Quoting from a previous article in the Ventura Breeze written by Rebecca Wicks:
“Harbor Community Church has filed a lawsuit against the City of Ventura signaling the start of the next round in the fight over the church’s controversial homeless program. The program, which provides meals, showers and religious worship to a primarily homeless population, has been accused of being the source of a significant uprising in criminal activity in a once quiet residential neighborhood.”
“The City’s Planning Commission denied the church a conditional-use permit citing the program, called Operation Embrace, was not appropriate for its location next to an elementary school, park and day care facility. The City Council deadlocked in a 2-2 vote with Mayor Christy Weir on medical leave and councilmembers Eric Nasarenko and Jim Monahan recusing themselves because of statements they made previously in opposition of the program during their election campaigns for city council. The church needed an overriding vote, leaving the denial of permit intact.”
“On May 14, two days after the City Council meeting, the church closed Operation Embrace. On May 15, temporary City Attorney Juli Scott reported Harbor Church pastor Sam Gallucci sent her an email stating he was going to consult with church elders to decide whether the church would sue. The following day the church filed a lawsuit and restarted its services. “
“The suit argues the church’s First Amendment freedom of religion rights have been violated and also cites the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.”
In a very controversial agreement, the City has agreed to pay $2.3 million to buy the property at 3100 Preble Ave. with Harbor Community Church agreeing to leave Ventura.
Resolving this controversy took almost two years of intense negotiations between the City and the church.
Both parties agreed that the property’s value is only $ 1.6 million but the $2.3 million includes the costs of moving the church.
Harbor Church pastor Sam Gallucci stated that he was pleased with the settlement and agreed to drop the lawsuit against the City..
The agreement won’t settle whether the church was within its legal rights under religious freedom laws to run their homeless program in a residential neighborhood. Many nearby residents complained that the program brought in crime to the neighborhood and to the nearby school and city park.
In the meantime, the church will lease back the property for a year at $3,000 per month while it looks for a new location in a different city. It may continue to hold its church services there.
The money to buy the building is coming from the city’s public liability fund. The city will eventually sell the property to a developer to recoup some of the expense.