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County Planning Commission OKs Sufism Reoriented Facility

Building in unincorporated Saranap between Walnut Creek and Lafayette is approved by 4-2 vote.

The county Planning Commission has approved plans for a new Sufism Reoriented religious center in unincorporated Saranap.

By a 4-2 vote, the Planning Commission OK'd the center Tuesday night, the Contra Costa Times reported.

The issue of the 66,074-square-foot facility could still be appealed to the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors.

, about a quarter-mile from the congregation's existing building.

In multiple hearings, opponents of the project have cited traffic, aesthetics, air quality and soil quality as concerns. These are addressed in county staff reports.

Beth Ward November 11, 2011 at 12:58 AM
You don't have a neighborhood cult. The Sufis are a recognized religion. They are a spiritual order like the Buddhists and spend thousands of hours on church work a month - the size is justified and they fulfilled all legal requirements to build it. Look, as a neighbor of theirs who is fed up with the hype, please go see their website and the wikipedia entry to find out more about them, so there's no more hollering. www.sufismreoriented.org.
Chris Nicholson November 11, 2011 at 01:13 AM
Umm, "cult" means being religiously devoted to a particular person, not widely regarded as divine. This guys are the cult of Meher Baba, a whacky dude and cultural phenom of his time. He randomly took a vow of silence, which he held for > 40 years. He also thought he was God (or, rather, God's physical manifestation). Which "God?" you might ask. Well, ahem, he thought all the major religious figures (Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, etc.) were the same entity (and the same as him) and just took on different human forms throughout history. Oh, and the "religion" that he created, was basically cut from whole cloth based on a manifesto he wrote while traveling in America. Not tied to any other major religion. Culty enough for you? Look, unless they are harming others (doesn't seem like it), then I have no problem with what they're doing. But they're a cult, and cults are kinda creepy.
Beth Ward November 11, 2011 at 01:25 AM
From Dictionary.com - - CULT   1. a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies. 2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers: the physical fitness cult. 3. the object of such devotion. 4. a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc. 5. Sociology. a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols. ok, so if I use the strict definition from the dictionary, perhaps they are technically a cult - but there is no negativity in the dictionary definition, whereas your posts reflect a good dose of judgmentalism. Who knows, maybe Meher Baba was God? Not for me to say. What's true is that they are considered good neighbors and great educators, in fact so great that I just found out their preschool won Best Preschool of the East Bay this year. I've never heard of a cult achieving such a mainstream award, have you? I just think there are more important issues people should focus on, like poverty.
Beth Ward November 11, 2011 at 01:29 AM
P.S. - Even if they are technically a cult according to the dictionary, according to the U.S government, they are an official and legitimate religion.
Beth Ward November 11, 2011 at 01:35 AM
P>P.S. Also, according to the dictionary, it sounds like all of the religions are cults, for they all can be described by definition #1, especially: the Catholics, the Jewish, the Hindus, the Buddhists, the Zen Buddhists, the Protestants, the Sikhs, the Mormons, oh did I leave anyone out?
Christina G. November 11, 2011 at 02:09 AM
My children went to the White Pony Preschool, which is run by Sufism Reoriented, for 6 years in total. There was never any proselytizing or discussion of their religion. The message that was shared was one of kindness and love, and the belief that every individual has unique gifts and talents that can be offered to the benefit of others. They have created a wonderful preschool and elementary school, and their gardens are beautiful and carefully maintained. They are also members of the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County, along with congregations you might be less comfortable labeling cults. Although it's not my belief system, they are an asset to our community and deserve the right to practice their religion freely.
Chris Nicholson November 11, 2011 at 02:59 AM
That the government accepts their claim to be a religion means little to me. This is no business of the government-- they are just doling out tax breaks (which I don't think any religion should get, other than for their non-religious charitable activities). In America, being one of the hundreds of millions of Christian is not weird or (generally) culty (fundies exempted). Being one on the hundreds of Sufism Reorganized folks and thinking that a dude who took a 40 year vow of silence is God, is weird and culty. I agree that no one can say who is right, but everyone can say who is deviating from the mainstream. Great that they do good work and run great schools. No issue there. If their neighbors want the spaceship compound, that's cool with me too. Namaste.
Beth Ward November 11, 2011 at 04:24 AM
