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Alameda County prohibits RCS construction

When Alameda County denied Redwood Christian Schools (RCS) the right to build a high school in Nov. 2000, they filed a lawsuit in defense of the First Amendment.

Since 1980, the school leased facilities at Washington Manor and Dayton School, both owned by the San Lorenzo Unified School District. The district forced RCS to vacate the buildings once in 1985 and for a second time in 1997.

While this seems a distant trouble for campus students, the Fresno Christian community has been made aware of another Christian school’s difficulty in beginning an expansion program even as this administration hopes to do the same in the not so distant future.

In hopes of owning a school to avoid conflicts with leasing, Redwood Christian Schools purchased property in Castro Valley. The school spent 3 million dollars for the property and an additional million to prepare the land for development.

RCS requested a conditional use permit (CUP) in order to start the construction of a high school building, but was turned down by both the Alameda Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. County officials overlooked the fact that there was no alternative location to build a school within the district?s boundaries.

?The County?s decision to stop Redwood from building a permanent home on what the County itself conceded was the only available property in the County for the school was arbitrary, unconscionable, and unconstitutional,? Derek L. Gaubatz, Director of the Litigation for The Becket Fund, said.

While The Becket Fund?s client (RCS) pleads the First Amendment, Alameda County attorneys argue otherwise.

?Defendants admit? public schools are subject to different land use procedures than private schools and under certain circumstances can exempt themselves from certain requirements of a city?s or county?s zoning code,? attorneys from San Francisco law firm Keker & Van Nest, said. ?(They also raise, as an) affirmative defense (that) the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) is unconstitutional.?

Judge Samuel Conti denied RCS? motion for partial summary judgment, but suggested plaintiffs could show evidence of unfairness on Jan. 14, 2003.

?The Court simply cannot determine, upon a facial review of respective regulatory schemes, which process is more exacting,? Judge Conti said. ?Plaintiffs might be able to show that in practice the discretionary nature of the CUP process created unfairness, but such a showing would require review of the facts of the case, and cannot be made of a purely legal motion.?

Since then, both RCS and Alameda County have filed motions for partial summary judgment.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and RCS agreed a lawsuit against Alameda County was the only alternative to compensate for their 30 million dollar losses from enrollment, delay of construction, and an increase in financing costs. They filed on March 28, 2006.

Trial begins, RCS loses first battle

RCS? trial against Alameda County began at the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California on Feb. 12, 2007. County officials and neighboring residents defend their case by posing their concerns about traffic and noise, but admit the building of the new school will cause no health or safety risks.

Due to the controversy caused by the issue, opinions from outside of the Redwood community are varied. Many students on the FC campus share frustration in the difficulties RCS endures.

?It doesn?t seem like there is a justifiable reason why Redwood Christian shouldn?t be allowed to build on their land,? Kelsey Penner, ?08, said. ?Current and future students are being penalized because of this and the case needs to close.?

Superintendent Tim Wilkins sympathizes with RCS Superintendent Bruce Johnson after ten years of construction conflict.

?After observing the situation at Redwood Christian, it makes me grateful for the relationship our school has with Peoples Church,? Wilkins said. ?Bruce Johnson has been at that school for 30 years and I can easily identify with him. To see him go through these court battles is devastating.?

In the case against Alameda County, RCS? lawsuit lost round one of the trial on March 2, but The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the school plan to file for an appeal.

?We lost round one, but it?s only round one,? Gaubatz said. ?We will go the distance for this school and it’s students. We?re confident that once Redwood?s whole story is heard, we will prevail.?

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