Mountain Views News, Combined Edition Saturday, June 18, 2022

MVNews this week:  Page 3

3 Mountain Views-News Saturday, June 18, 2022 CONVERSATIONS.......THE MEADOWS 3 Mountain Views-News Saturday, June 18, 2022 CONVERSATIONS.......THE MEADOWS 

As a long-time supporter of the Passionist Community in Sierra 
Madre, I’ve attended many retreats at Mater Dolorosa Passionist 
Retreat Center over the last 25 years. I was a member of their 
first Board of Directors in 2003 and was involved as a lay person 
in the restructuring of the Holy Cross Province of the Passionist 
Congregation which includes Retreat Centers in the Midwest, 
the South, and the Western United States. As an attorney I’ve 
advised our local Passionists on past legal issues and helped 
them evaluate different uses for their property in Sierra Madre. 

I am also a member of the Sierra Madre Neighbors for Fairness 
Steering Committee and represent the interests of the Passionists. 
As a grassroots organization, the Steering Committee is 
made up entirely of Sierra Madre residents and neighbors (my 
husband and I are the only two that live just across the border 
in Arcadia, although we spend nearly every weekend in Sierra 
Madre patronizing the local shops and restaurants). 

At Thursday’s City Council meeting I commented that we are 
not “financed” by New Urban West. To clarify, we have partnered 
with the developer to help protect the rights of the Passionists 
and we do receive financial help from them in service 
to this one goal. Nonetheless, we also receive financial support 
from other interested parties. We certainly do not work for 
New Urban West and they do not tell us what to do. 

Our goal is to support the Monastery in its ability to exercise its 
freedom of religion. We do this by helping the voters of Sierra 
Madre understand the consequences of the proposed Initiative, 
including how it will violate the rights of the Passionists and put 
the City at serious risk of being sued for religious discrimination, 
among other things. 

RLUIPA, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons 
Act of 2000, provides religious institutions with protection 
from overly restrictive down-zoning. The Act states that “No 
government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in 
a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise 
of a … religious institution, unless the government can 
demonstrate that imposition … is in fur-therance of a compelling 
governmental interest; and is the least restrictive means of 


The following statement was addressed to the City Council at its 
June 14 meeting by Dr. Michael Cunningham, OFS, Mater Dolorosa 
Passionist Retreat Center Director and CEO. 

As expressed in a letter from our attorney and verbally to the 
Sierra Madre City Council last week, Mater Dolorosa would 
be greatly harmed if this initiative is successful. Unfortunately, 
I also can say that damage has already been done through 
considerable miscommunication of information about us, our 
development plans, and the status of our ministry. 
Mater Dolorosa has served Sierra Madre, the San Gabriel Valley, 
greater Los Angeles, and Southern California with spiritual 
and healing ministries since 1924. Since then, the ministry 
has been evolving, expanding, and responding to the signs of 
the times. 
Imagine if this restriction arrived earlier in our history. Imagine 
that the soldiers returning from the Second World War 
were not welcomed at our Retreat Center because we had been 
unable to build it due to such an initiative. Imagine if all the 
thousands of people in recovery programs had not been able 
to come to this sacred place. Imagine if the 15,000 visitors who 
grace our gardens and retreat center during a typical year were 
suddenly not welcome. 

Now, imagine a time in the future when we, and all those who 
want to visit Mater Dolorosa, for whatever reason, are not able 
to because we cannot add additional rooms, build improved 
facilities for our Food Ministry, or provide more meeting 
space for recovery groups and those with trouble in their lives. 
This is the future which this initiative beckons for us. 

Living in Sierra Madre is an expensive proposition. Imagine 
a time when we cannot provide staff accommodation for 

furthering that compelling governmental interest.” 

The proposed Initiative states that its purpose is to change the 
Retreat Center to a “nonconforming” use by prohibiting all 
future “expansion, significant physical alteration, or change in 
use” and that the compelling government interest is to “ensure 
that any future development is protective of the City's hillside 

Applying the standards of RLUIPA, the compelling government 
interest of protecting the “hillside envi-ronment” has not 
been justified. Expansion not in the hillside areas, or alterations 
within the Monas-tery buildings, do not risk the hillside 
environment. Not even the EIR for the proposed Meadows at 
Bailey Canyon development found any significant environmental 
impacts to the hillside environment, and that is when adding 
just 42 homes to the property - less than one percent of the residences 
in Si-erra Madre. There is no compelling government 
interest that justifies prohibiting all expansion, altera-tion, or 
change in use for a religious organization that has been operating 
its ministry here for close to 100 years. 

