Calif. City Says Church Using Storefront Would Cause ‘Blight’

‘The City better be ready for a David and Goliath type of fight…’

California City Says Christian Church Using Its Building Would Cause 'Blight' 1

New Harvest Christian Fellowship, which occupies a prominent spot across the street in downtown Salinas, Ca., planned to expand into this fabric store that was going out of business, but city officials object./IMAGE: KSBW Action News 8 via Youtube

(Joshua Paladino, Liberty Headlines) A California city will not allow a Christian church to use its property because the religious services would lead to “blight.”

The Salinas City Council’s zoning “vibrancy plan” calls for only secular businesses, such as art studios, movie theaters, music studios and restaurants to use the space instead.

The Pacific Justice Institute, a Sacramento-based religious- and civil-liberty law firm, filed a lawsuit against the City of Salinas on behalf of New Harvest Christian Fellowship.

The lawsuit alleges that Salinas has violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act by preventing New Harvest Christian Fellowship to move into its building, PJI reported.

New Harvest Christian Fellowship has resided in Old Town Salinas on Main Street for 22 years.

In 2017, Pastor Ignacio Torres told the city that he planned to buy a new, larger building in Old Town Salinas that is directly across the street from the church’s current location on Main Street.

Brad Dacus, president of PJI, said forcing the church to stay in its current location burdens the free exercise of religion.

“The City’s absurd description of the Church and the unacceptable denial of religious assembly will be challenged in court,” Dacus said. This space limitation on New Harvest burdens their exercise of religion and their ability to include everyone who wishes to attend their services.”

A city official told Torres that his church could operate in the building if it gave up the storefront for a commercial retail store.

Torres refused, saying the limitation would prevent the church from fully practicing its faith.

The official said Torres “could not win” the legal battle ahead of him.

“The City better be ready for a David and Goliath type of fight,” Pastor Torres responded. “And we all know how that turned out.”

Torres has to pay $11,000 in annual property taxes on the church’s building that Salinas will not allow him to use.