Is city playing favorites with steeple...

Is city playing favorites with steeple heights?

Regarding the proposed Mormon temple in Newport Beach:

How does the city of Newport Beach really determine the height of

church/temple steeples? Do planning commissioners and City Council

members and city staff favor one faith over another? Does one church

or temple literally rank above others?

We would all hope not, and of course, all city officials would

emphatically disavow any preference in public policy toward different

faiths. But what do the facts say? The Mormons proposed 124-plus

feet, and after much public outrage they agreed to 100 feet, and then

90 feet in a neighborhood with a 50-foot height limit. Along the way,

residents exposed a major factual mistake in the city staff/Mormon

presentations, that some Mormon leaders admit they knew about but did

not correct during public meetings. City staff continued to support

100 feet and dug in against the local residents who only want new

buildings in their low-rise area to be low-rise (90 feet is a

high-rise in Southern California).

Not widely publicized, the Episcopal church immediately across the

street from the Mormon site received approval for a 75-foot steeple

as part of a new, proposed structure. Word is that the Catholics want

a new 110-foot steeple for a new facility in the East Bluff

neighborhood. Why give the Mormons more than the Episcopal Church,

and what do the Catholics rate? Maybe the Episcopal folks just didn't

ask for enough. Ask and ye shall receive -- or maybe the Mormons made

a more powerful presentation, brought more clout to the public

hearings, had better public relations or just knew how to play the

political game better than some of the other faiths.

Of course, if a city wanted to be fair and to give residents

advance notice on the type of neighborhood they were buying into,

that city would set zoning laws and heights and would stick to them.

It would not sell out residents to regional religious interests,

would not negotiate zoning and height issues and, most importantly,

it would be consistent and make all houses of faith within the city

adhere to a common height.

Here in Newport Beach, city officials have figured out that the

way to concentrate their individual and collective power is to

provide exceptions to the rules as they see fit and the moment moves

them. Add to this the role of the large local landowner. It sells the

homes to the new residents with existing height restrictions in place

on their homes, and other nearby uses such as churches and temples.

It sells land to the church and subsequently agrees to remove any

restrictions on height from its typical, very strict controls over

land it sells. We all can better see the picture now, and we know

where the local residents rank in the political equation and, of

course, in the hierarchy of the large landowner's world.

Now, the question remains where do the other faiths rank? How high

can they go? The city uses a federal law as cover for the terrible

way it has managed this process. That law does not allow local

government regulations to interfere with religious activities.

However, it seems beyond absurd to expect that federal law would be

interpreted to mean a city must provide unlimited height to church

structures and provide churches the right to build high-rise

structures in low-rise neighborhoods -- especially in cities that

have areas that are zoned to accept high-rise structures.

Fade to a local elementary class, where curious young minds want

to hear about how our government works. Wouldn't it be entertaining

to observe, as our elected officials and city staff try to explain

why the Mormons deserved a higher steeple than the Episcopal Church

and that the officials are waiting to see how well the Catholics

present themselves and play the political game before they decide how

to rule. I guess the city officials wouldn't tell how it really

works. As stated above, they would profess that all faiths are

treated equally. They could tell the children, "It's just the

steeples that are different."

By the way, the deal for 90 feet was cut last week between the

Mormon church leaders and the a small group of area residents through

the efforts of Councilman Steve Bromberg. The residents were fearful

that 90 feet was the best deal they could get. The church is

powerful, and council votes were not there to bring it lower.

This should be a wake-up call for Eastbluff residents near the

Catholic church. And the folks on Balboa Island -- they could also

get a super-sized steeple to look up to. City officials come and go.

These church structures are going to be around a long time.

JOHN A. FRANSEN

Newport Beach

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
60°