Civil rights group files lawsuit over Lomita mosque
This post has been corrected. See below for details.
The Los Angeles office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and a civil rights law firm have filed a joint complaint against the city of Lomita for denying the Islamic Center of South Bay's application to rebuild and renovate its mosque.
The federal complaint, filed Wednesday at the U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles, contends that the city is discriminating against the mosque and that there is no evidence to back up neighbors' concerns of increased traffic.
"This is a last resort for the center under federal law," said attorney Anne Richardson. "We are seeking injunctive relief and we're asking the city to reverse its denial of the application and allow the mosque to move forward with its plans."
In March 2010, the Lomita City Council rejected a plan for a new consolidated worship center, citing neighbors' concerns and increased traffic. The 4-0 vote occurred despite a study from city staff that concluded that traffic would remain the same.
"When you read the staff report, the recommended approval by the technical arm of the city, they found that this renovation project would improve the flow of traffic and parking," said Reem Salahi, an attorney with the civil rights law firm of Hadsell Stormer Kenny Richardson & Renick, which filed the complaint.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice began investigating whether the city discriminated against the Islamic Center of South Bay when its council denied an application to rebuild the center.
City officials were not immediately available for comment.
Supporters of the mosque also allege the city violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. The law says that a land-use decision can be overturned if it discriminates against a religious institution or places a substantial burden on exercising faith.
"One of the burdens is that they have a multi-purpose hall where they sometimes hold worships and events, but they have to do it outside in a parked area, and anyone living in the South Bay knows it gets cold and windy here," said Ameena Qazi, a staff attorney with CAIR-LA.
The Lomita Muslim community purchased the original property for a worship center on Walnut Street and Pacific Coast Highway in 1985, and over the years the community has bought adjacent properties to form multiple structures for prayer and community services.
The project would have consolidated the eight buildings into one two-story structure on the zigzagging property, according to supporters of the project.
"It looks like a refugee camp sprawled out in a half-acre lot," Salahi said. "The buildings are 80 years old and they need to be spruced up quite a bit."
(For the record, 6:05 p.m.: A previous version of this post incorrectly gave Ameena Qazi's first name as Reema.)
-- Ruben Vives
Photo: Amin Momand, a member of the board of directors at the Islamic Center of the South Bay, demonstrates an Islamic prayer in the prayer hall of the mosque in Lomita, where CAIR-LA and a civil rights law firm have filed a joint federal complaint against the city for religious discrimination. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times