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Pastor Says $2.3 Million Settlement 'Put This Silliness To An End'

Faith Fellowship Pastor Gary Mortara looks forward to finding a new site for his congregation now that a lawsuit with the city of San Leandro has been settled.

 

Pastor Gary Mortara said he will sit down with city officials soon to discuss a new location for his Faith Fellowship megachurch now that a five-year old lawsuit with the city has been settled. 

On Monday city officials said they would pay the church $2.3 million to settle a lawsuit filed in 2007 after Mortara tried to move his fast-growing congregation from Washington Manor to an industrial area.

The city refused to allow the move saying it conflicted with zoning that set the land aside for manufacturing uses.

The settlement ends a case that went 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 in zoning disputes with local authorities.

The church-city feud had drawn national attention. 

Last year the Wall Street Journal said San Leandro could be on the hook for $4 million in damages and attorney's fees. Other estimates put the city's potential liability as high as $20 million.

On Tuesday Mortara pronounced the $2.3 million settlement fair.

"It was a reasonable enough offer for us to accept it and put this silliness to an end," he said.

At the same time he felt the church's position had been vindicated.

"We didn't have to come to the table with a checkbook in our hand, they came with a checkbook in their hand because they were wrong," he said.

Now that the case is settled, Mortara still faces the task of finding a new location for the church, which now has 2,000 members.

He said the church has a couple of locations in mind that conform with the city's zoning code. Its leaders would start meeting with city officials soon to start reviewing the possibilities, he said.

