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Alhambra City Council To Discuss Whether Development Affecting Sikh Temple Should Go Back to Planning Commission

The Sikh Gurdwara includes a Sunday school where children can learn Punjabi, the primary language of India's Punjab region, where Sikhism originated. The Gurdwara might be demolished to make way for a mixed-use development. Photo by Phoenix Tso.

Location

Alhambra , CA United States

The Alhambra City Council decided Monday night to add a discussion about directing the Planning Commission to hold a revocation hearing on a mixed-use development that would lead to the demolition of a Sikh temple. The Council will take up this question at its next meeting on Oct. 28.

The Council made this decision by consensus after several members of Alhambra’s Sikh Community Gurdwara spoke during oral communications. Around 20 Gurdwara members attended the meeting in support of a revocation hearing.

They claimed the property owner Herald Lau lied to Alhambra’s Planning Commission during their June 17 meeting about the Sikh community’s presence at the temple. During the hearing, Alhambra city staff first said the temple was vacant, based on a staff report saying so. Lau later said that while the Sikh community was in fact still at the Gurdwara, they had been informed of the development, which the Sikh community said was untrue.

Members of the Sikh Community also said that there seemed to be a consensus from Planning Commission members to add an agenda item on whether to hold a revocation hearing, but that Commission President Allan Sanchez directed city staff not to do so. Sanchez maintained that he hadn’t heard a consensus from commission members. Some of the speakers also said that approving this development on incorrect information like this interferes with the Sikh community’s right to practice its religion. On these grounds, they asked the City Council to agendize a discussion about whether the Planning Commission should hold a hearing to consider revoking its approval of the project.

“I want to know if it is okay with the city [when] somebody comes with a fake paper or lied, and they still can pass the plan, and [it doesn’t] matter for the city,” said Santokh Singh, president of the Gurdwara. “Please let us know what we can do for that.”

City Attorney Joseph Montes said that the City Council had the right to direct the Planning Commission to hold a hearing to revoke certain entitlements that the property owner obtained for the project, and that one of the bases for revocation included whether he obtained a permit in a fraudulent manner.

Each Alhambra City Council member, except for Katherine Lee, who has taken a leave of absence for the month of October and was not present for the meeting, expressed his or her willingness to consider whether a revocation hearing is appropriate. The Council said that doing so would be the most fair outcome, and allow them to hear the Gurdwara’s side and the property owner’s side.

“I just think we owe it to our community to help where we need to help,” said Mayor Adele Andrade-Stadler, adding that this would be an opportunity for a “genuine discussion” between both parties.

Councilmember Jeff Maloney asked Montes if there were any religious freedom issues at play here. Montes said that the scope of the Planning Commission’s consideration is whether the landlord is entitled to a land-use permit for a project on his property under Alhambra’s zoning code, and that he isn’t aware of any implications regarding religious freedom in making that decision.

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