Buddhist temple

Fremont could demolish a Buddhist temple. Civil Rights Lawyer Says: ‘They Don’t Want Asians’

A quiet Buddhist temple that sits 4 miles down a winding one-lane road in the Fremont Hills seems an unlikely place for a fight against discrimination and religious freedom. But it became the subject of a civil rights lawsuit filed Thursday by San Francisco lawyer Angela Alioto.

The lawsuit argues that the city of Fremont violated the constitutional rights of the Temple of the 1001 Buddhas and its founder, MiaoLan Lee, a Buddhist master, who purchased the 29-acre property in 2010 on Mill Creek Road and began operating it. to improve. The temple consists of several buildings and serves as a retreat and place of prayer, not a public gathering place like a church.

But Fremont city officials argue that the temple is an illegal use of the property and that several structures on the site do not meet city building codes and were built without proper permits and inspections. After a series of meetings and two visits by teams of inspectors and armed police, some in riot gear and with a dog unit, the city ordered the temple to demolish three buildings, according to the lawsuit.

Geneva Bosques, spokeswoman for Fremont, said in a statement: “It is disheartening to hear that a complaint is filed against the city,” she said. “We are a community that celebrates our diversity and we are proud to have one of the largest Asian populations in the Bay Area. “

Bosques said the city began exploring the temple after a complaint of unauthorized construction in 2017. She said “the city has worked diligently with the owner to remedy the violations.”

She declined to comment further due to the lawsuit.

A bridge connects a forest path to a second meditation house at the Temple of the 1001 Buddhas in Fremont.

Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

A nuisance reduction order issued by the city in March cites 13 alleged violations, each including multiple breaches of city building codes and other codes. They range from an unauthorized treehouse to improper water storage to entire buildings that have been built without required examination. The order notes that the temple is on steep terrain in a very dangerous fire zone as well as an area susceptible to landslides triggered by earthquakes.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Oakland, does not focus on building codes and permits, Alioto told The Chronicle, but on civil rights violations against Lee and his partner Tu Nguyen.

He alleges discrimination based on religion, race or national origin, reprisals, unreasonable searches or seizures, invasion of privacy, arbitrary discrimination, violation of religious laws on the use of land and property. allegations under the California Constitution for denial of free religious exercise.

Alioto called on police and inspectors’ visits to raids carried out with inappropriately issued search warrants.

“They do it twice – at 8 am,” she said, describing the tours. “They go through not just one building but every building, they go through (Lee’s) house, they go through her makeup.”

Alioto said police have also installed cameras outside the temple gates so they can record the license plates of everyone entering or exiting.

Fremont wants the owners who built the temple, allegedly without proper permits, to demolish the buildings.

Fremont wants the owners who built the temple, allegedly without proper permits, to demolish the buildings.

Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

“What does this have to do with permits? ” she said. “They don’t want a Buddhist temple, they don’t want a group of Buddhists, they don’t want Asians. It had nothing to do with permits, it had everything to do with trying to scare them.

Neighbors close to the temple were treated differently by the city with respect to permits and codes, according to the lawsuit.

Lee declined to speak to The Chronicle, referring questions to Alioto.

The temple on the narrow Mill Creek road sits on a slope between two large hills and has several structures, including a hilltop personal residence, a main Buddha hall, a meditation hall, a house of God for prayer, a treehouse for children to play while their parents pray and a greenhouse, a tradition in many Buddhist temples, says the costume. Large white Buddha statues carved from stone surround the Buddha hall, and hundreds of small white and gold Buddha statuettes line the shelves inside the meditation hall. The grounds also include a swinging pedestrian suspension bridge, a set of cascading pools that are filled during fire season, and scenic walkways through the forest landscape.

The lawsuit seeks the city to overturn demolition orders, recognize the temple’s right to operate on the property as well as unspecified compensatory damages and emotional distress and a minimum of $ 4,000 for each act of discrimination. .

“I’m going to really enjoy this business,” Alioto said. “Demolish the temple? It’s totally biblical.

Michael Cabanatuan is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @ctuan