Altadena Town Council Votes to Deny Permit to Scientologists
The Town Council has voted to deny a conditional-use permit needed by an affiliate of the Church of Scientology to purchase a 198-acre former hospital complex in the foothills.
The 8-2 vote Monday against the granting of the permit serves only as a recommendation and does not bind the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission, which will consider the matter and make a final decision in the fall.
The vote ended more than a month of emotional debate over plans by the Church of Spiritual Technology, a 55-member affiliate of the Church of Scientology, to buy the former La Vina Hospital. It came despite an 11th-hour appeal by Scientologists seeking the support of key Town Council members.
Frank Bridal, Town Council chairman, said two representatives of the Church of Scientology met with him Sunday afternoon to register complaints that discussion over the permit had degenerated into a debate over the group’s religious beliefs.
‘Injection of Religion
“I deplored the injection of religion into these discussions and told them I had done everything possible at the meetings to admonish residents that religion had no place in the discussions,” Bridal said.
The Church of Spiritual Technology has entered escrow to buy the property abutting Angeles National Forest from Huntington Memorial Hospital of Pasadena, which acquired it through a merger with La Vina. Completion of the sale depends on the church’s ability to obtain a conditional-use permit from the Regional Planning Commission. The church is paying $20,000 a month in electrical and security costs while the property is in escrow.
Over a period of one month and four public hearings, representatives of the Church of Spiritual Technology have reiterated their plans to use the site to train ministers and safeguard the writings and taped lectures of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
Residents, however, have expressed fear that the Church of Spiritual Technology will become a base to espouse the tenets of Scientology and was set up as a front to enable the California branch of the Church of Scientology, which had its tax-exempt status taken away last year, to evade federal taxes. The Church of Spiritual Technology is tax-exempt in California.
In addition, residents of this unincorporated community have complained of late-night phone calls and mass mailings of pamphlets about Scientology, all aimed at winning community support for the conditional-use permit. Former church members said a private investigator hired by the Church of Scientology has questioned them about their suspected role in handing out material critical of Scientology.
Monday’s public hearing focused more on the group’s proposed use of the property.
Dorothy Martin, a 24-year resident of Altadena, complained that the group refused to pledge a limit on its growth and activities in Altadena. Church of Spiritual Technology representatives have publicly stated that no more than 200 people will reside in the former hospital complex. Residents said they feared that the site will become a mecca for Scientologists worldwide and might eventually house up to 500 members.
“If the Church of Spiritual Technology is sincere in its expressed plans to preserve the La Vina property essentially undisturbed, why, then, are they not willing to accept a limited growth time frame for at least 15 or 20 years?” Martin asked.
The resolution voted on by the council stated that the conditional use permit sought by the group did not address the full and long-term use of the site and did not provide guarantees that future growth and activities would be limited.
Paul Bickner, an assistant with the Regional Planning Commission, was unwilling to say how much significance the commission would place on the Town Council’s vote.
“The vote certainly carries a weight to it but it would be unfair to say how much weight,” Bickner said.