Let’s get some facts straight about the November Initiative Measure HR.
The Initiative only changes the Zoning designation of the Mater Dolorosa Property from “Institutional” to “Hillside Management”.
The Initiative does not require any amendment to the existing Sierra Madre Municipal Codes to enable its provisions.
Once the Initiative is adopted, the provisions of the Sierra Madre Municipal Code kick in, and the existing structures on the Mater Dolorosa Property automatically become “non-conforming” due to the change of the zoning designation of the Mater Dolorosa Property.
The Sierra Madre Municipal Codes allow the Passionists to continue to use its existing structures in their current form, and also allow changes and additions to its structures as long as there is compliance with guidelines provided in the Sierra Madre Municipal Codes.
There has been a lot of discussion that the Initiative is subject to legal challenge on the grounds that it results in religious discrimination against the Passionists or otherwise constrains the mission of the Passionists. Any such discussion is misguided.
Under the Initiative, the Monastery Property will be rezoned as a Hillside Management Zone. If the trail of SMMC Section 17.52.070 C (1) of the Hillside Management Zone is followed, one arrives at Section 17.60.030 (A) which clearly states, that “Churches, temples and other places of worship” are uses that are permitted in basically all zoning classifications, including the Hillside Management Zone.
The purpose of allowing “Churches, temples and other places of worship” in virtually all zones within the City is to ensure that there no discrimination against the free practice of religion in Sierra Madre, including the building of churches, temples and other places of worship in essentially all zones that are occupied by people. The Sierra Madre Municipal Codes have clearly been drafted so as not to run afoul of existing federal and state laws, including the Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act (“RLUIPA”). Any conclusion that the Initiative prohibits the right of a religious organization to exercise its religious freedoms is blatantly incorrect. All that the Initiative does is change the zoning of the Mater Dolorosa Property from Institutional to Hillside Management. The City of Sierra Madre, or the people through an Initiative, have the right to re-designate the Monastery Property from Institutional to Hillside Management, absent a prohibited restriction. From that point on, the existing provisions of the Sierra Madre Municipal Codes can be relied upon to protect against religious discrimination from occurring. To suggest anything different would be to conclude that the City of Sierra Madre Municipal Codes are defective. If they are
defective, then any unintended consequences from the adoption of the Initiative cannot be blamed on the Initiative, but rather on the defects that may be embedded in the City of Sierra Madre Municipal Codes, if they exist.
Perhaps the confusion regarding the claim of religious discrimination rests with the following language contained in the City’s Memorandum dated July 8, 2022 from the City Attorney to the Mayor and Councilmembers. The Memorandum states that if a zoning district is silent as to prohibited uses, it is considered prohibited if it is not expressly permitted. The Memorandum on Page 11 goes on to examine the Sierra Madre Municipal Codes and concludes that “since a retreat center and religious depictions are not listed as permitted or conditionally permitted uses, they are prohibited in the Hillside Management Zone.”
We are not sure why that conclusion was reached. As noted above, the language of Section 17.60.030 (A) of “other places of worship” is unquestionably a broad and all-encompassing enough term that certainly includes a religious “retreat center” and “religious depictions”. The City would be wrong to deny any requests from the Passionists to build or improve such structures on the pretense that they are not allowed.
The conclusion in the City’s Memorandum that the Hillside Management Zone prohibits structures relating to places of worship affects many other arguments in the Memorandum. If churches, temples and other places of worship are permitted in the Hillside Management Zone, then all of the other conclusions noted in the Memorandum that deny this fact fall by the wayside.
So again, why does the Memorandum of the City Attorney dated July 8, 2022 reach the conclusion that the Monastery cannot build a church, temple or other place of worship on its property if its property is designated as Hillside Management, when the language of our Municipal Codes allows for such structures? This question has been posed to the City on many occasions and those questions have not even merited the courtesy of an acknowledgement of receipt by the City.
We patiently await the City’s reply!