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Lomita rejects plan to expand South Bay Islamic center

March 3, 2010 |  5:45 pm

A Lomita mosque’s plan for a new center on its property has been rejected by the City Council, prompting the mosque’s congregants to allege that there was anti-Muslim bias at play.

But Lomita Mayor Don Suminaga said the four council members – one recused himself – who unanimously voted Monday against the expansion project of the Islamic Center of South Bay did so because of neighbors' concerns and the potential increased traffic.

“I think it boils down to too big of a project for that area,” Suminaga said.

A traffic study, however, concluded that there would be no additional traffic on the road because the proposed prayer area – which the study noted was “the primary criteria used in determining traffic impact” – would be about the same size as the current prayer area.

A staff report from the city’s community development director recommended approval, and the city  planning commission last year recommended that the council approve the project.

“If you’re solely looking at the traffic study, maybe it’s OK,” Suminaga said, adding that he had a “feeling that they would be bringing more people in.”

Some neighbors of the mosque spoke against the project at Monday’s meeting and were countered by mosque supporters from Lomita and surrounding cities who urged the council to approve it.

“It seems to us that the City Council members, before they heard the four-hour testimony from our people, they had already made up their minds,” said Iraj Ershaghi, a founding member of the Islamic center. “This was such a total blow to our expectations.”

Ershaghi, an engineering professor at USC, said some of the comments made by neighbors opposed to the project had an anti-Muslim undertone. “The tone was that, ‘You don’t even exist,’ ” he said.

The Lomita Muslim community bought the property, located on a residential street, in 1985 and over the years has purchased adjacent properties and used the existing nine structures for prayer and community services, Ershaghi said.

The proposed project called for tearing down the smaller buildings and consolidated them into one two-story structure with classrooms, administrative offices, bigger bathrooms and a prayer area. Ershaghi estimated that 150 to 200 people attend Friday prayers.

"The idea was not to attract more people,” he said. “The idea was to have classrooms. We don’t have classrooms; we don’t have bathrooms. The idea was to make it convenient to park in the lot and not in the street.”

Mosque leaders plan to meet with city officials Thursday to discuss future options.

-- Raja Abdulrahim

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