The Church of Scientology is seeking permission from Los Angeles County to open a boarding school for 250 students on the site of a former juvenile detention camp near Green Valley.
The proposal has worried some of the 1,200 residents in the rural community, who voiced concerns about it at a public meeting Monday night.
About 40 people attended the meeting.
“They’re a cult,” Kimberly Flores, a 19-year-old Green Valley housewife, said before the meeting. “I’m afraid for the children in the community and of what they’re going to do.”
But questions at the meeting focused on land-use issues, such as sewage and fire protection.
A land-use consultant hired by the church, Stephen R. Frank, told the group that the church wanted to “be a good neighbor to this community. None of these kids has ever had a problem with drugs or been arrested.”
Frank distributed copies of a letter from the Leona Valley Town Council, representing a community about five miles north of Green Valley, endorsing the Scientology boarding school project.
Frank assured those at the meeting that the facility would not be used for anything other than a boarding school and that parents would visit only for the day, not stay overnight.
Scientology is a religion created by the late science fiction writer Ron L. Hubbard in the early 1950s. It claims more than 7 million members worldwide, although critics say there are far fewer than that.
It has waged controversial campaigns against psychiatry and the Internal Revenue Service, and some former members and other critics have described it as a dangerous cult that has defrauded the public and brainwashed its members. But church leaders say Scientology is a bona fide religion that has benefited humanity and provided spiritual freedom for its believers.
The county will decide whether to give the church a conditional use permit for the boarding school based on land-use issues, such as sewers and traffic impacts, not on who operates it, said Dave Vannatta, a planning deputy for Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who represents the area.
“It doesn’t matter to us if it’s the Boy Scouts or the Catholics or the Methodists or the Scientologists,” Vannatta said. “We’re going to look at the nature of the operation, not the operator.”
The church wants to build two dormitories and two classroom buildings on a 30.4-acre site on Bouquet Canyon Road that it purchased 18 months ago, Scientology spokesman Kirk Steele said. The site is about five miles east of Green Valley.
The property now contains four dormitories that formerly housed 48 youths assigned to the Artesian Oaks juvenile detention camp.
Because the land is zoned for resort and recreational uses, the church must obtain a conditional use permit to open the school, county Planner Richard Frazier said.
County planners are now deciding whether the proposal requires a full environmental report. The Regional Planning Commission will eventually review the permit request, but no date has been set, he said.
In 1986, residents of Green Valley helped defeat a proposal to locate a state prison for parole violators on the same site.