Manatt Lawyers Assist Garden Grove Buddhists With Resolving Dispute Over Temple Zoning
ORANGE COUNTY, CA – September 19, 2008 – Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, the national law and consulting firm, announced that its pro bono client, the Vietnamese Buddhism Study Temple in America, has reached an agreement with the City of Garden Grove that will allow it to proceed with plans to build a long-awaited temple. The settlement between the Buddhist congregation and the City puts to rest a two-year-old dispute over the Buddhist group’s development plans for a 1.8-acre parcel that it owns.
Keli N. Osaki, counsel in the firm’s Orange County office, led the Manatt team assisting the Buddhist congregants. Manatt and the law firm of Lee & Tran, LLP served as pro bono co-counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.
"Freedom to worship is a cherished part of the American landscape,” said Ms. Osaki. “As a firm, we are extremely pleased for members of the Quan Am Temple, who can now move forward. Manatt was proud to be a partner in this important effort."
At the heart of the dispute was a request for a zoning change that would allow the Buddhist group to tear down an existing office complex and build a temple where some of its monks could live and worship along with community members.
The city initially denied the application, citing complaints from neighbors about increased noise and traffic. But the denial raised freedom-of-religion concerns among the group’s members.
As part of the settlement, the temple will submit a revised zoning-change application to the Garden Grove Planning Commission for permission to build a one-story temple, smaller than the originally-planned center, that includes a residence for the monks.
“This is a victory both for local control and for freedom of worship,” said Belinda Escobosa Helzer, an ACLU/SC attorney who also litigated the case. “It’s a workable compromise that lets the city successfully regulate land use and also allows the temple members to worship as they see fit.”
The commission will expedite the zoning-change application and set a public hearing on it within 75 days of the application date. City staff will then recommend approval, provided the application conforms to zoning requirements. The matter then will go to the City Council for a vote.
“I am very happy that we could reach an understanding,” said Thich Dao Quang, the temple’s abbot. “This disagreement was very painful for our community. We are glad it is behind us.”
Manatt’s Director of Pro Bono Activities, Cristin Zeisler, indicated that “Serving the needs of local communities is at the heart of what it means to be a Manatt lawyer. Whether we assist individuals with asylum claims, families with special needs or entire populations through impact litigation such as this matter, our lawyers dedicate themselves to the pursuit of justice.”
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