Image courtesy Liberty Counsel

A California court has released a ruling that allows a church to rent a former YMCA building in Thousand Oaks, rejecting arguments from a loosely organized association that the congregation shouldn’t be allowed into the community.

It was the Ventura County Superior Court that decided in favor of a nonprofit foundation that bought a former YMCA and then agreed to lease it to Godspeak Calvary Chapel, according to Liberty Counsel.

Liberty Counsel Chairman Mat Staver said: “This is a great ruling by the Ventura County Superior Court in this frivolous lawsuit against a Christian church. It is a violation of the law to welcome a YMCA but refuse a church. The city of Thousand Oaks followed the law, but a small handful of people want the city to violate zoning laws and federal laws to discriminate against the use of the building for religious services. This will not happen.”

The association consists of “a few individuals has argued that the church should not be considered a religious organization. The demands of the plaintiffs would have been discriminatory and unconstitutional, because it would have subjected the church and the foundation to different and more onerous burdens solely because of their religious affiliation,” Liberty Counsel explained.

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The foundation bought the building in 2018. It is in a commercial area that is part of a larger residential and commercial development. The overall development was approved by the city in 2002. The city approved an environmental impact report and development permit as required under state law, Liberty Counsel explained.

“Part of the consideration for approval of the project was that the developer would donate a parcel of land to the local YMCA for it to build a center in the neighborhood. The YMCA built and operated a center before it closed in December 2017. The YMCA then sold the property, including the building, to the foundation, which made minor changes and provided the facility to Calvary Chapel,” Liberty Counsel said.

The ruling from Judge Matthew Guasco tentatively decided the Dos Vientos Community Preservation Association cannot force the city of Thousand Oaks to discriminate against a California church and a non-profit organization by requiring it to get a new or amended development permit.

The judge said the foundation demonstrated that the city followed all applicable laws and regulations in granting the building permits for Calvary Chapel, without requiring a new or amended development permit.

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“There is nothing in the city zoning code, or any other applicable law, that requires a burdensome development permit to be obtained when a private facility changes ownership and is converted to church use,” Liberty Counsel noted. “By not requiring a new or amended development permit, as the plaintiffs demanded, the city treated the foundation and the church equally with other similarly situated non-religious groups that are also not required to obtain new development permits for similar renovations.”

Much of the association’s lawsuit, including claims the church was not “religious,” previously was dismissed.

The judge noted the city did “precisely” what its own municipal code required: to “process Calvary Chapel’s application for a building permit and determine as a ministerial act whether the proposed use of the subject property was permitted with the C-1 zone by the existing development permit.”


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