City OKs Mosque; Imposed Conditions Stir Grumbling


Los Angeles City Council members approved the San Fernando Valley's first mosque Tuesday after requiring that the $1.8-million house of worship in Granada Hills have Spanish-style architecture, forgoing the traditional domes and minarets.

In a 10-0 vote, the City Council approved the mosque but imposed so many conditions on its operations and construction that Valley Muslim leaders and their lobbyist, Robert Wilkinson, an ex-councilman, complained of prejudice.

"I think clearly there is a double standard being applied here," said Salam Al-Marayati, director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

"I'd have to say there was some prejudice," said Wilkinson, who used to represent Granada Hills.

But Councilman Hal Bernson, who now represents the area, denied any bias was shown by the council or the homeowners who opposed the mosque's construction. "I don't feel this was a matter of harassment or discrimination," Bernson said.

Rather, the main concern was the effect of traffic on the surrounding neighborhood of single-family homes, he told his council colleagues.

All told, 44 conditions were imposed on the mosque. City officials earlier had said that it was the highest number of restrictions ever placed on a house of worship by the city.

Mohammed Mohiuddin, president of the Islamic Center of Northridge, said he was vexed over the style of architecture required by Bernson's office.

The approved Spanish-style building--stucco siding with red tile roof--is "supposed to blend in with the neighborhood," he said.

"I've seen a Greek church with a big dome, Catholic churches with towers," Mohiuddin said. "We don't want a big, elaborate dome, but maybe just a little one. Something that gives it an Islamic touch. So when you're driving down the 118 (Simi Valley Freeway) you can say: 'That's the mosque.' "

The 18,000-square-foot mosque, minus the towering minarets from which Muslim followers are traditionally called to worship, will be completed in six months to a year, officials said.

One of the major limitations bars the mosque from having more than 250 members during its first year of operation--a number that could be increased to 400 in the second year after a review by city planners.

The Valley's Muslim community had sought permission for up to 550 members, Mohiuddin said.

"We are a growing community," Mohiuddin said in an interview. He estimated that there are about 6,000 Muslims in the Valley. Valley Muslims now worship at a converted three-bedroom house on Tampa Avenue in Northridge, and recently have been using a Knights of Columbus hall in Canoga Park to handle the overflow of worshipers, he said.

Additionally, worshipers are barred from parking on Encino Avenue, the street in front of the 2 1/2-acre mosque site. They are required to employ a "traffic control" officer to keep parishioners on Fridays--the Muslim's holy day--from making a right turn onto Encino Avenue when leaving the mosque.

But the Granada Hills neighbors were not convinced that the conditions will be enforced. Nor were they happy with Bernson's vote.

Homeowner Preston Holland said he doubts that city officials will police the mosque to see that it is living up to the city's conditions and restrictions. "How do we get a good handle on the number of members of the church," he asked. "I'm sure I'd get sideways with the religious freedom issue if I try to find out."

Another neighbor, Don Pardi, said the area already has eight traffic-generating churches or schools within a one-mile radius, including one church-run school and an adult school next door to the proposed mosque site.

Urging homeowners to be tolerant, Wilkinson said the heaviest traffic would occur on Fridays from noon to 2 p.m., periods of normally light traffic in Granada Hills.

The former councilman noted that the Hillcrest Christian Church, located across the street from the mosque site, had recently sought to expand the enrollment of its school and "nobody from this community protested--not one single protest."

Despite the tension, Bernson told longtime residents he believed the Muslims would be good neighbors.

Mohiuddin said, "There are so many damned restrictions. But we need a place to worship and so we accept them."

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