Sunday, May 31, 2020

Church's RLUIPA Zoning Claim Rejected

In New Harvest Christian Fellowship v. City of Salinas, (ND CA, May 29, 2020), a California federal district court rejected a church's claim that the City of Salinas, California's zoning code violates its rights under RLUIPA. In order to stimulate pedestrian friendly commercial activity, the zoning code bans clubs, lodges, places of religious assembly, and similar assembly uses on the ground floor of buildings facing three blocks of Main Street. The city refused to grant zoning amendments to allow the church to use a building it purchased for worship services. The court concluded that the zoning restrictions did not violate either the substantial burden or the equal terms provisions of RLUIPA, saying in part:
New Harvest has not presented any evidence to counter the City’s evidence of feasible alternative locations....
New Harvest’s own evidence establishes that [four theaters permitted in the area] ..., unlike New Harvest, offer numerous activities throughout the week that would reasonably be expected to attract the general public, such as first run films, weddings, concerts, comedy shows, and other events. By contrast, New Harvest offers no evidence that its activities actually draw any non-members, and no evidence that its activities have a positive impact on commercial activity or vibrancy within the Main Street restricted area.