SoCal City Evicts Tiny Church, Claiming 4 People Need 18 Parking Spaces

Lemon Grove, CA – A Planning Commission meeting tonight could decide the fate of a tiny church in Lemon Grove. The city, near San Diego, discovered Bethel Apostolic Church during a Code Enforcement crackdown. Claiming the area is not zoned for churches, and accusing the group of not “checking with the City to see if churches were allowed” there, the City ordered the faithful to disperse. They have been meeting in a member’s home for the past three months while their small sanctuary sits empty.

Church member Patricia Mims owns the building which houses the church. The City told Mims she needed to seek an expensive Zoning Code Amendment in order for the church to continue meeting on her property. Mims sought the amendment, but now City planners are recommending denial, in part because the 4-person church doesn’t have 18 parking spaces. The City claims all the extra parking might theoretically be needed if the church ever grew to 50 members – an unlikely prospect, since the church rarely promotes itself.

Attorneys for the Pacific Justice Institute, who represent Ms. Mims and the church, are skeptical of the City’s approach. “There are so many holes in the City’s logic, besides its ridiculous parking space requirement,” notes PJI staff attorney Matthew McReynolds. He continued, “The City’s Zoning Code does not even define this small group of believers as a prohibited ‘church,’ because it is not the primary use of the building. It seems the City is paranoid about having a non-profit, non-commercial use near its downtown area. From a constitutional standpoint, that’s not enough reason to prevent them from meeting. Regardless of tonight’s outcome, we will advise the church to resume meeting at its sanctuary and will warn the City against issuing another citation.”

Tonight’s Planning Commission meeting is open to the public and begins at 6:30 p.m. in the Lemon Grove Community Center. Interested local residents may speak at the meeting and may also address comments to the city via Senior Planner David De Vries, (619) 825-3805 or PJI affiliate attorney Virginia Stewart will be representing the church at the meeting.