[Buddha-l] Vietnamese Buddhistsin LA finally get their expansion plans approved

jkirk jkirk at spro.net
Wed Sep 24 10:30:50 MDT 2008

Once in a while we write about Asian Buddhism in our midst, but
not much.
A Vietnamese Buddhist group in LA finally got the go-ahead to
expand their place:
Happy to see that the ACLU went to work for them.

 After a two-year legal battle with the city of Garden Grove, a
Vietnamese Buddhist congregation has won a settlement paving the
way for a 10,000-square-foot temple to be built on the site of a
former medical building -- a spot the city had claimed was
inappropriate for a church.

The congregation, known as the Quan Am Temple, joined the
American Civil Liberties Union in filing a federal lawsuit in
2006 accusing city leaders of unfairly barring the Buddhists from
holding services and expanding their worship center on Chapman
Avenue next to a middle-class residential neighborhood.  The ACLU
described the settlement as a victory for religious freedom.

"All we have wanted all along is to find a home where we could
worship as we saw fit, as we could not do in our homeland," said
Thich Dao Quang, the temple's 79-year-old abbot, who made 12
attempts to flee Vietnam after the communist government seized
his temple there. He finally succeeded in reaching the United
States in 1988. 

"I actually became extremely ill because of this," he said
through a translator, explaining that he has suffered high blood
pressure and heart problems for the last two years. "Now that we
have a resolution, I am hopeful that my health will improve."

He said his creed is to avoid strife, which made it "an extremely
difficult" decision to sue the city.

"He was very personally conflicted," said Belinda Helzer, an ACLU
attorney, speaking at a news conference Wednesday at the site of
the future temple, where the settlement was announced. "On the
one hand, he didn't want to have conflict. But on the other hand,
he had a whole population of lay congregants that weren't able to
practice their religion."

The congregation bought the 1.8-acre former medical center in
2004, but complaints from neighbors about traffic and noise
prompted the city to bar services there. The city in 2005
rejected the congregation's request to build a 15,500-square-foot
temple on the site, and in 2006 rejected a scaled-down plan on
the grounds that it clashed with the residential neighborhood's
"spirit and intent."

The abbot said the protracted fight with the city has left the
congregation deep in debt. K. Luan Tran, an attorney representing
the congregation, said it now faces the task of raising money to
build the temple, estimated to cost at least $2 million. "It's
like a vicious circle," Tran said. "Without a fully functioning
temple, it's very hard to get people in to fund-raise."

In October 2006, after the ACLU filed suit, a federal judge ruled
the Buddhists could temporarily hold worship services in the old
medical building while the lawsuit was being decided. Congregants
have been gathering for Sunday services, but the old medical
building holds only 49 people, and some drifted away to temples
in neighboring cities. The temple is expected to hold 300 people
for services, with an adjacent monastery to house the abbot and
about a dozen monks.

Susan Emery, the city's community development director, said the
city has yet to receive an application for the temple and cannot
guarantee that it will be approved, "but we will consider it
favorably in light of this settlement."

She said the settlement, in essence, removes the city's objection
to rezoning the Chapman Avenue property from
"office-professional" status to the "residential" status that
would permit the temple.

Tran said that if the application is approved, the city will pay
$145,000 in lawyer's fees, and if it is rejected, the litigation
will resume. He said the two-year legal battle was "very
stressful" for the abbot. "We just want to get this thing behind
us," Tran said.

Helzer said she hoped the city would approve the temple plans by
the end of the year. She said the Justice Department launched an
investigation into whether Garden Grove has violated the
Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, passed in
2000, which prohibits the government from using land-use
regulations to thwart religious practice. The investigation,
launched by the Justice Department's housing and civil
enforcement section, could result in another lawsuit.

The Justice Department said Wednesday that its investigation is

christopher.goffard @latimes.com


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