Despite protests from neighbors, a plan to build a new Sikh temple on North Vermont Avenue in Los Feliz has won approval from the Los Angeles Planning Commission.
The commission voted 4 to 1 last week to approve a necessary conditional-use permit so the Sikh Study Circle, now housed in a former restaurant that has been cited for several building and safety code violations, can be rebuilt at the same location. The Sikhs plan to build a $1.5-million, marble-covered and domed temple, with an underground parking garage.
Residents of an adjacent condominium building at 4614 Finley Ave. said they may appeal the commission vote to the City Council. They charged that the Sikhs have brought noise and parking problems to the area and said they fear that the bloody conflict between Sikhs and Hindus in India in recent years could make a new temple a target for violence.
They also complained that the Sikhs never obtained the proper permit to hold services in the building they now use, at the southeast corner of Vermont and Finley avenues.
Recognizing some of those complaints, the commission also approved a number of conditions to ameliorate the temple's effect on the neighborhood. Those include building an eight-foot-high fence on the property line and obtaining a permit to conduct assemblies. Commission president Daniel Garcia urged the Sikhs to "work as much as possible with the neighbors."
However, Garcia successfully argued against a recommendation from a Planning Department hearing examiner that the Sikhs limit their use of the temple to Sundays, between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Garcia said such a limitation might violate First Amendment constitutional rights and be interpreted as discriminating against the Sikhs.
Commissioner Suzette Neiman cast the sole vote against the plan. She said she was troubled by what she said were inconsistencies in the Sikhs' explanation of when the temple is used and how many people attend. She also expressed sympathy with the neighborhood's need, she said, "for a little peace and quiet."
The commission meeting was held in San Pedro and was attended by about 20 Sikh men, most wearing turbans as is required by tradition, and by five condominium residents.
After the meeting, Amolak Singh, president of the Sikh Study Circle, said construction of the temple would ease the noise and parking problems. "We want better relations with our neighbors and we will have."
Josephine Raymond, president of Los Feliz Imperial Assn., said her group of condominium owners would meet in the next few weeks to discuss taking an appeal to the City Council. "Right now," she said, "we're all a little numb."
J. Earl Schreiner, association treasurer, said he was disappointed by the vote. But he added, "We really and truly didn't figure we had much of a chance. When you go against a church and a minority at that, you are battling odds that seemed insurmountable."
A successful appeal may be difficult because Councilman Michael Woo's office, which represents the neighborhood, supports construction of the new temple if the special conditions are followed. Gilda Haas, a deputy to Woo, agreed with Singh that a new facility would answer many of the neighbors' complaints. But she said, "it can't solve the cultural differences."
The Sikhs--mainly immigrants from the Punjab state in northwest India--said their opponents are prejudiced against them. Leaders of the Los Feliz Imperial condominium association deny that.
The Sikhs follow a 500-year-old, monotheistic religion that combines elements of Hinduism and Islam. Traditionally, Sikh men are forbidden to cut their hair or beards; religiously observant men wear turbans and an iron bracelet, and carry a small ceremonial dagger in their belts.
The Sikhs bought the old restaurant building in 1969 and later purchased a house next door to be used as a residence for their priest. With immigration from India on the rise, membership has swelled to the point that as many as 200 from the Los Angeles area attend Sunday services.
The commission last January approved the conditional-use permit for the new temple but agreed to review it after nearby residents complained that they weren't given enough notice of a hearing.