Opposition Moves Pastor to Reconsider Church Move

Times Staff Writer

The pastor of First Baptist Church of Van Nuys said Wednesday that he is reconsidering plans to move his 10,000-member congregation to an exclusive Chatsworth neighborhood because of opposition from Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson.

The Rev. Jess Moody said he will tell his congregation Sunday that he “is calling a halt to the move,” at least until he learns more about Bernson’s objections to the proposed relocation to the base of Monteria Estates.

“We still have not heard a word from Hal Bernson, and we’re mystified,” Moody said.

Last month, Bernson said he would support plans to relocate the church if a majority of the residents in the area back the move. On Monday, however, Bernson said he will oppose the move because of “numerous telephone calls, letters and petitions expressing disapproval.”


Moody blamed the community’s hostility on a few residents who he said used questionable tactics to generate a “firestorm” of opposition.

‘Little Pocket of Bigotry’

“The people in Monteria Estates are good people,” Moody said. “But there’s a little pocket of bigotry in there that is very reprehensible to all of us.”

The questionable tactics, Moody said, included distributing leaflets claiming that the church planned to build a high school and a convalescent home on the site. There are no such plans, he said.


Ray Mulokas, president of the Monteria Estates Assn., said he saw neither bigotry nor anti-church sentiment among those opposing the congregation’s move. The residential neighborhood is the wrong place for a “high-intensity development,” Mulokas said, whether it’s a church or a business.

“It’s zoned residential, and we’d like to keep it that way,” he said.

Bernson said he is willing to help the church find a more suitable site in Chatsworth.

The councilman said he told an associate pastor a week and a half ago that he would not support the proposed relocation to Monteria Estates because of community hostility, and that his opposition should come as no surprise to church officials.


Opposition ‘Insurmountable’

“It’s obvious that the opposition is insurmountable,” Bernson said. “We’ve had hundreds of calls, petitions, etc. on this.”

Moody announced the plan to relocate the church to Chatsworth in a Sept. 1 church newsletter, saying he wanted to keep the West San Fernando Valley out of “Satan’s grip.”

The proposed Monteria Estates site is in an area that limits development to one home for every two acres, so the church would need a conditional-use permit to proceed with construction. Bernson’s opposition is significant because the City Council usually defers to its members on projects in their districts.


First Baptist has opened escrow on about 12 acres there and agreed to pay $2.5 million for the land. Because the escrow is scheduled to close in early December, the church must decide whether to proceed with the purchase or back out and risk losing a $50,000 deposit, Moody said.

Church trustees will meet in the next few days to discuss their options, Moody said.

Despite the controversy over the Monteria Estates location, Moody said he still believes it is God’s will for his church to relocate to the West San Fernando Valley at some point.

“We don’t want to go where we’re not wanted,” Moody said, “but we have indications that there are thousands of people who want us out there.”