Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Congregational Church's Struggles With City Zoning Is A Years Old Sierra Madre Tradition

In the archives over at Bill Coburn's masterfully crafted Sierra Madre News Net site is a report that carefully details the Sierra Madre
Congregational Church's struggles with this town's zoning laws from 1991 up until around 2002. It is an important and hard-hitting document and I recommend that you spend some quality time with it. The report is simply entitled Congregational Church CUP. "CUP" being the acronym for Conditional Use Permit, and having absolutely nothing to do with the Holy Grail or mens' intimate athletic equipment.

The purpose for pointing this report out is two-fold. The first is to show that the SMCC's struggles with Sierra Madre's zoning laws is a long standing and seemingly on-going process. Of course, I'd like to say that in the past at least some attempts were made to comply with City zoning laws and ordinances, but based on what I've read here that might not be the case. And perhaps the bad behavior we are witnessing now is not totally out of character for the SMCC? I mean, what were they thinking when they just built a building and only asked the City Council for the necessary paperwork after it was completed? That being something many suspect is an indication of the poor opinion the Congregational Church has long held for this City and its government.

Of course, these factors are now the cause for tectonic rumblings in this community, with many feeling that the sub rosa addition to the New Life Center was built illegally and should be speedily hauled down.

But the other reason for pointing out this SMCC CUP report is express my pleasant surprise at the source. It would appear that our main man Bill Coburn is highly capable of truly hard hitting and incisive journalism. And here I thought his whole shtick was taking pictures of elegant ladies in late 19th century white dresses and dudes in shiny off-the-rack suits. That plus surfing, highly complex websites, and very scary weather reports.

And not only that, the man can turn the corner on a phrase with the best of them. Check this bad boy out:

"Central to the Church's argument that there would be no negative impact is the fact that the Church has been using the property in this manner for 11 years. Had the Church conformed with CUP 1826-91, PC Resolution 96-05 or City Council resolution 98-45, it would not have been using this property as classrooms for 11 years, and if, as stated by the Church in 1996, they had fulfilled their intent of returning the property to commercial use within five years, they would not have been using this property for this use for 11 years. Thus, the Church's inability to conform to prior CUP's appears to be the very basis on which it is asking this Planning Commission to approve the current CUP."

Spot on, right? And deja vu all over again. Kind of like constructing a building that violates City zoning ordinances, and then, after it is already built, going to the City Council and asking for an amendment to the General Plan. All because it's already there, and what are you going to do about it, anyway?

How does that phrase go? Those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it? Something like that. And for Sierra Madre and our friends at the Congregational Church, it certainly does look like we're walking down a well-beaten trail.

I really need to spend more time at Bill's site. It truly is a treasure trove of useful information.


  1. This really is quite a problem for this city. How do you convince an established organization such as this Church to become good citizens without offending those many good hearted people who attend it? It strikes me that those running the SMCC have been taking unfair advantage of their special position in our community, and that they need to be called out for it.

  2. The majority of people who attend the Cong church are people who live outside of Sierra Madre. Most are from East Pasadena, Altadena and Arcadia. Of course they are always welcome in our town.
    The old majestic Church building is a beautiful part of Sierra Madre.
    Why couldn't the Church just have been satisfied with their beautiful church on Sierra Madre Blvd and Hermosa?
    Why did their officials have to lie and cheat the city in order to "expand" to cover much of the downtown area?
    The other churches in town have not done this.
    They have followed the rules.
    Why are all these people so closely associated with the DIRTS?
    Who were the DIRTS who assured these people they could get away with this?
    I would like to see them named. The people of Sierra Madre need to know which past and present high ranking city officials are letting this cong church get away with this.

  3. What I would like to say in defense of SMCC is that being a former member (I attended for 10 years during the '90's and early 2000's) most people go there to worship and go home. Most people do not live in the Sierra Madre. Consequently most people don't know what is going on. You have a very small group of people there whow make all of the decisions. The church doesn't vote on it. I haven't attended in the past 6 years so I can't really tell how the church is doing now - and the Senior Pastor retired and they have a new pastor in - but I even remember about 10 years ago a few decisions were made about the church and they had a meeting with all of the members and the members were pretty upset that decisions were made without the members being told.