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Kevin Brown September 27, 2012 at 10:34 AM
"Shameful behavior...?" I guess he should have then allowed the violation, and maybe even hiden the fact the church was wronged in the first place. Better yet, maybe he should have just let the elected officials (who spend the taxpayers money) to spit upon him, scourge him and then nail him to a cross in town square. Freedom of Religion is a founding principle in the USA.
Pastor Derek Jung September 27, 2012 at 02:58 PM
The city officials were wrong and still do not want to admit blame. The people of the city will pay for their officials wrong position. We need city officials that are not motivated by greed, authoritarianism or religious intolerance. In this case, clearly the city did not work with the church but against it, even though the church was and is composed of tax-paying citizens who want to worship and serve in the community. The city officials should admit they were wrong. The city officials should apologize to the people of the FF church, the people of San Leandro, and to the pastor. The city officials and their attorneys have been proven to be wrong in a the highest court of law (state supreme court of California) yet the city officials still will not humble themselves and admit their folly and their predecessors foolishness. The people of San Leandro should demand that the city officials apologize as well as pay the 2.3 million dollar settlement as a matter of principle.
Pastor Derek Jung September 27, 2012 at 02:59 PM
The fact that the city officials will admit no wrongdoing is outrageous in itself.
Pastor Derek Jung September 27, 2012 at 03:01 PM
How can there be no wrong doing when so much has been lost? There is culpability. The courts have ruled that the city officials were wrong. So they should admit it.
Pastor Derek Jung September 27, 2012 at 03:01 PM
How can you negotiate and move forward with city officials who have such a wrong attitude toward the past?
Pastor Derek Jung September 27, 2012 at 03:11 PM
Who should be demanding an admittance of wrong doing by city officials? (certainly their legal counsel will abhor this idea) The tax paying citizens of San Leandro...every single person. The voting public in San Leandro every single voter. Folks, it's our money and our vote, why support government officials that will not admit wrongdoing? This attitude was displayed and is displayed against FF but can be equally displayed against you when you have some dispute with city hall. Who are the officials who should apologize? The present and former MAYORS. The present and former CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS, the ZONING officials and permit grantors. Take names and petition them to do right or they should be removed.
Pastor Derek Jung September 27, 2012 at 03:15 PM
Addition: The FF church won the case in the U.S. Supreme Court, after it was heard at the State of California Supremem Court.
Andrew Kopp September 27, 2012 at 03:52 PM
You either misread or misunderstood my comment. Pastor Mortara wrote in his post that "we never wanted money from the city. We just wanted your support." Those were his words, not mine. By all means the church was entitled to seek monetary damages. But to seek them when the church did not want them? That is sad. To exercise a right not for the need for relief, but to punish and spite, is an abuse of the law and one's legal rights. I am a trial attorney. I have assisted people in suing to recover monetary damages for nearly 20 years. When a potential client enters my office the first thing I attempt to determine my client's goal. If the goal is a monetary recovery, I may be able to help. If the goal is vindication, or spite, or retribution, I can't help and won't take the case. The courts don't serve that purpose. It would be sad if that (vindication, spite or punishment) is what Pastor Mortara and the church used the court for. And to Marga, I acknowledge that the church initially sued for declaratory and injunctive relief. At some point (when the church sold the building) that relief became unavailable. At that point the church made a decision to proceed with the lawsuit to seek damages. That was certainly the church's right, and I would not blame them for exercising that right, unless they really didn't want the money, and just wanted vindication and to inflict punishment.
ASK September 27, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Sorry Pastor Jung.... both are at fault in this situation, in my humble opinion... the church NEVER should have purchased a property that they could NOT use for their purpose. Trying to get zoning laws changed after you have bought the property is like trying to close the barn door after you have let all the horses out. Seriously you need to get off your high horse. The church should have obtained all the approvals, zoning changes, etc. from the city BEFORE purchasing the property... so they were not totally wihtout blame for starting this whole mess. This does not excuse the city and their POOR handling of the situation..... and city goverment should have realized that the new law had a hole in it big enought to drive a semi through and FAVORED the church......... (hello expensive lawyers...... was anyone paying attention) WHO really cares if the case was heard in the California Supreme Court or the US Supreme Court...... what are we all still in Kindergarten??????? He did She did..... I did better than you did......... COME ON........THIS TOTALLY BITES.......it takes TWO to tango....... culpability lies with BOTH it was and is a mess that COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED... Period...... BOTTOM LINE........ it is the Citizens of San Leandro that get hosed in this situation! Quite frankly NOBODY asked me how I felt about about my hard earned tax paying dollars being WASHED DOWN THE DRAIN!!!!! When EVERYONE (Church and City) started this whole mess.
Pastor Derek Jung September 27, 2012 at 04:10 PM
The church did not start this mess. The church was given assurances that the city would give them a variance for use of the building before they purchased it. You cannot apply for such until you own the building officially. With these assurances the church bought the building. Then the city changed its mind and denied the church. So it was the CITY OFFICIALS fault from the beginning. The church did not buy the building without doing due diligence. They were betrayed from the start. You can fact check this with the pastor.
Pastor Derek Jung September 27, 2012 at 04:13 PM
The blame rests solely on the CITY OFFICIALS who were wrong from the beginning and continue in their arrogance to deny their wrong even though the US SUPREME COURT has ruled they are in violation of the law (religious land use act). Why would the city officials want to violate an act designed to protect some of its best citizens?
TCM September 27, 2012 at 04:29 PM
Ask, I suggest you research the facts of the case. The city led on the church with the belief that allowing them to use the building would not be an issue. That is why the city asked the church to pay a $2000 re-zoning fee. Why would the city ask for the fee when they never intended to allow the church to use the building? Why did it take a year for the city to hear and decide on the church's application? The Mayor and other city officials at the time continued to have the church jump through hoops making them believe the church would be able to use the building. Mayor Santos told the pastor he wanted the church there.The real conflict was in city hall between the city officials. The church did not cause this, the city did by not handling the application correctly. And to be humble does not equal being a push over.
anthony September 27, 2012 at 04:40 PM
Pastor... unfortunately court decisions don't always settle right from wrong, and legal settlements often reflect that condition. RLUIPA is law at present but continuing in it's present form, if at all, may soon not be the case. In twenty years the citizens of San Leandro may well be thanking those you demand to apologize for protecting zoning code that produces the economic environment vital to a healthy city from parties granted special privilege by an unfair mandate. I too would like to believe this case stood on principle, but it appears it has once again come to decisions swayed by monetary interests.
TCM September 27, 2012 at 05:48 PM
