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Supervisors Approve Saranap Sufi Sanctuary

County board votes 4-0 for 66,000-square-foot, multi-domed building in unincorporated neighborhood between Walnut Creek and Lafayette.

After crafting a series of conditions on parking, construction noise and other neighborhood concerns, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 Wednesday afternoon to approve a large, white domed sanctuary for the Sufism Reoriented congregation in Saranap.

After the vote, board Chairwoman Mary Piepho thanked the audience, hundreds of people at the Hofmann Theater in the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, for their demeanor and patience in the hearing process. Most in the crowd — largely Sufi congregation members proudly wearing oversized lapel buttons decorated with green ribbon — applauded politely and then extended it into a standing ovation.

"I'm as happy as I could be," said Bob Carpenter, project coordinator for the 350-member Sufi congregation, reflecting on four years of efforts to win approval. The conditions were fine, Carpenter said: "They were wise to think about them and put them in."

Carpenter said, "We had addressed the concerns. The staff knew that and ultimately the board knew that … I always felt the truth would prevail." The Sufis had met all codes and requirements, and sought no variances from the county, Carpenter said.

The Sufi congregation's current sanctuary is a nondescript gray building, a former nightclub. It is a few hundred feet away from the new site on Boulevard Way in Saranap, an unincorporated neighborhood between Walnut Creek and Lafayette. The 66,000-square-foot sanctuary (slightly larger than the White House in Washington), with two-thirds of its area underground, has multiple domes with a central dome for a worship area. The design includes a library, meeting room, bookstore and archive room.

The Board of Supervisors was hearing appeals by Saranap neighbors to the sanctuary approval from the county Planning Commission last fall.

Wednesday's meeting started with county staff reports on issues supervisors had asked questions about in the Feb. 21 all-day public hearing, which featured 110 speakers pro and con, most of them Saranap residents. Wednesday's action took a little more than a half-day. In the early afternoon, supervisors and staff parsed the wording of conditions to add to the project approval.

Traffic report

At the urging of Supervisor John Gioia, language was added that the Traffic Demand Management program, a county initiative that the Sufi congregation has already implemented to lessen auto use, would include minimizing "adverse impacts of availability of parking spaces in public streets in the neighborhood and promote respectful parking practices by congregation members and guests." Saranap is a hybrid transition neighborhood, from urban to semi-rural, known for its narrow streets. "Two cars cannot pass at the same time," said Warren Road resident Caroline Campbell, addressing the board. "It's 19 feet wide."

In response to concerns of neighbors, the county added provisions for a report every six months by the Sufi congregation on parking issues.

The county also added condition language to minimize the number of dump trucks and concrete trucks on the construction site at one time.

The county directed the congregation to meet with a child care provider adjacent to the site, at the beginning of the construction period, to address impacts to the day care business. The congregation will have a designated person to talk to neighbors who have complaints during the construction process.

Another county condition requires the congregation to give a report on the neighborhood impact of the lighting from the domed building.

Joseph David Dacus November 30, 2012 at 06:07 AM
What an odd notion Craig! They haven't had any such "clarion call" at their current location for the last three plus decades, AND they aren't Muslim. Never been so much as a mild bell tinkle! I wonder who you've spoken to who might have spread such a false rumor? I live between their existing facility and the new one (a few hundred feet apart). They are good neighbors, and the lovely gardens/grounds will be a great addition to the Saranap community (which doesn't presently have any kind of park of its own). It is a great place to live!
michael frederick November 30, 2012 at 08:36 PM
Craig, When Mr. Dacus says "they" this and "they" that, it's important to point out that Mr. Dacus is a Sufi, or "we." His wife even writes poetry on the religion but, as you can see, he presents himself as detached and objective. Mr. Dacus is a recognized spokesman for the group. He wonders why Judeo Chistians might not want to live next to an organized group that doesn't recognize ethical standards -- only the need for church promotion. Should you be concerned about a religious group that is so fervent, members feel compelled to live yards from the church? Does your church cheer for, or even tacitly approve, of public spokesmen who are obviously -- and awkwardly -- deceitful, in the name of the church? If you are seeking better moral fiber from the county, expect disappointment! A decade ago, the county discouraged a Sufi proposal for an 11,000 sq ft facility as being too "massive." They just approved 66,000 ... Expecting county policing of conditions seems wildly optimistic, on your part. Sufism is a political movement, comprised of members whose SOLE priority is Sufi -- not neighborhood. This political organization is so politically dominant in the area, the county rules that 66,000 is about right, where 11,000 is clearly too much. They'll chant, sing, park, play, ... anytime, anywhere, and anyway they want. Since they've successfully discredited any governmental authority in the area, but their own, it's totally up to them.
Joseph David Dacus November 30, 2012 at 09:08 PM
Mr. Frederick is disappointed in the county government, the City of Walnut Creek government, and the Saranap Community Association--of which I am the President, and have been on the board for more than four years. He is just plain disappointed in many things, as you will see if you only scan his scathing comments on any number of Walnut Creek Patch subjects! As I said, Saranap is already a great place to live. I've lived here for more than thirty one years. It remains a great place to live, property values hold steady...in fact have improved in the area of this project...and should continue to improve with its realization. All these erroneous suggestions are just that, and could be collected in the great fear based stew pot of an extremely small minority of people.
michael frederick November 30, 2012 at 10:18 PM
Sufi Joe is correct in much of what he just said, it all is very disappointing. Actually, most Americans and people around the world are similarly appalled at the governmental ethics dominating this country. It, in no small measure, is why America has gone from the #1 place in the world for a child to be born twenty years ago, to #14 today. Local government is not immune or an exception. Regarding the Sufi political domination mentioned, Sufi Joe is not just a spokesman for Sufism, he is the "President" of the Community Association ... Need I say more?
Joseph David Dacus November 30, 2012 at 10:42 PM
If only it could be, but I would bet ten thousand dollars it couldn't POSSIBLY be the end~ lol

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