Monday, July 31, 2006

Court to City of San Diego: Stop Discriminating Against Churches

In December 2005, I wrote about an article covering claims by a local pastor that the City of San Diego discriminated against churches by charging higher rental rates for use of City facilities than what it charges other nonprofit organizations. The Canyon Ridge Baptist Church filed a lawsuit to force the City to rescind what it alleges to be discriminatory rental policies. The Church rents a community center from the City for its Sunday services. In a recently published article, the San Diego Union-Tribune is reporting that the Church is winning the lawsuit

After reviewing media reports and court records, it was clear that the City charges the Church rates that are as much as 22 times the rates charged to other nonprofit organizations. The Union-Tribune reports that a federal judge issued an injunction temporarily that prohibits the City from the collecting the high rates. Instead of paying up to $818 per week that the City might charge to a private business, the Church will pay $208 like other nonprofit groups.

The lawsuit is apparently close to settlement, which will most likely result in reimbursement of rent to the Church and the City will most likely also have to pay the legal fees incurred by the Church. When I first brought this to the attention of Donna Frye, who represents the district where the Church is located, she declined to do anything about it.

When I contacted Frye's office, she refused to comment because the matter was in litigation, instead of asking to have this issue placed on the Council agenda to discuss changing the rental policies. It was never clear if Councilmember Frye opposed or supported the policies in question, but she refused to take a public stance and I find that very disturbing. I think Frye and the other members of the San Diego City Council owe it to the people they represent to stand up against City policies that are clearly discriminatory instead of hiding behind the questionable advice it received from the City Attorney's officen in this matter.

About the Author: Carl H. Starrett II has been a licensed attorney since 1993 and is a member in good standing with the California State Bar and the San Diego County Bar Association. Mr. Starrett practices in the areas of bankruptcy, business litigation, construction, corporate planning and debt collection.

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