Antony, in twenty years our children will be adults and people like me will be facing an uncertain retirement future. People such as myself and many others need services now. If the $2.3 mil helps the church with a bigger building to expand its services to the community, then great. The services are very much needed. The places are few and far between where one can receive free food,counseling, Christmas gifts and help finding a job, all in one place. The city has not been able to reach out to those families truly struggling. The church does this. This is why I believe it has grown so large. Look around the city and notice how many vacant buildings there are. Kmart will soon close its doors leaving another massive building empty. We need services and help now CITY OFFICIALS not 20 years from now. If the church is doing its part to help the community, more power to them. The $2.3 mil will end up helping the community anyway.
Marga Lacabe September 27, 2012 at 05:53 PM
Andrew, at the point the Church lost the Catalina St. property, they were still in the same position than when they started: needing a much larger facility and the city refusing to let them use one that was not appropriately zoned. Even if they didn't want money at that point, they still needed to fight this case so as to get a ruling on their favor
Classic Bob September 27, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Mark 11:25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.
Mike B. September 27, 2012 at 10:50 PM
I am a trial attorney. I have assisted people in suing to recover monetary damages for nearly 20 years. When a potential client enters my office the first thing I attempt to determine my client's goal. If the goal is a monetary recovery, I may be able to help. If the goal is vindication, or spite, or retribution, I can't help and won't take the case. The courts don't serve that purpose - Andrew Kopp Brilliant response!!!! If you didn't want money...why sue? This guy wanted money. Then he gloats in the face of everyone. Wonder if Jesus told him to do that?
TCM September 27, 2012 at 11:30 PM
Of course if there is monetary damages the attorney will help. They are the ones with their hands in the money pay out first. Like in this case the lawyers win big. The city gets 0 and the church very little. The attorney's make all the money and reap all the benefit. If there is money involved of course a lawyer will take the case, they are looking for a payday. Please get off your high horse, if a big pay out was linked to vindication a lawyer would be all over it.
Child of God September 27, 2012 at 11:58 PM
I am a member of fellowship and have been through everything. I sat through many city counsel meetings and saw how disrespectful and rude were treated. I have been a Christian for over 20 years and have been involved in a few good church's. the heart of faith fellowship people is to serve others. The building we had was perfect and would have met all our needs. We have a food bank that's feeds the community but we don't have room to store food. My dream for our church is to have a soup kitchen. We did look at other properties the city offered us but they did not meet our needs. I know much more about the case and the struggle we went through. We were lied to I was there through it at. Money was never the motive we wanted to worked things out but the city refused so praise God one day we will have a bigger site so we can serve his people
FOTS September 28, 2012 at 07:56 AM
And what conditions should the people give you for posting ridiculous comments?
FOTS September 28, 2012 at 08:03 AM
And I'm sure your more Righteous than the Pastor and have never said anything worse than that in your life. Please take the thorns from your own eye before you try to pull it out of someone else's. People love to point out how ungodly a Christian isn't, as if they themselves know what God requires of people. @An/on unless your a secret nun and have a reputation of living a life like Mother Teresa...save your breath!
FOTS September 28, 2012 at 08:12 AM
Hmmmmm @Debbie....and what moral system is your feelings based on??? I'm hard pressed to believe your feelings are based on the bible....in fact I know their not because you wouldn't make a comment...."Christians doing what Jesus would want them to do...sue the city." I wonder if it was a Mosque would you say the same thing. I doubt it.
FOTS September 28, 2012 at 08:22 AM
All this taxpayer dollars comments.......How much money do the people on this site make? 2.3million is NOTHING for a church building....Do you people watch the news....2.3 million will get you a nice mansion in some bay area communities. Today due to a declining economy 2.3 can get you more than 3 years ago...but come on....your acting like this Pastor is receiving a 20million dollar settlement.
FOTS September 28, 2012 at 08:24 AM
Well said...someone with Facts, the truth and non bias opinion.
FOTS September 28, 2012 at 08:33 AM
@mike...I feel sorry for whoever gets you as a trial lawyer. It's all about the money! I guess you don't help people who may need an injustice corrected. You don't help those who may need to be the forerunner to help stop future injustices. Way to go Mike B.
FOTS September 28, 2012 at 08:42 AM
@child of God....don't throw your pearls to the swines! Hearing they will not hear, seeing they will not see. The battle is done and the decision has been made. Let naysayers say they want. As long as you and those involved know the truth...that's all that matters. Just pray that God will give your Pastor and leaders wisdom and guidance to the right location in the future. And pray that your Pastor stays humble...I don't think his comments were said in lack of humility but I think the strong tone of righteous anger is felt....which can come off as a being a bit too confident.
FOTS September 28, 2012 at 08:47 AM
Anthony....sorry your wrong...I believe that you and almost everyone on this site have never been in a legal battle or had to fight a situation of substantial size....well let me tell you...if you experienced something like this you would understand that 2.3 million is not even remotely a great outcome for this case. Both parties lost trust me. If I was the church I wouldn't have settled for what they got.
FOTS September 28, 2012 at 08:51 AM
@Pastor Derek Jung....your statement says it all...FF won at U.S. supreme court level...so everyone on this site as well as myself opinion and comments don't matter. The city was found in error...the end.
FOTS September 28, 2012 at 09:03 AM
@ASK....where do you work? Do you work in the city of San leandro?....let us see your tax returns....you pay sooooo much taxes in San leandro. GIVE ME A BREAK!! Do you give to the poor in san leandro on a weekly basis? Do you go out and make sure that all the strip bars and drug spots on E 14th that's bringing down the community value dont receive YOUR TAX DOLLARS....But you make a Stupid statement about a church that received a measly 2.3 million dollars (which by the way has done more for the poor in san leandro than you) spending your tax dollars...going down the drain. Why don't you do your research and go find out how many law suits and other things the cities had to pay over the last 10 years with your tax dollars and then maybe think about making a comment about down the drain.
GoldenChild510 September 29, 2012 at 07:39 PM
I love how people continue to Target Christianity as a whole...why bash a religion (or anything for that matter) that promotes a better living, love for eachother, and reaching out to others with love and understanding...we are truly in the last days. Pastor Gary really surprised me... let me ask this... if u bought a new car off a lot and it looked good, promotes high gas mileage, a great warranty blah blah.The salesman made the deal sound real sweet. You pay cash upfront,You sign all paper work, get the keys in hand... then you go to start the car.....no engine, no transmission. Would you go back in the office or just take it as a loss??? I'm leaning toward heading back in the office and giving them a peice of my mind!-so I said all that to say, I believe that pastor Gary shouldn't have settled for less...so much drama behind this issue I feel he deserves it as well as the church. Being a city and having as much pull and play in these decisions should have made it impossible to purchase in the first place! Hello somebody!...its ok... GOD WILL ALWAYS COME THROUGH!!! Stay strong P.G. and congregation- your blessing is around the corner! Praise GOD!

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