Helen Hathaway, a member of the Sufi congregation, supported the church at a meeting in Walnut Creek. (Cy Musiker/KQED)
Helen Hathaway, a member of the Sufi congregation, supported the church at a meeting in Walnut Creek. (Cy Musiker/KQED)
Next Wednesday, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors will hold another day of public hearings over a controversially large construction project planned near Walnut Creek.

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.

“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.

  • Wendy Lack

    For more information about this controversy, check out the following links:

    Why Opposition to this the Sufi Project has Nothing to do with Religion:http://www.americanthinker.com/2012/01/appeal_offers_last_hope_for_endangered_neighborhood.htmlWhat is Sufism Reoriented, Who is Behind this Bldg Project and Why this Project Poses a Litigation Threat for Contra Costa County:http://www.halfwaytoconcord.com/sufism-reoriented-sanctuary-project-in-walnut-creek-poses-litigation-threats/Sufi Church Officials Lied to County to Gain Project Approval:http://www.halfwaytoconcord.com/sufism-reoriented-sanctuary-plan-misrepresents-parking-to-county-planners/

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Raphael-Israel/584155789 David Raphael Israel

    Readers may also be interested to see this report in the Contra Costa Times —

    http://www.contracostatimes.com/rss/ci_20023583

    cheers,
    David Raphael Israel

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

    People who were opposed stood up in the Planning Commission meeting and said one or more of the following things: 
    1) It’s a spaceship
    2) It’s a mosque
    3) They’ll be teaching the Koran
    4) it’s an underground bunker
    and other ugly, anti-Sufi things. 

    Until about last month on the saveoursaranap website, (it’s since been taken down) it was implied that the Murshida was a wicked witch with an evil band of flying monkeys. This specific article was repeatedly referred to in the Crazy in Suburbia blog debates in the comments section, so it’s existence is verifiable in that manner – if it had not existed, believe me other commentators would have said so. I would bet someone in Sufism has a copy; perhaps ask for it

    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. I did not think we would see it in Walnut Creek, but hey, even an old guy can be surprised.

    • webmaster@saveoursaranap.org

      The statement that the http://www.saveoursaranap.org website has been taken down is not true. It has never been taken down; it has been up continuously since August 19, 2008. It has had two redesigns, one on June 24, 2010 and the most recent on January 11, 2012.

      The article referenced was posted on November 9, 2011 and did not imply that the Murshida was a wicked witch. It referred to the development team proposing and designing the Sufism Reoriented Sanctuary as Wizards; here’s what it said in the single reference in the article about witches:

      “Response after response from the development team of the Wizards tell us Saranap Munchkins that we’d better accept the proposed design and development, because if we don’t, we will be branded as anti-Sufism. We are being characterized as hostile witches, creating fear and even hatred of Sufism Reoriented.”

      You can read the entire article, reprinted today on the Save Our Saranap website, Wizards, flying monkeys, witches, and all, by going to http://www.saveoursaranap.org and clicking on “The Wizards of Saranap” in the index on the left side of the home page. You’ll find that the Murshida isn’t named or referenced or implied about in the article. Is this just one more attempt at distortion? That’s for you to decide.

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

        First, no one said the site was down – I said the article had been removed – now it is back today, and I think anyone can see that it is disparaging in its terminology, referring to Sufis as flying monkeys. As such, my view stands that the article is referencing the story of the Wizard of Oz and the negative themes therein. I believe my view is entirely supported both by your post here and the article that had been removed.

        To emphasize what was going on back then, I am going to report what “Old Fart” re-posted on the Crazy in Suburbia blog from March 2009 – when the issue was fresh and there were flyers being distributed by SOS (or someone like them) referring to the Sufis in similar disparaging terms.
        ______________________________________________________

        ” Anonymous said…  to Anon 10:39

        Ok, first – agreeing to stipulate that you reviewed the SOS website and did not find the word cult on it, and second, agreeing that indvs here should not be confused with the SOS group, let’s then talk about what IS on the SOS site:

        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 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.
        __________________________________________________________

        So not only do we have a point of view that was raised at the time, but we have four additional assertions that used to be on the SOS site that appear to not be there any longer. I had not even remembered most of them.

        Tom

        • Carolb

          None of which justifies construction of this oversize building in a residential neighborhood.  A 3-story building larger than the White House or Hearst Castle is simply an inappropriate use of land in a residential area primarily consisting of 1-story single family homes – several of which will be bulldozed to get out of the way of the megacomplex.  Numerous old growth trees, including oaks, will be gone forever.