You know, what's truly incredulous is how some people seem to think that they have any say in what it looks like, from any vantage point. The county building codes and, in this case, the RLUIPA law, guide the rules on building it and nothing else does. The Sufis have made a lot of voluntary adjustments to neighbor feedback, but one thing they won't ever have to give up is their design of the building. I did bother to read up on the RLUIPA law and it protects the white color and the domes, 100%. The founder of the faith's tomb has a white dome and the parsonage is primarily white, so these are proven symbols of their faith. County code protects height and size. County traffic ordinance supports the number of parking spots. There have been conditions put on how many trucks, how much dust, how much noise, the Sufis paying for any road damage, etc . . . Finally, as far as Jesus not being a cult goes (just as a point of comparison, not to denigrate), but with your logic, the Romans saw Jesus and his followers as a cult since there was no one there prior to Christ - and look how that turned out for Jesus, so I think your point is a little disingenuous about newly launched spiritual paths. Besides, you clearly knew about the Sufis before you ever posted and yet you pretended as if they were news to you; in essence, you disingenuously baited people to engage in dialogue, but all you did, I think, was provide evidence of bigotry against small and unknown religious groups.
Chris Nicholson November 11, 2011 at 04:39 AM
I am pro freedom, but think that communities should be able to maintain some level of consistency in land use. I don't think any religions should get a break from normal building codes and land use restrictions. I think it is entirely normal/reasonable to find it troubling that a fringe group wants to build a monster compound in your neighborhood. I never knew this group existed before today, which is why I posted. You suggested I educate myself, and i did. Google + Wikipedia make everyone experts. Jesus was a cult leader, and died for it. Now it's mainstream. Things change. Does that mean that I should suppress my honest feeling that it is kooky to worship as God a random dude who decided to stop speaking for 40 years? Does that make me intolerant? Peace be with you.
Beth Ward November 11, 2011 at 04:53 AM
you read all that and came to a conclusion in 15 minutes between when I suggested and when you responded? I hope you spent more time than that coming to that conclusion - yikes! Saranap was never planned well and so the people now should not be punished for a pattern of planning that made the area such a mishmash, but then again, mishmashes happen near freeways, and something's got to be the border into the suburbs. What we've been told (and what is on Molly Way proving it to be true) is that, if not this building, then 22 mega-condos/townhomes can go in without any shielding by trees - so what would most rational people choose? But, yeah IMO, in a nut shell, you are intolerant. Maybe read back what you wrote tomorrow and see how it sounds with a fresh head. Namaste and Peace be also with you.
dave in moraga November 11, 2011 at 06:20 AM
66,000 sq ft. Zero property tax. How much is spent for the infrastructure, water, sewer, etc? What possible rationale is there for asking "the rest of us" to carry the tax burden for the Sufis, the Christians, the Jews, the Muslims, the white supremacists, the end-of the-worlders in Oakland, and that quaint little anti-gay group that disrupts military funerals? Your personal spiritual delusion. Well, as the ad goes, that is priceless!!
Eileen November 12, 2011 at 02:03 AM
Are you sure they will pay no property tax? I've been treasurer for more than one non-profit, and while we paid no income taxes, we most certainly paid property taxes to Contra Costa County.
dave in moraga November 12, 2011 at 03:03 AM
Eileen: Not positive, no. If your non-profit pays property tax, I could very well be wrong. I will take a look when I get some time.
Lafayette Curmudgeon November 12, 2011 at 02:42 PM
The US Supreme Court has said that states can exempt non-profits (including Churches) from taxes, but not Churches alone. This comes out of Walz v. NY Tax Commission, although I don't know what RLUIPA may have done to that since: "The legislative purpose of a property tax exemption is neither the advancement nor the inhibition of religion; it is neither sponsorship nor hostility. New York, in common with the other States, has determined that certain entities that exist in a harmonious relationship to the community at large, and that foster its 'moral or mental improvement,' should not be inhibited in their activities by property taxation or the hazard of loss of those properties for nonpayment of taxes. [The Court] has not singled out one particular church...even churches as such; rather, it has granted exemption to all houses of religious worship within a broad class of property owned by nonprofit, quasi-public corporations which include hospitals, libraries, playgrounds, scientific, professional, historical, and patriotic groups. The State has an affirmative policy that considers these groups as beneficial and stabilizing influences in community life and finds this classification useful, desirable, and in the public interest. Qualification for tax exemption is not perpetual or immutable; some tax-exempt groups lose that status when their activities take them outside the classification and new entities can come into being and qualify for exemption."
Lafayette Curmudgeon November 12, 2011 at 02:44 PM
