Buddhist temple

Fremont Hills Buddhist Temple takes one step closer to demolition

FREMONT – High in the Fremont Hills, a temple and meditation hall with hundreds of Buddha statues of all shapes and sizes, including a nine foot tall copper one in a woman’s garden.

But they and other structures on the 29-acre yard – including a “Hindu God House,” greenhouse, treehouse, lodge, and residence – may have to fall or be significantly altered because that the city says they were built without proper permits. And now, a city-mandated administrative hearing officer has come to an agreement with the city.

MiaoLan Lee, who founded what she calls the Temple of the 1,001 Buddhas off Mill Creek Road, said the audience was more of the same “systemic racism” she had already experienced from the city. from Fremont. She plans to appeal the decision to Alameda County Superior Court.

Lee has previously filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, claiming it discriminates against her based on her religion, gender and race. She argues that the city has allowed nearby landowners to build structures without a permit.

“We are absolutely devastated that this city is so callous to demolish our Buddhist temple and other protected religious structures,” Lee said in a written statement.

“Fremont officials agree with white men building structures in violation of city rules, but if you’re Asian…

“We will trust the US legal system and appeal this ruling. The systemic racism that we have known must not remain in place, ”she added.

FREMONT, CALIFORNIA – May 10: An exterior view of the meditation hall is seen at the Temple of the 1001 Buddhas in Fremont, Calif. On May 10, 2021 (Dai Sugano / Bay Area News Group)

The city maintains that several of the structures were built or significantly renovated without permits or even plans. Some were “built without adequate structural systems and foundations” and could potentially collapse in the event of an earthquake.

Gary West, the city’s construction manager, said he was “shocked at the extent of unauthorized construction” on Lee’s property, according to court documents.

Some buildings lack adequate ventilation, lighting, sanitation and insulation and are in or near sensitive waterways or very steep slopes, the city said in several notices to Lee and in the hearing documents.

Lee hired high-profile land use lawyers to push back those claims and prevent the city from forcing it to demolish much of the work, including the Buddha Temple which was created from an ancient garage and meditation room created from a Californian style barn.

Buildings and grounds are decorated with white marble statues – some larger than life weighing thousands of pounds, others small enough to fit in a hand – depicting various incarnations of Buddha through the centuries as well as enlightened spiritual leaders. of Buddhism. The massive copper Buddha statue overlooks the main hall of the temple on a platform filled with offerings.

FREMONT, CALIFORNIA – May 10: Buddhist statues are seen at the Temple of the 1,001 Buddhas in Fremont, Calif. On May 10, 2021. (Dai Sugano / Bay Area News Group)

Tal Finney, one of Lee’s attorneys, previously described the entire installation as “a cultural work of art” that cost his client millions of dollars to create.

Lee said she hopes to use the property as a temple for a “small group of members” who come to worship “Buddhas, gods and goddesses” as well as “to meditate and research … in the hope of ‘attain enlightenment “.

The town said that because Lee had “added a full kitchen, shower, and four air conditioning units” to the old barn, it violated a 2013 agreement with the town that allowed the barn to remain as long as it did not. was not used as a living unit. .

City officials also allege that it added about 4,000 square feet of space to the old garage, including another living unit “with a kitchen, two bedrooms and 2 full bathrooms,” as well. that “data ports over the entire floor area and mechanical equipment attached to the outside of the walls.”

In addition to correcting violations on 13 areas of the property, the city wants Lee to completely demolish the “Hindu God House,” a small building he describes as a gazebo, which is located above some cement-lined pools. built by Lee.

FREMONT, CALIFORNIA – May 10: An interior view of the Hindu Pagoda is seen at the Temple of the 1,001 Buddhas in Fremont, Calif. On May 10, 2021 (Dai Sugano / Bay Area News Group)

Lee’s attorneys say the city should give Lee permits if it fixes some of the issues cited and the demolition should only be a “last resort,” according to the ruling documents. They also claim that the structures are sturdy and safe and have been evaluated by private experts, including structural and geotechnical engineers.

Arguing that the city has been too aggressive with her, Lee claimed that in previous disputes, she sent a warrant signed by a judge, police officers, police dog and code enforcement officials to search her property, including its bedroom and bathroom. .

Angela Alioto, Lee’s civil rights attorney and former San Francisco County supervisor, said city officials should be “ashamed of themselves” for the way they handled the case.

“In the United States of America, we are not destroying temples,” Alioto said in a statement.

“This decision by the city is unreasonable and will be appealed immediately.” She said the city’s actions are “clearly biased and discriminatory” and will be added to the ongoing civil rights lawsuit.

“We do not believe Ms. Lee’s allegations are substantiated,” the city said in a written response to Lee’s allegations of discrimination and racism.

“We are a community that celebrates our diversity and we are proud to have one of the largest Asian populations in the Bay Area,” the statement added.