          I challenge Sufism Reoriented supporters to never mention anti-religious sentiment again as related to this project.  Go on, try to take the high road, even if somebody else says something about religion you don’t like.  Can you do it?  I don’t think so, it’s such a convenient way to change the topic off of incompatible high density real estate development in a residential neighborhood. 

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

            if it were incompatible, then county code would have precluded it from being approved by the Planning Commission. It was approved therefore it is not incompatible with anything but NIMBY and/or bigoted opinion, ergo, that is why supporters are calling you all on the carpet for bigotry, because your arguments about the building are not supportable by ordinance or the opinion of the Planning Commission.

          • Bettyboop

            The building above the ground could fit inside of the three story apt building next door to it, which is also in the same residential neighborhood, so it isnt about size. For the rehearsal spaces and offices, book store, and many other needed large rooms for the Arts, that are below the ground, they wont show. Illogical arguments against size, it is really about the looks of it, and a church can look any way that fits its beliefs, its the law. Lots of churches are in residential neighborhoods, this is about predujice.

    • Guest

      It’s about a 3-story, 66,000 square foot building on ~3 acres in a predominantly 1-story single family home residential area.  It’s about killing precious old growth oak trees.  It’s about digging a 2-story hole in the ground on a slope across the street from houses that sit above a creek.  It’s about bulldozing single family homes and merging plots of land to make way for a mega complex real estate development.  It’s about eroding the R10 zoning intent most Saranap residents respect and live within.  It’s about a group of a few hundred people setting precedent with a massive change to a neighborhood where thousands of people live and raise their families.

      Football stadium, office building, or church, the majority of Saranap Area residents don’t care.  It’s about supersized real estate development incompatible with the neighborhood driven by deep pockets, lies, and threats of litigation if demands are not met.  The majority of Saranap Area residents oppose this real estate overdevelopment.

      A few people have exercised their right to to speak in ways many don’t support.  Sufism Reoriented wants to exercise their right to practice religion by building a megacomplex in a neighborhood.  Stop keeping hate words alive and well fed by repetition. Hurt feelings from words may fade if allowed, but Saranap Area will be stuck with the impact of this 3-story super structure forever.

      Let’s get back on topic:  Real Estate Development

      Church Officials Lied to County to Gain Project Approval:http://www.halfwaytoconcord.co

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

        oh, if only we could get back onto real estate development, because then you would have come to the realization that this real estate development is being done by people who have lived in the neighborhood for nearly 40 years, and then you perhaps would realize that their rights are protected by RLUIPA. The only litigation costs that seem to be in play here is whether the Supes will be willing dump on the CCC taxpayer a big RLUIPA lawsuit bill when those costs, should there have to be a lawsuit, should have to be borne by the NIMBY neighbors, not the county.

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

       Ms Lack has admittedly not even read the EIR and yet she feels self-authorized to have taken on this project as if she held expert opinion. She was given much of her information by those opposed and as far as I can tell, never interviewed or otherwise talked with the Sufis at all before writing 4-5 articles opposed to the development. Further, she does not live in Saranap. For all of these reasons, I feel people should proceed with caution when reading her comments, as they are generally ill-informed.

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

      They might, but they need understand that like Ms. Lack, the Times has not been paying very close attention. They should be embarrassed to state that they assume there is no religious bias going on in the matter; they needed only refer to their own reporting of the Planning Commission meetings (by Nardi?) where it was reported that opposition members used phrases like “it’s a mosque”.

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

      here’s the unscrubbed link of the original editorial with all the comments:

      http://www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_20021669/contra-costa-times-editorial-residents-have-legitimate-gripe

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Raphael-Israel/584155789 David Raphael Israel

    Relatedly, see (and listen to) also:
    http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R201202281000

    Meanwhile, I understand the Board has granted unanimous approval to the sanctuary project plan.

    cheers,
    d.i.

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Stephanie Martin Taylor

Stephanie moved to the Bay Area in 2005 to join KQED-FM as a news anchor and reporter.  Originally from Dallas, Texas, she fell in love with radio as a graduate student at Columbia University in New York City.  In her spare time, she enjoys traveling to far-flung places and trying not to burn things in the kitchen.  She and her husband live in San Francisco

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