Fundamentalist Christians Oppose Construction of Hindu Temple in California
Posted October 6, 2004
Wednesday October 6 2004
A proposal to build a Hindu temple and a cultural centre, tipped as the largest in southern California, is causing much disconcert in the Chino Hills area, a media report said here on Tuesday.
The project ran into rough weather following protests from the local residents, after which the Chino Hills city council blocked it last month, refusing to allow the height of the temple's spires to exceed the city's limit.
Local Hindu leaders are now struggling to decide whether to fight the decision in court or to continue their four-year search for a home for southern California's growing Hindu population.
"Our issue was very clear. We would like it to be an asset to the community," Govind Vaghashia, spokesman for the project proponent Bochasanwasi Shree Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), was quoted as saying by the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday.
Chino residents have protested vehemently against the temple, saying it would generate too much traffic, ruin the city's atmosphere and become an unwanted regional attraction.
Objections also surfaced from opponents who said the project would turn Chino Hills into a "third world city" and "a haven for terrorists."
"It's really not serving the community," said resident Diane Mine. "We have no objections to having a church on the allotted acreage at a reasonable size, for the Bridgewater community."
One petition to stop the project said, the temple would play a role in "changing the city's demographics forever."
The fight over the temple in Chino Hills is the latest in a series of skirmishes around the country in recent years over plans to build bigger houses of worship, land use experts said.
The battle over the 1,64,372-square-ft temple and cultural centre dates back to 1989, when BAPS representatives made plans to build the structure on a 15-acre plot near the commercial centre of the city.
But city officials had plans to build a civic centre on the same property. Under a deal negotiated between the city administration and representatives of the project, BAPS let the council buy the land and city officials in turn promised to help find an alternative site in Chino Hills, the paper reported.
After seeing 20 locations in over four years, BAPS chose the 20-acre property east of the Chino Valley freeway.
As word spread about the project, locals began to flood city hall with letters and e-mails, most of them opposing the project.
Many said, it would clash with the city's atmosphere. Opponents also voiced concern about the potential traffic generated by the project.
But a report that included an analysis by a private consultant and a study at a similarly sized Hindu facility in another town concluded that the project would not create traffic problems.
"Anybody who keeps coming up with traffic as an issue is not listening," Mayor Gary G. Larson, the only member of the council to consistently vote for the project, said.
Some of the opponents were also worried that the temple would draw Hindus to live in the city.
"Unless you want the current demographics to look a bit like New Delhi, don't do this," said an e-mail dated August 9, 2003. Another letter suggested Muslim extremists might blend in among Hindu worshippers, making the temple a "hiding place for terrorists."
BAPS representatives have refused to reduce the height of the spires, saying the design was based on proportions dictated in Hindu scriptures, the report said.
Vaghashia said local BAPS leaders will confer with religious leaders in India to decide what steps to take now.
Some project supporters believe the council was swayed by opponents, who threatened to recall or vote against council members who supported it.