Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson said Monday that he will oppose the relocation of a 10,000-member church from Van Nuys to an exclusive Chatsworth neighborhood, citing what he called community hostility to the move.
Bernson outlined his stand in a letter to constituents who have complained that relocating the First Baptist Church of Van Nuys to the Monteria Estates neighborhood would congest traffic, lower property values and harm the appearance of the area.
"I am committed to supporting a high quality of life in our neighborhoods . . . and therefore will stand in opposition to any move by the church to move to this location," Bernson said in the letter, dated Nov. 24.
For the relocation to succeed, the church must obtain a conditional-use permit that would allow construction of a church in an area that limits development to one home for every two acres.
Because of the controversy, final city approval for the relocation most certainly would come before the City Council. Bernson's opposition is significant because the council generally defers to council members on projects in their own districts.
Unveiled Plans Sept. 1
The Rev. Jess Moody, senior pastor of the Southern Baptist church, unveiled relocation plans in a Sept. 1 church newsletter. Moody wants to move his congregation to the base of the Monteria Estates, a sprawling community of ranches and expensive homes at the northern end of Winnetka Avenue between Devonshire Street and the Simi Valley Freeway.
Bernson said in October that he would support the move if a majority of nearby residents supported it. Since then, his Northridge office has received "numerous telephone calls, letters and petitions expressing disapproval," Bernson said in the letter.
"The community rightly argues that a large church complex would negatively impact the rural suburban quality which is greatly appreciated by the people who live in the area," Bernson said.
He said he might support the church's move to some other West Valley location.
Moody envisioned a new church that would include a sanctuary, outdoor wedding chapel, lake, fountains and parking areas. Although Moody was ill and unavailable for comment Monday, he has said it is God's will to relocate to the West San Fernando Valley to keep the area from Satan's grip.
Last month, Moody said the church was definitely moving ahead with relocation plans, despite opposition from Monteria Estates homeowners, who include former television newscaster Christine Lund and actor Chad Everett.
Jim Rives, executive associate pastor of the church, said Monday that he was unaware of the Bernson's letter and will not respond until he receives first-hand information.
"We have a calling to the West Valley--we'll honor it," Rives said. "In what shape or form that takes, that remains to be unveiled."
Doreen Rusen, a Chatsworth homeowner who opposes the relocation, said a loose-knit homeowners group in the area has collected more than 400 signatures of residents living in the area around Monteria Estates.
"Part of the charm of this area is being able to look at the mountains or the trees, and I don't think a building of that size would enhance the beauty of the area," Rusen said.
Church officials have said the new church would conform aesthetically to the ranch-style neighborhood and would generate large amounts of traffic only on Sundays.