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Pub Owner Sues New Landlord-- Christian Church : Courts: Officials for Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa say there was no harassment at Murrieta Hot Springs resort business.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Murrieta Hot Springs pub owner is alleging his business was the victim of “religious terrorism” by members of the Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, which recently bought the desert resort to create a Christian conference center.

In a lawsuit against the chapel filed this month in Riverside County Superior Court, pub owner Ian Fulton alleges church members interfered with his business, including blocking parking with debris, videotaping customers and telling bar patrons to call “1-800-GO-TO-HELL.”

By the time his lease agreement ended this month, Fulton says the five months of alleged harassment cost his Shakespeare’s Pub and Grill about $150,000 in business.

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“They called the place a den of sin,” Fulton said.

“There’s nothing wrong with being a Christian,” he said. “But I don’t believe Christians act this way.”

Calvary officials vigorously denied the allegations and said the church had been more than fair by giving the pub extra time to stay open until it could relocate and had forgiven $20,000 in unpaid rent.

Tom Hunt, a public relations representative for Calvary Chapel, called the lawsuit an attempt to embarrass the church into paying a large settlement.

“We will not be intimidated,” he said. “It will be a cold day in Twentynine Palms.”

Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, which has grown to include about 30,000 members since its founding nearly 30 years ago by Pastor Chuck Smith, bought the 46-acre resort in May for about $7.5 million and will be opening the Christian conference center next week. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of volunteers have been helping renovate the aging buildings.

In southern Riverside County between Lake Elsinore and Temecula, the hot springs took its name from Don Juan Murrieta, who owned the site and 52,000 surrounding acres. The steaming waters bubbling up through an earthquake fault, discovered by the Temeku Indians, became the site of a bathhouse and hotel in the 1880s.

After the turn of the century, a German immigrant began developing the hot springs as a spa. Through the years, the site housed a vegetarian health retreat and had closed at times due to bankruptcy and court battles.

In his lawsuit, Fulton alleges the resort’s latest owner immediately began a “campaign of harassment and terrorism” against his business of 4 1/2 years because the “bar did not conform with defendant’s religious beliefs.”

Fulton’s attorney, Robert B. Rosenstein, said his client had a right to run his business free of interference until the end of his lease agreement. Fulton had planned to use earnings from his last few months at the resort to finance his move to nearby Temecula, he said.

“We’re not upset at their religious beliefs,” Rosenstein said. “The only objection is they had a contract, and they intentionally decided not to live up to the contract.”

Church members, according to the lawsuit, allegedly disconnected outside lighting, drilled a spy hole into the restaurant and posted “Do Not Enter” signs on the pub’s front door. In another instance, workers illegally removed asbestos from the pub, completely disrupting business, Fulton alleges in the suit.

Hunt said such allegations are “baseless and without any merit” and that patrons of the pub were often unruly and disruptive. As for the asbestos work, Hunt said workers had permits and that Fulton was given about $5,000 for any disruption to his restaurant sales caused by the project.

Calvary attorney Jeffrey H. Dorman said the church negotiated arrangements allowing the various resort tenants time to relocate. Fulton, he said, was fully aware it might be hard to operate his bar for too long on the church grounds, the site of extensive construction work since escrow closed.

“We both knew we had estranged interests and we thought we had reached a mutually acceptable arrangement,” Dorman said.

In addition to the $150,000 in alleged business losses, Fulton is seeking emotional distress and punitive damages.


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