Los Angeles County supervisors approve moratorium on churches

Sunday, October 28th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ There's a new commandment in effect in part of Los Angeles County: Thou shalt not build any new churches.

The county Board of Supervisors on Oct. 23 imposed the 45-day moratorium in the unincorporated community of Rowland Heights, a multiethnic suburb about 25 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

County planners will use the time to find out how many religious institutions there are in the nine-square-mile community, and consider whether to revise the area's zoning and land-use laws.

The action was taken because residents complained of a flurry of church construction over the last five to seven years.

``Nobody is against churches. But there comes a point when they are taking over residential neighborhoods,'' said Russell Bell, president of the Rowland Heights Coordinating Council, a group that advises county supervisors. ``The traffic and noise is depressing house values and impacting the quality of life.''

County supervisor Don Knabe said some churches operate every day offering housing and food services.

``These places of assembly were zoned to provide residents with some places of worship,'' Knabe said. ``Unfortunately, some have been transformed into other uses, which are not consistent with the current zoning or the character of the neighborhood.''

Critics warn that the county could be violating a law signed last year by President Clinton that prohibits any local land-use and zoning regulations that place substantial burdens on the exercise of religions, unless local officials can show a compelling government reason.

``This moratorium and efforts to restrict religious institutions using zoning have no rationale under the law,'' said Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, which represents religious groups in court.

Edward Griffith, a member of the building committee at the Church of the Nazarene, was amazed that anyone would consider a church a nuisance.

``There are probably more bars and liquor stores locally than churches,'' he said.