…New Harvest Christian Fellowship has rented space along Main Street in Salinas for more than 25 years. Their growing congregation prompted leaders to recognize several years ago that the church needed a larger facility.
… With property at a premium in Northern California, the church seized the opportunity and bought the building in early 2018.
But the city had a different vision for Main Street. It demanded sharp restrictions on the building’s use such as worship and assemblies only on the second floor, and dedication of retail space on the ground floor to an extent that proved unworkable for the church. The church contacted Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), which quickly recognized the preferential treatment the city was giving secular assembly uses at the same time it was blocking the church. Just a few feet away the city permitted theaters and live entertainment venues to operate without similar restrictions.
On May 29, U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Van Keulen of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued a surprising decision siding with the city. The court determined that churches generate limited interest, do not draw tourists, and therefore detract from the city’s goals of vibrancy.
…[Pacific Justice Institute] pointed out that the city’s insistence that it must have only fun, tourist-friendly, and tax-generating entities downtown was undermined by its allowance of nursing homes and post offices. The court waved off this discrepancy.
…Brad Dacus, president of PJI, commented, “This continues to be one of the most striking examples of unequal treatment of a church in the land use context that we have seen in the past 20 years. We have appealed this case to the Ninth Circuit, and we are optimistic that a different result will be reached upon review by a higher court.”
Pacific Justice Institute “Court: City Can Exclude Churches While Favoring Theaters and Entertainment.”