California Mosque Approved Despite Local Objections

By Rex Weiner

Published December 02, 2010, issue of December 17, 2010.

The five-member Temecula City Planning Commission voted unanimously to allow the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley to build a new mosque, rejecting the heated arguments of those opposed to the project. The decision came after a five-hour public hearing and impassioned speeches by 87 supporters and opponents, each of whom were allotted three minutes to address the panel. While speakers were nearly evenly divided between supporters and opponents, an observer told the Forward that about three quarters of those assembled in the packed hearing room at City Hall on December 1 were opposed to construction of the mosque.

Among those who supported the project were eight members of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, who made a two-hour trip to attend the hearing. PJA Regional Director Eric Greene told the Forward: “Last night, we heard a lot of irrational fears and they’re the same irrational fears that many of our ancestors heard when they came to America. We cannot stand idly by — we have an obligation to stand up when we see injustice and inequality — that’s the Jewish thing to do. We know from experience that when the rights of some are trampled, the rights of all are threatened.”

On December 2, an exhausted Imam Mahmoud Harboush told the Forward that he and his congregation were grateful to the planning commission for “being very professional and diligent,” and he cited the many supporters who had shown up, including “our Jewish friends from the Progressive Alliance.” He said the vote and the statements of supporters at the hearing “shows that not all the people in the Temecula Valley agree with the bigotry expressed some others.”

Among those who were unhappy with the decision was mosque opponent Diana Serafin. She alleged that the traffic report approved by the planning commission was “bogus,” and the commission’s vote itself was invalid. “It was pre-determined,” she told the Forward, and said she was confident that an appeal would be filed.

Opponents of the project have 15 days to file an appeal, which would put the matter up for a vote before the Temecula City Council sometime in January. A vote by the city council to approve the project could still be challenged in court.

The Islamic Center of Temecula Valley currently meets in a business warehouse. It has plans to build a new mosque, estimated to cost between $2.5 million and $3 million, on vacant land at a different site.

Contact Rex Weiner at feedback@forward.com



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