Church’s neighbors irked with school proposal
While many churches are noted for their contemplative quiet, some neighbors of the First Congregational Church on West Spain Street expressed fears the facility’s plans to launch a school for “physical and spiritual wellness” could signal a noisier and more traffic-intensive relationship.
The school plan, with sessions to be held in the church’s Burlingame Hall, had already been approved on a 5-2 vote by the Sonoma Planning Commission, but Mayor Joanne Sanders appealed that decision in response to the concerns of neighbors who feared that music-driven exercise classes, and increased vehicular traffic, would intrude on their safety, peace and quiet.
For its part, the church expressed a willingness to mitigate neighbor concerns and church members who addressed the City Council Monday night said they would readily agree to some additional conditions on a use permit for the school.
Those conditions included extending red-painted curbs on both sides of the church’s exit driveway to keep parked cars from blocking visibility of cars leaving the property; having the church post warning stop signs for exiting traffic; urging school participants to park in the church lot and not on the street; spacing classes 30-minutes apart from each other and having a monitor periodically on site to ensure that visitors are conforming to the parking rules.
Roger Wright, a member of the church, told council members that he had personally attempted to meet with all the neighbors to inform them of school plans, but missed one resident at the back of an apartment complex. Following his outreach efforts, Wright said, “I think the concerns are relieved.”
West Spain resident Jennifer Hainstock told the council she felt the notice card distributed to neighbors should have contained an email address for public response. She also complained that a recent wedding in Burlingame Hall was held with the doors open, generating considerable noise. “I do have a problem with the open-ended, ‘Hey, let’s do whatever we want on this property,’ response.”
Planning Director David Goodison explained that weddings and similar events held at churches do not require use permits.
Church member Lynn Ross told the council the new conditions were acceptable but expressed concern about a requirement to have a monitor present.
A slightly indignant Mayor Pro Tem Ken Brown pointed out that he had spent more than 20 years as facility manager at the Sonoma Community Center and, “We never allowed anyone to have an event (there) without staff present. To me, it’s part of the bargain. I don’t see anyway around it.”
In the end the new conditions were agreed to and it appeared that peace would again prevail on West Spain Street.
In other City Council action, a representative of the League of California Cities made a brief presentation on the terms of pension reform embodied in the recently adopted AB 340, a law that will take effect Jan. 1, 2013.
The actual fiscal impact on cities from the reform plan won’t be clear until after new employees enter the retirement system, since the reform has minimum impact on existing employees.
Next the council held a brief discussion about adopting a resolution in favor of Proposition 37, the citizen initiative requiring labeling of all genetically modified food sold in California. Four of five council members expressed enthusiastic support for the measure, as did four members of he audience. Yannick Phillips reported that 50 countries now have labeling laws and 22 states are considering adopting them.
Brown expressed his support, saying, “At my house I do the shopping and the cooking (I don’t do the clean-up), and I want to know” what’s in the food he buys.
But Mayor Sanders objected, telling the council, “I’m not going to favor this just because everyone else does. I don’t believe in the City Council taking on issues outside the city … If it’s such a no-brainer, why hasn’t it passed as state or federal law?”
The council wrapped up the meeting with member reports and comments, during which the sometimes loquacious Laurie Gallian concluded her committee report in under one minute, thus eliciting the response from the mayor, “That’s it?”