City To Pay Faith Fellowship $2.3 Million To Settle Suit

When the San Leandro church sought to move its congregation to an industrial area and was denied a zoning variance, it spurred a lawsuit that went to the Supreme Court.


The city of San Leandro will pay a local church $2.3 million to settle a lawsuit filed in 2007 after Pastor Gary Mortara tried to move his congregation from Washington Manor to an industrial area zoned for making widgets, not prayers.

The settlement with the International Church of Foursquare Gospel, of the Faith Fellowship for short, ends a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and tested the power of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.

RLUIPA (pronounced ree-loopa) gave churches the benefit of the doubt when it came to zoning disputes with local authorities.

Last November a Wall Street Journal article highlighted the significance of the case in testing the balance between RLUIPA and zoning codes.

The newspaper predicted at the time that San Leandro could be on the hook for $4 million or more in damages and attorney's fees.

Other estimates put the city's potential liability as high as $20 million.

The $2.3 million settlement was announced Monday evening at a city council work session.

The payment will come from the city's self-insurance fund and reserve account, and the cty said sufficient money has been set aside to handle the obligation.

According to a city statement, San Leandro admitted no wrongdoing and preserved its zoning code.

The statement said the church dropped all claims against the city and pledged not to file another RLUIPA lawsuit against San Leandro as it continues to search for a new meeting hall subject to city's zoning ordinances.

Mayor Stephen Cassidy said the settlement "brings to an end costly and time-consuming litigation while preserving the sections of our zoning code that reserve land for industrial and commercial uses."

What do you think of the case and the settlement?

