Temecula Council Denies Appeal, Mosque Will be Built

Opponents and supporters spoke during a lengthy public hearing late Tuesday and early Wednesday

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A mosque will be built, despite resident objections regarding the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley.

    Opponents claimed it could bring extremist activity. They also said it will create traffic problems.

    After a nearly nine hour meeting, the Temecula City Council voted 4-0. The vote didn't come until 3:34 a.m. Wednesday.

    The Islamic Center was formed in 1998 and serves about 150 families in southwest Riverside County. Plans call for a 25,000-square-foot, two-story mosque.

    Concerned residents had appealed the Planning Commission's approval of a permit and development plan. Critics who spoke during the public hearing said the mosque could draw Islamic extremists and flood neighborhoods with traffic.

    "Your constituents will hold you responsible for anything that should occur," one speaker told the council. "We have the power to recall you. So remember who you work for and who pays your salary.

    The LA Times reported that some of the speakers came from as far away as Los Angeles and Hesperia.

    Supporters said local Muslims shouldn't be likened to terrorists.

    "My children have had to worship God, so that they will also be good citizens," a supporter told the council. "Please allow us the same rights that other God-fearing people have."

    The council's vote upholds the planning commission's decision last month to approve the new  mosque. The planning commission voted unanimously in favor of the project.

    More than 100 people signed up to speak at the Tuesday-into-Wednesday public hearing. Much of that time was spent discussing whether the appeal was based on land-use issues or religion.

    According to the Riverside Press-Enterprise:

      George Rombach, the Temecula resident who filed the appeal on behalf of Concerned American Citizens, was adamant that the appeal was not a "facade" hiding anti-Islam sentiment.

      "I give you my word of honor ... there was no ulterior motive," he said.

      Others weren’t so sure.

      “Oh, how I wish this was only about traffic,” said Gail Byrne, a Jew and founding member of the Interfaith Council of Murrieta & Temecula Valley. “For me, the issues of religious freedom are at the core of my concern, not traffic.”

    Rombach's appeal with the city challenged the planning  commission's decision on a range of issues, including the mosque's design,  location and impact on the neighborhood. Rombach  was allowed 10 minutes of rebuttal time that stretched just past 3 a.m.

    City staff answered Rombach's objections in an eight-page report.

    According to the city, the contention that the mosque would create heavy  traffic congestion was addressed by the Islamic center's agreement to install  a two-way left turn lane on the eastbound approach of the Nicolas Road/Calle  Colibri intersection. Rombach complained that no environmental impact report had been  completed for the project even though one had been required for the neighboring  Grace Presbyterian Church, but city staff said no EIR had been requested before  the church was built, City News Service reported.

    There was an objection to the proposed height of the mosque's minarets,  which critics argued would tower over both the Presbyterian church and Calvary  Baptist Church, which will also abut the mosque property. City staff pointed out the minarets would rise about 40 feet,  compared to the roughly 55-foot steeple at Calvary.

    Rombach said access to the churches would be disrupted during Sunday  services if the mosque is open, but staffers didn't foresee "significant  levels" of congestion.

    The one issue the city noted could pose a problem for the Islamic center  is whether a portion of the mosque will lie in an area designated as a  floodplain. The Federal Emergency Management Agency ultimately has to decide the  boundaries of the plain.

    The Press-Enterprise reported the council modified conditions of approval so mosque parking and traffic will be reviewed every five years.