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San Leandro versus Faith Fellowship In National News

A Wall Street Journal article published Wednesday puts this local dispute between zoning laws and church rights into a national context and thrusts San Leandro into the public eye.

San Leandro versus Faith Fellowship In National News

For several years the city has been embroiled in an ongoing legal dispute with San Leandro's .

A Wall Street Journal article published Wednesday puts this local matter into a broader context and exposes San Leandro to a nationwide business audience.

The crux of the case has been whether the Faith Fellowship could move its 2,000-member congregation from Manor Street to a site on Catalina Street off Farallon Drive that the city had zoned for industrial uses.

That local dispute literally became a federal case in 2007 when the Faith Fellowship invoked the  Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) to challenge the city's actions.

The city won the first round in federal district court but the Faith Fellowship .

In May, the to take the matter to the United States Supreme Court. Mayor Stephen Cassidy and Councilmember Pauline Cutter  dissented.

In October the Supreme Court declined to hear San Leandro's case.

That was a victory for the Faith Fellowship which can now sue the city for the losses and legal fees it has incurred as a result of San Leandro's refusal to let it occupy the Catalina Street property.

This is where a Wall Street Journal article published Wednesday picks up the tale and puts it into a national context.

It outlines how a Republican-controlled Congress enacted RLUIPA in 2000 to give religious institutions a new tool to overturn zoning ordinances that were being used against them in many locales -- citing a Sikh congregation in Yuba City that had to invoke the law to win permission to build a temple in an agricultural zone.

The Journal says that the Supreme Court's refusal to hear San Leandro's case means "the city could owe the church $4 million or more in damages and attorney's fees."

The council has surely discussed, in closed door council sessions, whether it should settle and for how much, or go to trial and hope to prevail.

The Journal article puts the matter in the national spotlight just as San Leandro to become a destination for high-tech industry.

How will the article play with the Journal's business readers? Is this an instance where no publicity is bad so long as they spell our name right?

Mayor Cassidy doesn't think the article will have any effect, positive or negative, on the city's business recruitment efforts.

"This lawsuit involves a set of specific facts and legal issues that have no relevance to whether or not a new commercial entity should relocate to our city," Cassidy wrote in an email.

The article also raises some questions for San Leandrans:

  • Should the city have opposed the church in the first place (The Journal quotes development director Luke Sims as saying the site it chose is the best in town to lure a Silicon Valley firm)?
  • Should San Leandro have settled, and how much has it cost to make itself a national test case?

Cassidy also addressed the city's legal position, saying San Leandro "remains open to meeting with church representatives to discuss a good faith settlement while at the same time we are preparing the case for further litigation before the district court."

Meanwhile, please join the discussion. It's not every day that San Leandro makes the front page of the nation's most prestigious business outlet and it gives us lots to talk about.

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