A community association in Thousand Oaks, California, is trying to prevent a church from renting a building formerly rented by the YMCA.
Liberty Counsel has filed a motion in Ventura County Superior Court to dismiss a lawsuit by the Dos Vientos Community Preservation Association against the city for its decision to allow the Godspeak Calvary Chapel to rent the building, which is now owned by a nonprofit foundation.
“The association is fine with having a YMCA rent the facility, but objects to a church renting the same facility. Such biased discrimination is often referred to as ‘Not in my back yard,'” Liberty Counsel explained.
The foundation bought the building when the YMCA closed down and then agreed to rent it to the church.
“The city of Thousand Oaks supports the use of the facility by the church. However, the neighborhood association filed suit objecting to the church. The association claims that the facility should be used for a YMCA, not a church,” Liberty Counsel said.
“The association wants to prevent the church from using the facility, stating that the use has not been cleared under the California Environmental Quality Act. The city and Liberty Counsel argue CEQA does not apply, and, at any rate, any discrimination against the church use violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which requires that religious organizations receive equal treatment as do other organizations in government zoning decisions.”
Liberty Counsel explained that the foundation obtained all the needed permits, and the city determined no new environmental review was needed.
The association, however, according to the new court filing, “allege[s]s no material facts showing that the change in occupancy and minor remodeling of the building will have any, let alone, significant, effects on the environment. Instead, petitioners merely recite boilerplate conclusory statements about increases in ‘groundborne vibrations’ ‘noise’ and traffic with no facts tying the laundry list to actual circumstances present at the subject property.
“Furthermore, the city has already concluded and stated that there are no such effects, and that no CEQA review can be required for this change in occupancy without running afoul of state and federal prohibitions against differential treatment of churches,” Liberty Counsel said.
The association is demanding the full review because the building is being changed from a “public benefit” use to “private secular church use,” which Liberty Counsel described as “an undefined and oxymoronic term.”
It seems the association is discriminating against the church, the briefing said, because there were 220 similar applications for tenant improvements in 2016 and 170 in 2017 in related conditions.
“None of these applicants were required to obtain new development permits or modifications to existing development permits.”
In 2002 when the building was constructed, it was allowed to be used for a “non-commercial, non-residential facility in which people would assemble to conduct activities of common interest.”
“If the subject property is transferred to and used by a church, it would be a non-commercial, non-residential facility in which people assemble to conduct activities of common interest. The fact that those activities might involve worship, Bible study or similar ‘church uses’ cannot under [federal law] be a reason for differential treatment,” Liberty Counsel said.