothing to do with religion, something the Sufis dispute.

“We have designed our sanctuary to be a physical manifestation of our faith,” said Carol Weyland Conner, the church’s spiritual leader.

The Sufis say the design was planned and vetted with care and found to present no significant environmental impact. They also point out that the new building will be just down the block from the existing one, which has served the congregation for about four decades.

Sufism Reoriented follows the teachings of its founder, Meher Baba, an Indian mystic who established the religious sect in 1952. While active in community schools and service projects, members say they do not proselytize or publicize their activities.

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

    Good coverage KQED

  • Guest

    For more information about this real estate development:

    Church Officials Lied to County to Gain Project Approval:http://www.halfwaytoconcord.co
    Why Opposition to this the Sufi Project has Nothing to do with Religion:http://www.americanthinker.com… is Sufism Reoriented,
    Who is Behind this Bldg Project and Why this Project Poses a Litigation Threat for Contra Costa County:http://www.halfwaytoconcord.co… 

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

      These articles were written by someone who 1) is misinformed and 2) admittedly has never read the EIR

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

    For more information about what’s really occurred in the neighborhood over the past 4 years

    First, here’s some quotes from the Planning Commission meeting, give or take a word:

    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

    Many of these sorts of comments were followed by significant applause.

    Second, here’s a review by a commentator on the Crazy in Suburbia blog of what was on the Save Our Saranap site in March 2009:

    “…It is inferred that Sufis are “little children” and repeatedly inferred to as “little devils”. People linking religious group with the word “devil” is just not funny and implies a lot of bigotry. In an allegory of the Wizard of Oz, the Sufis are referred to as deceitful “Wizards”, as in “Hiding behind their cloak of “community good-deeds”, the Wizards are pulling the levers of deceit again”

    AND further, the Sufis are referred to as “flying monkeys”. If you recall, the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz attack Dorothy’s group and take them by force to an evil witch.

    Since the allegory made on the site is so complete, I believe calling the Sufis “flying monkeys” is a not very veiled attempt to infer that SOS thinks Dr. Conner is an evil witch – and honestly, I simply can not believe a group of adults would think making such an reference is an ok  thing to do when arguing over what should be built on a church site.

    _____________________________________________________________________

    SOS (website) also stated that:

    “Sufism Reoriented is asking us to suspend reality and make-believe”

    “Sufism Reoriented leaders have bombarded neighbors with press releases, expensive newsletters, neighborhood meetings and one-on-one visits full of misinformation and misrepresentations.”

    “Yet since first announcing its building plans, the childlike
    deviousness of Sufism Reoriented leadership continues into the holiday
    season.”

    SOS also calls the SCA board a “new hand-picked SCA-Sufi Board” when in fact that simply was not what happened there.

    Finally note that most of these comments were scrubbed from the SOS site as hearings became more formal and media attention grew. However those of us who live in the neighborhood (including me, not a Sufi member, never sent kids to their school) know the truth about the opposers.

    The point? Casting a group as subhuman has long been a tactic to dehumanize a religious or ethnic group. It was done towards the Vietnamese in the 70s and during WWII against both the Japanese and the Jews in the propaganda of the day. Both sides were guilty of it then. I did not think we would ever see anyone stoop to it in Walnut Creek, but even an old guy can be surprised at what people who are opposed will do.

    This IS about religious bigotry: it is being distracted about claims of code violations, but the opposition has just learned to sideline the most blatant bigots so they would not get caught on camera doing it twice. Reviewing the Planning Commission videos will show anyone the truth if they want to see it.

  • Gary

    I was stunned to hear a leader of those opposing our
    sanctuary saying with alarm at the Planning Commission: Quote: “What are they
    going to be doing in that underground space?!” Endquote.

     

    We’ve answered that question so
    fully and repeatedly we understand that they aren’t really asking a question,
    but trying to sow fear.

    They assert we don’t need that much space, as if they know
    our needs better than we do. And they
    never specify what it is we should do without:

    • Should a group that worships through drama,
    music, and dance not have spaces in which to prepare and present these
    works? 

    • Should a group that has composed thousands of devotional
    songs, including two Oratorios, not have a music composition room?

    • Should a 70-member performing chorus that records
    its music go without rehearsal and recording space?

    • Should our large administrative staff not have
    workspaces?

    • Should a group as active in community service
    as we are not have project rooms in which to make this possible.

    • Should we have no space in which to prepare and
    serve church dinners?

    • Should we not have proper archival space for
    our sacred objects and historic documents?

    • Should we not have a library?

    • Should we not have a classroom?

    • Should we have no place to produce our spiritual
    director’s weekly video discourses?

    • Should a group responsible for publishing and
    distributing Meher Baba’s most important works not have a bookstore?

    Are we to set aside essential portions of our worship
    and religious practice because a few people don’t like the idea that we are using space
    they will never need to see? Thank
    you.