Plans to build a permanent mosque near two existing Temecula churches are expected to be the target of an organized protest next week.
The development plan that the Islamic Center of Temecula submitted to city planners about 1½ years ago has drawn muted concerns so far and triggered widespread media coverage that has included stories by the Associated Press and newspapers based in Los Angeles and Riverside.
If an announced July 30 protest materializes, it could mark an escalation of questions and criticism surrounding plans to develop a mosque at the city’s northeast corner. The facility that has served the region’s Muslims for about 12 years would move from an industrial park to Nicolas Road if the development plan comes to fruition.
City officials could be snared in a religion-tinged controversy as the project proceeds through the review process. It has been about seven years since a similar controversy began to unfold in the city that is now home to more than 100,000 residents.
“We are limited to looking at land use issues, not religious or political issues,” Patrick Richardson, the city’s director of planning and redevelopment, said in a Monday afternoon telephone interview. “Everybody has the right to practice their religion as they see fit.”
Richardson did not work for Temecula when a similar controversy surfaced over another proposed house of worship. He said he has since learned about the twists and turns that occurred when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints submitted a proposal nearly a decade ago to build a facility along Pauba Road.
The Mormon controversy contains parallels to the mosque proposal.
The Islamic Center has owned its Temecula site – which totals four acres at Nicolas Road and Calle Medusa – for about 10 years, Richardson said. The Islamic Center has operated in Temecula since 1998, and is based in an industrial park on the city’s west side.
The Islamic Center is proposing to build a 24,950-square-foot mosque. Its building size and acreage would roughly mirror that of two nearby churches – Calvary Baptist Church and Grace Presbyterian Church. The number of parking spaces proposed for the mosque exceeds the city’s requirements, Richardson said.
Because of traffic, noise and related concerns raised by a nearby pastor and others, the city has examined a range of issues as it has reviewed the development plan, he said.
Richardson said the review process has unfolded slowly in part because the Islamic Center, like many churches do when they build new facilities, has relied on some of its members to perform various planning- and development-related tasks.
“We’ve pretty much completed our review,” Richardson said. The site’s zoning designation allows the construction of a church at that location, he said.
A May 27 letter from the city to Hadi Nael, an Islamic Center representative, indicated that the mosque proposal might come before Temecula planning commissioners on July 7. On June 22, Richardson wrote a letter to Nael indicating that the hearing would likely be postponed until Aug. 18.
That’s still possible, Richardson said, although he noted in the interview that the hearing date is “somewhat of a moving target.” At the time of the interview, Richardson said he was unaware that a loose-knit coalition of area residents is planning a demonstration at the Islamic Center’s existing facility along Rio Nedo west of Murrieta Creek.
An e-mail alert sent to area newspapers last week announced that a one-hour “singing – praying – patriotic rally” will begin at 12:30 p.m. July 30 at the Islamic Center’s existing facility. The advisory – sent by a leader of a conservative coalition that has been active with Republican and Tea Party functions – recommended participants “bring your Bibles, flags, signs, dogs and singing voices.”
“We will not be submissive,” the notice proclaimed. “Our voices are going to be heard!” The alert went on to question what its authors described as Islamic beliefs. It suggested that participants sing during the rally because Muslim “women are forbidden to sing.” It suggested that rally participants bring dogs because Muslims “hate dogs.”
The advisory asked rally participants to “please bring a pooper scooper” if they are accompanied by a canine companion. The advisory said residents of an unspecified Tennessee community were able to halt the construction of a mosque in that state.
Telephone messages left Monday and Tuesday at the Islamic Center seeking comment on the planned demonstration were not returned.
The center’s Internet site provides information the mosque plan. The center’s April newsletter said: “In the next two years, our new board will focus on the building project. We need a home! It is the dream of our community.”
It went on to say: “We as a Muslim believe that the Murrieta and Temecula Valley will be a better community by having the Islamic Center, place of worship, place of education and a place for interfaith. More than ten years ago, we were welcomed by many good friends in different churches; and for the last five years we were one of the founders of the Murrieta and Temecula Valley Interfaith Council. Thus we are working together with all our community religious groups to bring more understanding, tolerance and respect among people of faith in our valley. We hope that you can help in building our Center.”
An update in the center’s May newsletter asked members to “…pray that Allah Taala open the hearts and the mind of our city officials to help us to bring this project to life.”
The last major controversy to unfold in Temecula over a proposed house of worship centered on plans to open a Mormon church on a 4.7-acre parcel along Pauba Road near Linfield Christian School.
That controversy surfaced in March 2003 when neighbors of the proposed 24,287-square-foot facility began to cite a range of concerns. The residents complained that they were already besieged by traffic going to and from numerous existing churches and public and private schools in the area.
They also raised concerns that night and weekend activities at a Mormon church would harm their neighborhood’s quality of life.
About 130 people jammed a four-hour city Planning Commission hearing a year later, and about 35 of them alternately spoke for or against the development plan. A series of hotly debated hearings on the proposal ended when the City Council approved the 287-seat church in October 2004.
A Mormon church was subsequently built at that location.