I can't imagine that in the 41 years since Walz that this issue hasn't been well litigated in California, assuming California ever tried to exempt Churches but not other non-profits. Which I highly doubt.
dave in moraga November 17, 2011 at 04:49 AM
Eileen and LC: Ok, so I am a little late to get back to you...and I am, by no means, sure that this is a definitive answer, but this is what a 15 min search tells me. I was directed to a 2009 CA Board of Equalization (don't you just love that name?) Publication 29, CA Property Tax, An Overview, page 7, to wit: Church Exemption Land, buildings, and personal property used exclusively for religious worship are exempt. The exemption does not include excess property or property used for purposes other than religious worship. This exemption requires an annual filing. http://www.boe.ca.gov/proptaxes/pdf/pub29.pdf They be prayin' in the chapel. They be prayin' in the board room. They be prayin' all over da place. It's all good. It's all legal. It's all on my tab. Now, I realize that there are a gazillion lines of legal code to consider, and I searched for only 15 minutes to find what seems to be an applicable summary. So if you think this is incorrect, let me know. It has been my long-held belief, and if it is mistaken, I would like to know.
Lafayette Curmudgeon November 17, 2011 at 02:57 PM
Dave - Roll on to the next page of that document, and I think you'll see that you've got this wrong. Religious organizations get treated no better or worse than normal charitable enterprises. Welfare Exemption "The welfare exemption includes property owned, irrevocably dedicated to, and used for religious, hospital, scientific, and/or charitable purposes. The Board makes a one-time determination regarding whether an organization is eligible for the exemption. Each year, the county assessor determines whether the property is being used for exempt purposes." Again, there's just not a lot of room outside of the Walz decision to allow Churches to get a benefit if non-religious charities aren't getting something similar. There's nothing in the Constitution that *requires* religious organizations to be tax exempt, but the First Amendment religion clauses make it pretty hard to imagine a tax exemption that could provide for a tax exemption just for religious organizations or a tax exemption that gave a broad based benefit to nonprofits/charities without also including religious organizations. It's on your tab, sure, but in the same way Boy Scouts of America or the American Red Cross or Future Farmers of America is on your tab. [And, yes, the BOE is indeed one of the more Orwellian names we have in government]
dave in moraga November 17, 2011 at 06:08 PM
So, the legal rationale for the special tax treatment is the presumption that these organizations do good works that benefit the community whether through a religious group or other public benefit charity. As a practical matter, it has allowed churches (of all sorts) to acquire a great deal of untaxed property and acquire more power. Despite the good works of some churches, I don't see that as a net positive. I certainly don't see that as a good return on my tax dollar, but I also recognize that my argument has nowhere to go politically.
Lafayette Curmudgeon November 17, 2011 at 08:09 PM
"...but I also recognize that my argument has nowhere to go politically." Congratulations, Dave in Moraga, you have made the first step toward political serenity. There are lots and lots of things that would be different in Curmudgeonistan, but it will remain just a dream...
Joseph David Dacus January 01, 2012 at 09:10 PM
I've read all these comments and have a distinct favorite: The one where a woman refers to Meher Baba "randomly" taking a vow of silence for 40 years. LOL When someone is this naive there can never be communication.
Chris Nicholson January 01, 2012 at 11:56 PM
Joseph: "Chris" is androgynous, with most uses being male and in reference to a dude from a couple of millennia ago who randomly claimed to be God/Son of God/etc. I was named for that random guy (though I lack his purported powers). In what respect was Baba *not* a rendom dude who took a random vow? Can you provide a non-random (i.e., a volitional act flowing from a sane/normal/rational analysis of relevant factors) explanation of his actions? Am I "naive," or are you narrow-minded and pretentious?
Joseph David Dacus January 02, 2012 at 06:41 AM
My apologies for mistaking your androgyny. I don't think anyone on this thread can help you~
Chris Nicholson January 02, 2012 at 07:27 AM
Just so I can keep score at home: you take the time to dismiss my comments as naive, yet you can't/won't refute them. Do I have that straight? Also, I didn't ask anyone for help with anything.
fred friendly February 09, 2012 at 08:11 AM
I personally think Chris has some super-poignant points. And I dont mean: 1.keenly distressing to the feelings But more like: 2.keen or strong in mental appeal Joseph, that you chime in "Chris" a female and call "her" "naive" is ironic at best. Don't even respond - its baseless. And by that I mean "without a basis in reason or fact" And Beth, I'm not allowed to build a 5,000sq' Tuscan monstrosity and paint it purple in Lafayette... There IS a say here and the Design Review Commission routinely opines on peoples paint color. Neighbors should weigh in. PS it does look like a spaceship! And while the transamerica building was likely criticized similarly, this project still looks like a spaceship! Love it, but I dont want either one in my back yard!

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