Supervisors Approve Saranap Sufi Sanctuary

County board votes 4-0 for 66,000-square-foot, multi-domed building in unincorporated neighborhood between Walnut Creek and Lafayette.

After crafting a series of conditions on parking, construction noise and other neighborhood concerns, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 Wednesday afternoon to approve a large, white domed sanctuary for the Sufism Reoriented congregation in Saranap.

After the vote, board Chairwoman Mary Piepho thanked the audience, hundreds of people at the Hofmann Theater in the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, for their demeanor and patience in the hearing process. Most in the crowd — largely Sufi congregation members proudly wearing oversized lapel buttons decorated with green ribbon — applauded politely and then extended it into a standing ovation.

"I'm as happy as I could be," said Bob Carpenter, project coordinator for the 350-member Sufi congregation, reflecting on four years of efforts to win approval. The conditions were fine, Carpenter said: "They were wise to think about them and put them in."

Carpenter said, "We had addressed the concerns. The staff knew that and ultimately the board knew that … I always felt the truth would prevail." The Sufis had met all codes and requirements, and sought no variances from the county, Carpenter said.

The Sufi congregation's current sanctuary is a nondescript gray building, a former nightclub. It is a few hundred feet away from the new site on Boulevard Way in Saranap, an unincorporated neighborhood between Walnut Creek and Lafayette. The 66,000-square-foot sanctuary (slightly larger than the White House in Washington), with two-thirds of its area underground, has multiple domes with a central dome for a worship area. The design includes a library, meeting room, bookstore and archive room.

The Board of Supervisors was hearing appeals by Saranap neighbors to the sanctuary approval from the county Planning Commission last fall.

Wednesday's meeting started with county staff reports on issues supervisors had asked questions about in the Feb. 21 all-day public hearing, which featured 110 speakers pro and con, most of them Saranap residents. Wednesday's action took a little more than a half-day. In the early afternoon, supervisors and staff parsed the wording of conditions to add to the project approval.

Traffic report

At the urging of Supervisor John Gioia, language was added that the Traffic Demand Management program, a county initiative that the Sufi congregation has already implemented to lessen auto use, would include minimizing "adverse impacts of availability of parking spaces in public streets in the neighborhood and promote respectful parking practices by congregation members and guests." Saranap is a hybrid transition neighborhood, from urban to semi-rural, known for its narrow streets. "Two cars cannot pass at the same time," said Warren Road resident Caroline Campbell, addressing the board. "It's 19 feet wide."

In response to concerns of neighbors, the county added provisions for a report every six months by the Sufi congregation on parking issues.

The county also added condition language to minimize the number of dump trucks and concrete trucks on the construction site at one time.

The county directed the congregation to meet with a child care provider adjacent to the site, at the beginning of the construction period, to address impacts to the day care business. The congregation will have a designated person to talk to neighbors who have complaints during the construction process.

Another county condition requires the congregation to give a report on the neighborhood impact of the lighting from the domed building.