    I understand the anger and frustration that you are all emoting and I agree that ethical rules were broken - but please remember that there are good families that go there that HAVE NO CLUE WHAT IS GOING ON.

  4. I guess ethics aren't a part of the management mission statement of the church. Sounds like a few zealots are pushing their personal agenda and ignoring the basic tenants of their belief. The city should ignore the fact that this is a church and treat it like any other business or worse, a regular citizen. Levy a major fine against the church or require them to tear it down. But I bet the church is armed to the teeth with lawyers and it appears that the leaders have a disdain for a community who won't give them carte blanche authorization to build their empire.

  5. That's the problem, 8:44.
    The do have disdain for anyone who dares question their decisions.
    They will use fear of lawsuits as an intimidation, just like they did with Marantha High School.
    They don't care if they destroy or bankrupt this town, they don't care!

  6. Re 4:38
    If the members are truely good citizens they should be offended by what the Cong Church has
    done and demand changes in the leadership. If they are not offended by this evil they are not good citizens and are part of the problem. Evil happens when good people do nothing.

    As for not knowing what their church is doing the "I didn't know" is what people say when they should have known and don't want to take responsibility for their inactions. Since this has gone on for so long, a lot of members knew what was happening and either said nothing or like Brandley helped the process along.

  7. When does a church's building objectives justify it ignoring the laws of the city where it is located? I especially like the reasoning that there's been no adverse impact from the violation because we've been violating all along and there's no adverse impact.

    Clearly the members should not be tarred with the brush of the decision-makers, but in the long-run, just like in any representative situation, people are stuck with the adverse consequences of their leaders' actions. A few examples from modern governments might come to mind.

    If our zoning laws are to mean anything they must be applied to the construction of an unauthorized building by SMCC just as they would be applied to an unauthorized building any an individual citizen. After seeing the city bring prosecution against citizens because they didn't like the condition of their property, I would have to say, they really ought to do the right thing here and go after these people hammer and tong.

  8. Hammer and Tong the Cong!
    Has a nice ring to it.
    Thanks for you usual insightful comments roia and Pasta.

  9. Pasta,

    If you have 300-400 people attending services - possbily not every Sunday and they don't live in Sierra Madre and they aren't on committeess in the church that oversee these projects how do you think they know?

    All they know is that a new building is being built and they assume that leadership is doting their "i's" and crossing their "t's"

    I am not condoning what the church did. I left the church for a variety of reasons - but to clump the whole church together and say that they were all in on it is wrong.

    You don't belong to the church so how would you know? Granted the whole thing looks very bad on the church - it doesn't help that the members that are running the show keep others out.

    It's not the first time that it has happened. I will leave it at that.

  10. Nouvelle CuisineMarch 4, 2009 at 2:55 PM

    It is pretty clear to me that the management of this church uses parishoners as cover. People might complain about their business practices, but then they point to the nice people who attend their services and ask how anyone could suggest such things. It's pretty much a hustle.

  11. Well - I haven't attended the church in about 6 years and I sense that things have changed. My family has owned a home in Sierra Madre for 30 years that we rent out. I live in Pasadena and only really know what is going on in Sierra Madre by blogs like this. I never would have guessed that the church did something like that. How sad to think a church that is supposed to be reflecting Christ is undermining the law.

  12. 4:55:
    I know a few people who have expressed your sad commentary.
    They feel betrayed by their fellow Evangelical Christians.
    It's a very unfortunate situation. The City Council is going to have to make some tough decisions. Very tough decisions. I don't envy them.

  13. Does anyone know if Steamers has shut-down? looks pretty dismal their.

  14. 6:16:
    I heard the congs sold Steamers a while back.
    Guess they couldn't make a go of it.
    I think they are still open, but don't know who operates it.

  15. Any way to find out?

  16. Steamers closed its doors last Sunday.