Victory in Church Zoning Case

Jun 7, 2019

VENTURA, CA -- The Ventura County Superior Court today dismissed a significant portion of the lawsuit brought by the Dos Vientos Community Preservation Association (Association) and Donald Armstrong, in an attempt to force the city of Thousand Oaks to discriminate against a California church and a non-profit organization.

In Dos Vientos Community Preservation Association v. City of Thousand Oaks, Liberty Counsel represents a nonprofit foundation (Foundation) which purchased a former YMCA building and entered into an agreement to rent it to Godspeak Calvary Chapel Church. The alleged “Association” consisting of a few individuals stated that the church’s use has not been cleared under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The plaintiffs argued that the church should not be considered a religious organization entitled to protection under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which requires that religious organizations receive equal treatment as do other organizations in government zoning decisions.  

The city and Liberty Counsel argued, and the court now agrees, that CEQA does not apply, and that the plaintiffs missed the deadline to file a claim. The CEQA claim represents about 90 percent of the claim filed by the plaintiffs. The court dismissed it with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled. Liberty Counsel will return to court on June 20 for the dismissal hearing on the remaining 10 percent of the claim.

The city supports the church’s right to be in the building for religious use and worship. But a few neighbors formed an “Association” and filed suit objecting to a church renting the same facility. Such biased discrimination is often referred to as “Not in my back yard” (NIMBY). The pastor of Godspeak Calvary Chapel Church is also the mayor of Thousand Oaks. He provided much support and prayer following the tragic shooting last year at a place of entertainment. 

The Foundation purchased the building from the YMCA in January 2018. The building is located in a commercial complex that is part of a larger residential and commercial development in the city. The overall development was approved by the city in 2002. The city approved an environmental impact report and development permit as required under CEQA and other state laws. 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 intends to make minor changes and then allow Calvary Chapel to use the facility.

The Foundation applied for the necessary permits from the city, which determined that no new environmental review was required under CEQA because there would only be minor changes to the property, and the use of the property for a church, like the use of the property for a YMCA, is permitted in that commercial zoning.

“We are pleased that the Ventura County Superior Court dismissed the major portion of this frivolous lawsuit against a Christian church,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. “It is a violation of the law to welcome a YMCA but refuse a church. We are thankful that the city of Thousand Oaks supports the church and that the court ruled in our favor. We look forward to the full dismissal of this case this month,” said Staver.

Liberty Counsel is an international nonprofit, litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989, by providing pro bono assistance and representation on these and related topics. Liberty Counsel provides broadcast quality TV interviews via Hi-Def Skype and LTN at no cost.