HEATHER MASCHMEYER March 01, 2012 at 06:38 AM
michael frederick March 01, 2012 at 10:00 AM
That's a lovely photo, above, that the Sufis sold door-to-door. What will the grounds look like from the other (public) side of the 8' "decorative" wall? Well, kids, crime pays after all. I feel sorry for the residents of Blvd Way and Warren, particularly. I'm concerned that the church over my mom's fence will start to aggregate residential property and become the Order of the Holy Condominium Redevelopment. Who are we to question their religious needs in a county that only accepts whatever representations an applicant makes, no matter how implausible? The legal and planning staffs at the County are a gutless joke to be exploited. I'm concerned that Diablo Regional Arts Association will spin-off a religious order that, as with the Sufis, within 10 years seeks to carve out a section of the Almond-Shuey for its singing and dancing needs, as a religion. Despite the local County presidence, the saving grace might be a WC Council that actually trimmed the JCC condominium needs from four stories to three... On the other hand, it is a Council that commits 7 figures annually to singing and dancing(?) I'm concerned about a spineless County that lacks leadership in the face of even a 300 member special interest. This portends, in particular, horrific performance where monied developers meet open space. The direction of lands at the zoning bounds, such as Tassajara Valley, can't be in doubt. It's ironic Gioia was the only one with integrity and genuine concern.
Joseph David Dacus March 01, 2012 at 04:20 PM
I'm grateful to county staff, the zoning administrator, the planning commission, and the board of supervisors for their consistent approvals. They surfed the ups and down of the tidal forces at work--pro and con--and came to conclusions that allowed a group who had been in the neighborhood for more than three decades, and run an award wining private school for children, to go forward with their beautifully designed building and gardens that will be open to all. No variances required, and all EIR mitigations agreed to. It is my sincere hope, that those who fear being bothered (real or imagined) by this project will, when the construction noise and dust is over, enjoy increased property values, and will partake of the opportunity to come and stroll the only lovely park and garden in the entire Saranap, and partake of its peaceful beauty on the edge of the residential portion of the neighborhood to the west and south, and at the edge of an almost industrial portion of the neighborhood to the north and east. I feel certain it will be the promised buffer/transition between old/tired and new/vigorous for the whole area. It will bring a much needed lift to a down at the heels corner of the county and will be a beacon of hope, not just for the members who worship there, but for the whole community.
The Merry One March 01, 2012 at 05:55 PM
...and so the recruiting begins...
Tom Lewenz March 01, 2012 at 08:25 PM
So the Sufi's think they've won? They haven't. They created a win everything and the neighbors loose everything, instead of a win-win. There was no room for compromise on this project or any modification of their plan from day 1. They used "religious persecution" as a way to ram this project down the county's throat for approval. Well congratulations. You can start construction amidst a neighborhood that now dislikes you and will do everything in their power to cause you delays and legal hoops. All you had to do was compromise on 1 or 2 things, but no, that was too much. Don't come to my front door anymore with your propaganda and your lies.
michael frederick March 01, 2012 at 10:53 PM
Tom, That's exactly the objection I had. For a group preaching "unity", this is the most divisive thing EVER to hit Saranap: Practice what you preach ring a bell? And, irony of ironies, Mr. Dacus wonders why anyone doubts Sufi representations. Initially, when I presumed this was a modest size project for 350 people, instead of 2000, and was isolated to the McGeehon property -- I had no problem with it. However, as I got exposed to Mr. Dacus' NIMBY rhetoric and realized that 7-8 residential properties were being folded-in, I started to take a more intense interest in / look at the scale and the promotional effort. The more I dug, the less I liked. I was also significantly influenced by the fact virtually everyone seriously impacted and most informed was adamantly opposed. As I indicated above, there is a real concern that others will do as the Sufis in 2002 -- apply for religious status to abuse County staff that pathetically tries to appear competent while invariably deferring to applicant (mis)representations, out of fear of RLUIPA litigation. This is a religious attack upon rational planning. That's why religious institutions flocked to it. A County staff that informs the Sufis that 11,000 sq ft is too massive in 2002, then finds 66,000 sq ft as appropriate in 2012 lacks CREDIBILITY. That deserves better explanation than County Planning Commissioner assurance that RLUIPA didn't impact the process -- it obviously did. Try a more credible explanation.
Vautrin March 01, 2012 at 11:14 PM
If you believe SOS was just about land use, I've got a bridge to sell you. http://imgur.com/a/LL8yG
Tom Lewenz March 02, 2012 at 12:48 AM
I have an additional message to the county politicians and planning committee members....pack your bags! If you think you're getting any support from us in your re-election bid or for reappointment, you're wrong. You're supposed to be fair and represent all of us and not to bow to simple and obvious religious bullying.
CT- West March 02, 2012 at 02:18 AM
I guess with the County Board of Supervisors we have, you can't expect much. The reason this county is so far in debt is because of their actions. They never did ask the citzens of the area, and the Big Holy Group filled the Lesher so they crumbled like dogs , the same way they give big pensions & let firemen spike to 20% their pay. Intimidation by any group, religious or otherwise is a vice. Vote: the next election, but vote NO INCUMBENTS
michelle March 02, 2012 at 06:13 AM
I've lived on Blvd way in Saranap for 5 years. I'm really looking forward to seeing the new building. I'd rather pass by a church with a beautiful garden than a 7/11 or a huge empty parking lot.
Beth Ward March 02, 2012 at 02:09 PM
I would submit that the Supervisors were just following the laws of our land. If you have a problem with the laws of our land, then change them, but they did in this case what they have done in most or all religious developments.
Julie Mendelsohn March 04, 2012 at 04:07 PM
As a Saranap resident for the past 25 years, it amazes me that folks who are complaining about the destruction of 'our' neighborhood never seem to factor in the Mortuary, which on occasion can be seen billowing large black smoke from the cremations. Or the fact that we had a house of prostitution right by 7/11. How LaRussa's Market has been an eyesore for years. At least with this new temple, we will have interesting architecture to view, as opposed to 3 story apartment buildings and clusters of dense housing. The building complex which holds Frank's Automotive is industrial too, so how does everyone ignore that fact?
