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19
Sun, Sep

No Church Expansion with Taxpayers Money

RELIGIOUS VIEWS - Prince of Peace Church held a community meeting on August 28, 2021 at 10 am. He shared images and plans for the development and expansion of the church located at 5700 Rudnick Ave., Woodland Hills. 

According to the pastor, Mr. Rand Resoner, the expansion will include a 7,500 SF, 2- story building with a commercial kitchen multiple office, showers, and commercial size food storage room. The new building will have residential houses on two sides. The church is also located across from a pre-school/elementary school and close to a city park where many kids games are held.

The Church was built in 1959, and they began operating a food pantry from within the church in 1975 using the limited space they had available.  The operation of the food pantry has expanded over the years.  In order to serve their customers, they have had to place multiple storage containers within the parking lot and build permanent sheds.  This has reduced the number of parking spaces within the church under the minimum requirement. Currently many of the minimum required parking spaces for the church users have been taken away and replaced by permanent or temporary structures no to mention blocking of the federally mandated and ADA path of travel. 

Over 11,000 people use the food pantry every month. This creates traffic and parking issues which disturb neighbors.  It is not clear whether the food pantry was properly permitted to operate on this property within a single family zone and requires the examination of city records.

On August 9, 2021, The Daily News recently reported that the church received a $3.5 million donation from Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel to expand the food pantry facilities. Per the pastor, the West Valley Food Pantry is a ministry of the Church.  The land where the future facility will be built is deeded to the Episcopal Church in Los Angeles. 

There’s no subdivision of the lot deeding a portion of the land to the food pantry.  The earmarking of taxpayers money by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, to a religious organization is a violation of federal and state constitutions requiring separation of church and state.

Over 40 local residents attended the meeting on Saturday, August 28th and expressed their fierce opposition to the church expansion.  According to several participants, the neighborhood is already flooded with homeless people, mentally ill transients, drug addicts and criminals taking advantage of the free mobile shower in the Church and collecting free food.  Lines of cars waiting to enter the drive-through food pantry backup over half a mile around the corner to Miranda Avenue, often blocking driveways. 

According to many neighbors, this situation (that was supposed to be temporary due to the Pandemic) will become permanent if the new 7,500 SF building with a commercial kitchen and industrial size storage facility is built on the church property. According to other concerned neighbors, delivery trucks and lines of cars will create unbearable noise and air pollution in this quiet family neighborhood. 

Many attendees have supported the food pantry and some have volunteered to
help the food distribution.  However, they believe that the operation has outgrown the neighborhood and is better suited in a commercial or industrial zone closer to a bus stop.  Pastor Reasoner indicated that several other food pantries in the San Fernando Valley have closed since the pandemic started and, therefore, many more people rely on this facility for food assistance.

Some participants have searched the area and have found decent-sized warehouses with available kitchens in commercial zones that can be purchased for this purpose.  Some offered financial assistance if this approach is taken.  However, the pastor insisted that the new building is needed in the church property because it will serve "a nice number of functions for the church." The new kitchen is planned to be built next to a community room that is rented for weddings and other social events for a fee.

One neighbor said: “We already have huge lines for the food pantry on weekdays making it difficult to drive into or out of our neighborhood."  Traffic and parking problems will increase with a larger facility with larger demand.”

Another neighbor told the pastor about her experience of walking in the neighborhood, near the congregated homeless encampment around the Church, getting rocks thrown at her. Another resident complained about drug needles in front of the pre-school that her daughter is enrolled
in. Many other sad stories were told about the negative impact of having the current food pantry in this neighborhood, and how much worse it will likely get if the new building is approved.

The heated debate ended with the opposition, the neighbors, gathering outside the chapel getting petitions signed, exchanging e-mails and planning to mobilize the larger community to speak up against the church expansion with public funds. The group is planning to hire a land use a real-estate attorney to fight this project, will take actions to freeze public funds in Sacramento that is earmarked to go to a religious organization and elaborated on environmental and traffic
impacts of such a facility.

The neighbors have agreed on a common goal:  “Due to the negative impacts of the West Valley Food Pantry on the quality of life in our neighborhood, our goal is to have them move to an appropriate location for a facility of this type and size.”

Neighbors fully support the West Valley Food Pantry as long as the operations is moved from this single-family residential neighborhood to a commercial/industrial zone.

 

(Submitted by Alex Farassati, PH.D., Board Member - Woodland Hills Warner Center Neighborhood Council. [email protected])