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cathy A September 25, 2012 at 02:06 PM
I still do not understand why they could not have a church on that property.
Bruce September 25, 2012 at 03:21 PM
I agree with Cathy A. I don't see why the Church wasn't given a chance to move to the new site they had chosen. Every Sunday the end of Manor Blvd is packed with church-goers cars; it was obvious they needed a bigger site. And the site they are on now was once zoned as commercial. It could have reverted to that status after the church left to compensate for any lost revenue at the new site the church had chosen, closer to the Marina. I wonder what the dum heads in the City Council at that time were thinking! I'm not a member, but I hope the church puts the money to good use, although I expect a lot of it will go towards paying their own attorney's fees.
Vernon S. Burton September 25, 2012 at 03:49 PM
Earth to Cathy and Bruce. You may want to check up the meaning of zoning laws. This was a case of a snake oil show, wanting to expand it's circus where it was not wanted, nor was the area suited for the congestion and traffic caused by the gathering of the sheep who fund the plush lifestyles of phoney pastors and preachers.
David September 25, 2012 at 04:06 PM
Earth to Vernon, you may want to check up on the Constitution of the United States of America and the RLUIPA.
Sam September 25, 2012 at 04:44 PM
This has to be the most absurd waste of San Leandro's time and money in my opinion (and lately there have been a lot to choose from!). We are laying off educators, have empty warehouses from one end of town to the other and the majority of all the business parks are empty. We are surrounded by foreclosed homes left and right. I have attended Faith Fellowship in the past, and they are reasonable, kind people. Many work and live in San Leandro, some are SL teachers, LE officers, etc. The traffic in the Manor is far more of a hassle for the residents of SL than their proposed site in the empty business park. If anything letting them move to the business park may have encouraged other businesses to come that way, open up and be successful due to the increased activity in the area (down the street from where I live). I think some of the empty homes in the area would have been more likely rented or purchased with the addition of a Church in the area. The kids from our area neighborhoods would also have had closer, more accessible opportunities to join in on youth or young adult programs, and believe me, the kids our area NEED that. The new Kaiser is going to cause us 1000x more traffic and inconveniences than this church would have. Heck, it already has. Way to go San Leandro, money well spent!
SAL September 25, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Praise the Lord! Your Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Justin Agrella September 25, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Finally the city had the good sense to settle. However, if it were me, I would not have left things the way they were. RLUIPA would have nailed the city to the wall concerning their zoning code. That should have been changed.
Paul Davis September 25, 2012 at 06:25 PM
Arrogance and ignorance and incompetence ... It will always cost you money... Maybe it's time to clean house at the City of San Leandro highest levels.... Ya think?....
Trisha Fawver September 25, 2012 at 06:36 PM
I'm sorry, but I don't think the city is at fault necessarily. The church should have checked the zoning codes before purchasing the new land. A church of this size runs like a business, and a good business does it's due diligence before committing serious money towards a new location. If they'd done their homework in the first place instead of assuming the city would bend the rules for them (it really only takes a phone call or two to the city), they could have saved themselves and the city all this time and effort the lawsuit took up.
Fred Eiger September 25, 2012 at 07:46 PM
Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Hey Vern, have you been to Catalina Street on a Sunday? It's as barren as the space between your head. I guess you don't know the meaning of the Constitution and the Freedom of Religion.
Fred Eiger September 25, 2012 at 07:48 PM
Perhaps if the City weren't so insecure and felt they had to flex their muscles and beat up a small church this wouldn't have happened.
pastor rob September 25, 2012 at 07:51 PM
Not my faith tradition, but I have to say that it's likely to do good things for an industrial area. Risky, though, in that industry could move in around it that might smell bad or make a lot of noise. I suppose they considered that, too.
Tom Abate (Editor) September 25, 2012 at 10:03 PM
Realize that this case originated under a city manager and mayor who have both left office so the clean sweep has occurred just by the passage of time. I'm not minimizing the frustration. $2.3 million could certainly have been used better elsewhere. Also, as I think about it, the city has the same legal team now as then.
Larry Smith September 25, 2012 at 11:21 PM
It is a very sad day for San Leandro residents who must now pay this out of their tax dollars whether the money was 'set aside' or not. And the person who thinks that 'barren' Sundays are the only day that the property would have been used for church functions has his head buried somewhere where the sun don't shine. Their operation is ongoing and they have many, many, well attended functions. The citizens who foot the bills for the poor decisions of politicians are the real losers in this. Perhaps, a city commission composed of ordinary citizens who have demonstrated the common sense so lacking in politicians should be established to go over these bad decisions BEFORE they are made public; an added layer of scrutiny that is obviously sorely needed.
Mike September 25, 2012 at 11:52 PM
Bigger question is why can't the council get 4 votes to get rid of city attorney, her bonehead advice caused this and the 3 million dollar loss on the downtown parking lot.
David September 26, 2012 at 12:17 AM
After we're done firing the law firm, it should be sued for malpractice.
Leah Hall September 26, 2012 at 12:37 AM
David, are you suggesting that you believe we can find some lawyers out there to work pro-bono on behalf of the citizens of San Leandro, like the pastor/Faith Fellowship org. did through the RUILPA lobby group that sued us? That would be nice, I suppose.
Fred Eiger September 26, 2012 at 12:48 AM
Don't forget to mention that King Bonehead John Jermanis. He was the prick pushing for this debacle. And that Meyers Nave firm needs to get it's @$$ booted.
Ken Briggs September 26, 2012 at 01:32 AM
so how about that empty building on Dolittle by Davis that been setting for five plus years . With all these empty building why are the people leave for , the city had better thing about the tax they charge on these places . so how much tax money the city gets on thesebuildings when nothing is going on in the area . Maybe some one had better have that know it all guy that claims he does a great job over at Heron Bay complex . after all it is on the other side of that wind mill out fit that he doesnot like .
Ken Briggs September 26, 2012 at 01:46 AM
the city should have help them out and show them just where they can put a new church . but now what the church finds a new place, what zone will it be . but then just up the street you have another church and a school and then by Wicks you have one more church . the church wants to have more parking and the city does not care .
Thomas Clarke September 26, 2012 at 02:11 AM
The city just finished honoring Meyer Nave and all the good work that they do. The great tragedy is that as Tom pointed out, Meyer Nave is still calling the shots in San Leandro. The City Council should decide to toss the attorneys and the firm out of the city. To continue to lose money on a deal like this is terrible. But you can bet that Meyer Nave has bought the services of the present Lawyer Mayor, past Mayors, and the balance of the criminal council that voted to continue this suit in appeal. It did not have to end this way.
Summer Hemphill September 26, 2012 at 03:01 PM
The headline should be SELF RIGHTEOUS SIMPLETONS TO PAY DIVINELY DELUSIONAL 2.3 MILLION ! Just another example of the inept City Council & their legal advisors squandering the taxpayer's money,it's now time to replace the incumbents who've shown a constant propensity to do the wrong thing !
Ken Briggs September 26, 2012 at 03:39 PM
so, how much did this the city law firm cost the city for this . get a new law firm . so why does the city have so many empty buildings for ? big companies are moving out to cheaper tax base .
SAL September 26, 2012 at 04:10 PM
The City of San Leandro could have avoided losing $2 million dollars if it's legal council had counseled adequately. Given the laws that protect religious freedom in the USA, I do not understand how or why San Leandro attorneys would advise the city to deny the requested variance. I think San Leandro must steer clear of potential litigation.
Kevin Brown September 27, 2012 at 11:36 AM
God to Vernon... "Maybe you would like to take over my job as well?"
Kevin Brown September 27, 2012 at 02:53 PM
For the residents of the City of San Leandro, Back in New Jersey we as well filed a RLUIPA claim in 2000. The law was new, signed in to law by Former President Bill Clinton. Our case is still pending... I just thought you would better understand the "issue" if you knew that before RLUIPA there was RFA (Religious Freedom Act) The Act was very far reaching and was defeated by challenges which cost a lot of money and time in courts small and large. The reason your case went on was because many other municiple governing bodies were hoping your case would help strike down RLUIPA. Unfortunately all law firms love "combat" over issues as it generates major fees... RLUIPA's success is mainly due to the limited scope as compared to RFA, in as much as it only dealt with land use and the personal religious rights of those in institutions (jails). Hold your elected officials responsible for selecting council and use the power of your voice and vote as often as possible. No church organization like to take tax payers dollars, and in most cases it is insurance companies who are actually footing the bills unless they tell the city they will not cover a challenge if the city pursues one. Heal and go forward and I wish the best for the entire community there. Rev. Kevin Brown, Lighthouse Institute For Evangelism, Long Branch, NJ.
mark mahoney September 27, 2012 at 09:08 PM
the city said in a recorded meeting they were going to re-zone the property. And also the LAW (RLUIPA). Before leaving comments read the facts and if you dont have em reserve your opinion.


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