michael frederick March 05, 2012 at 09:54 AM
Julie, "How does everyone ignore that fact...?" The sites you mention are 3-4 blocks to the east and aren't carved out of residentially zoned property. You've been reading Sufi literature, haven't you??? This is the power of turning 350 zealots lose to conduct door-to-door promotion -- the truth suffers. The "Mortuary", as with the storage facility across the street, sit up against the freeway. Conversely, the Sufi site is bounded on the N, S, E, and W with residential. I used to live at 1343 Blvd Way (across from Sufi) and, for a year, in the apartments across from the mortuary. I have MANY relatives there. If you think these are the same neighborhood, you qualify as a county commissioner! I can assure you, when we did SFHs at Tamarind Place we weren't similarly confused. You will get "interesting architecture" to view, iff you believe the artists' renderings that went door to door. That is the perspective inside the compound. However, you won't, if you acknowledge they're behind a wall. How's Holy Ghost Hall look, today? Do a drive-by. Also, you won't if you believe the applicants' assurances that all buildings will be significantly camoflouged by tree plantings within two years. THE PROPERTY THIS SITE IS CARVED OUT OF IS ZONED R-10. Unlike your black-smoke, activities at this site accomodating 2000 are literally in people's back yards. If the Sufi site were in the neighborhood of Franks' we wouldn't be having this exchange.
michael frederick March 05, 2012 at 10:29 AM
Julie, Allow me to simplify the outrage for you. In 2000, the Sufis submitted an application to contruct an 11,000 sq ft sanctuary and parsonage where they are currently located. The county informed them it was too massive and they rescinded the request in 2002. That is 11,000! Concurrently, the Sufis applied for and attained religious status -- presumably, to exercise 2000 RLUIPA legislation as leverage against the county. Today, we're looking at 66,000 sq ft plopped-down in a MUCH LESS suitable residential neighborhood. That is 66,000 to serve 350! Despite the repeated mantras of "its to code", "no variances", etc. -- this obviously, as the 2002 critique screams, IS NOT consistent with county planning. It's only consistent with a county that rolled over and repeatedly accepted as fact any applicant (mis)representation, to avoid potential RLUIPA litigation. The facts are pretty clear. It amazes me anyone could look at the extortionary efforts of this group and think -- yeah, they probably have the best interests of their "NIMBY" neighbors at heart, instead of just their own. I'm glad you have faith. I obviously have less, based upon their public performance. This thing is going to serve them, not you.
David Bradley September 29, 2012 at 11:46 PM
I used to live in Wilmette, Illinois, near the beautiful Bahai remple, that was built in a residential neighborhood. I think most people in the community were honored and pleased that it wad there.
Craig November 30, 2012 at 05:04 AM
Moving to the area and looking to buy in Saranap, pretty close to the church actually. Does anyone know if the compound will blare the "call to prayer" several times a day, or did the commissions have the foresight to keep that from happening?
Joseph David Dacus November 30, 2012 at 06:07 AM
What an odd notion Craig! They haven't had any such "clarion call" at their current location for the last three plus decades, AND they aren't Muslim. Never been so much as a mild bell tinkle! I wonder who you've spoken to who might have spread such a false rumor? I live between their existing facility and the new one (a few hundred feet apart). They are good neighbors, and the lovely gardens/grounds will be a great addition to the Saranap community (which doesn't presently have any kind of park of its own). It is a great place to live!
michael frederick November 30, 2012 at 08:36 PM
Craig, When Mr. Dacus says "they" this and "they" that, it's important to point out that Mr. Dacus is a Sufi, or "we." His wife even writes poetry on the religion but, as you can see, he presents himself as detached and objective. Mr. Dacus is a recognized spokesman for the group. He wonders why Judeo Chistians might not want to live next to an organized group that doesn't recognize ethical standards -- only the need for church promotion. Should you be concerned about a religious group that is so fervent, members feel compelled to live yards from the church? Does your church cheer for, or even tacitly approve, of public spokesmen who are obviously -- and awkwardly -- deceitful, in the name of the church? If you are seeking better moral fiber from the county, expect disappointment! A decade ago, the county discouraged a Sufi proposal for an 11,000 sq ft facility as being too "massive." They just approved 66,000 ... Expecting county policing of conditions seems wildly optimistic, on your part. Sufism is a political movement, comprised of members whose SOLE priority is Sufi -- not neighborhood. This political organization is so politically dominant in the area, the county rules that 66,000 is about right, where 11,000 is clearly too much. They'll chant, sing, park, play, ... anytime, anywhere, and anyway they want. Since they've successfully discredited any governmental authority in the area, but their own, it's totally up to them.
Joseph David Dacus November 30, 2012 at 09:08 PM
Mr. Frederick is disappointed in the county government, the City of Walnut Creek government, and the Saranap Community Association--of which I am the President, and have been on the board for more than four years. He is just plain disappointed in many things, as you will see if you only scan his scathing comments on any number of Walnut Creek Patch subjects! As I said, Saranap is already a great place to live. I've lived here for more than thirty one years. It remains a great place to live, property values hold steady...in fact have improved in the area of this project...and should continue to improve with its realization. All these erroneous suggestions are just that, and could be collected in the great fear based stew pot of an extremely small minority of people.
michael frederick November 30, 2012 at 10:18 PM
Sufi Joe is correct in much of what he just said, it all is very disappointing. Actually, most Americans and people around the world are similarly appalled at the governmental ethics dominating this country. It, in no small measure, is why America has gone from the #1 place in the world for a child to be born twenty years ago, to #14 today. Local government is not immune or an exception. Regarding the Sufi political domination mentioned, Sufi Joe is not just a spokesman for Sufism, he is the "President" of the Community Association ... Need I say more?
Joseph David Dacus November 30, 2012 at 10:42 PM
If only it could be, but I would bet ten thousand dollars it couldn't POSSIBLY be the end~ lol


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