Even if there were a compelling government interest, the “least 
restrictive” prong cannot possibly be defended. There are many 
less restrictive options available to protect the hillside environment. 
Turn-ing a religious Institution into a nonconforming 
use, while prohibiting all future expansion, alteration, or change 
in use, is extremely burdensome on the Passionists and a gross 
overreach of the City’s zon-ing authority. 

Moreover, there is a strong argument that the proposed Initiative 
raises the specter of religious dis-crimination based on the 
targeting of the Passionists, in particular, by “spot-zoning” in 
contravention of state regulations. If the Initiative passes and 
the City gets sued, they - and, more particularly, its resi-dents 

- could face hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and 
other penalties. 
Please support the Passionists as Sierra Madre Neighbors for 
Fairness fights to protect their religious freedoms under the 
First Amendment. 

Angela Hawekotte, Attorney and Member of SMNFF Steering 

our employees because the initiative does not allow it. Even 
though we own the land and the ministry, we cannot offer it if 
we cannot plan and expand. 

This is not the future we have imagined for ourselves and not 
a future that anyone else would want. Imagine if building restrictions 
were made on land you owned, fully paid for, where 
you are operating city services that individuals can enjoy regardless 
of their financial means, and suddenly all growth 
Even short-term improvements in our plans are affected. For 
example, we have been working on a solar plan for two years 
and are nearing the end of the planning and funding phase. 
Will we be able to get permission for solar to provide a cleaner 
environment? I don’t know. 

Despite all this, Mater Dolorosa’s ministry is alive and well today. 
We are fully booked for retreats, conferences, and recovery 
ministry activities until May 2023. Will we be able to meet 
expanded demand in the future, as we have in the past? If this 
initiative passes, then the answer will be “No.” 

The unfairness of the initiative has been communicated by 
others and by our letter to the City Council. I ask the council 
members to consider the implications of this initiative carefully 
before a ministry that has provided services to this community 
and the surrounding area becomes what the proponents 
want: To be frozen in time, and unable to respond to the needs 
of those around us. 

Hopefully, anyone considering voting for this initiative will 
consider prayerfully what this will do to our ministry. The initiative 
has little to do with the proposed property development 
and its progress through the approval process. Instead, it is 
about removing Mater Dolorosa’s rights to operate and grow a 
vital and flourishing ministry that thousands of Californians 
rely on. 


You may hear the proponents of the initiative saying that “opposing 
the project is not religious discrimination.” Well, don’t you 
think that depends on how you are opposing the project? There 
are no two ways about it. Supporting the Initiative, which will take 
away the fundamental Institutional rights of the Passionists, means 
you are supporting religious discrimination. The initiative singles 
out the Retreat Center and will prohibit all future expansion or 
alteration of the existing buildings. If you support this egregious 
violation then you are no friend of the Passionists, no matter how 
honorable you think your intentions are. 

You can both oppose the housing project and support the Passionists, 
but you can’t do both while also taking away the Passionists' 
fundamental rights as a religious institution. Sierra Madre Neighbors 
for Fairness is opposing the discriminatory initiative. We are 
also neutral on the Meadows housing project. We are often called 
a “mouthpiece for the developer,” but if that were the case then we 
would be fighting for the project itself. 

The SMNFF Steering Committee solely decides what our strategy 
is. We have a similar goal with the developer of protecting the 
rights of the Passionists because they, too, do not want to see the 
Passionists harmed. We have partnered with the developer in defending 
the Pas-sionists from illegal discrimination and we welcome 
their support. 

Under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons 
Act any overly restrictive down-zoning of a religious institution 
is illegal unless it is the least restrictive means of accomplishing 
the goal (in this case) of protecting the hillsides. Prohibiting all 
physical expansion, alteration, or change in use under the guise of 
protecting the hillside environment is a blatant violation of RLUIPA 
and puts the city in serious financial jeopardy. 

The initiative clearly states that the Retreat Center will be forced 
to become a “nonconforming use” “without expansion, significant 
physical alteration, or change in use.” The Initiative states that the 
Monastery buildings will fall under “the provisions of the Sierra 
Madre Municipal Code relating to non-conforming use.” Municipal 
code section 17.56.040 states that “Each and every nonconforming 
use or structure may be continued and maintained, provided 
that there is no addition, alteration, or en-largement to any 
use or structure…” If the Passionists do any alteration or expansion 
or have a change in use then under 17.56.060 A. the city will 
be forced to “terminate” their nonconforming use and start the 
“abatement” process. 

We encourage those who oppose the religious discrimination of 
the Passionists to show your support by putting a “Support the 
Monastery” sign in your yard. This especially applies to those who 
have a yard sign saying they want to preserve or protect Sierra 
Madre. These are not two mutually exclusive ideas. To get your 
yard sign, make a request at www.sierramadreneighborsforfairness.




We are Sierra Madre neighbors opposed to the initiative targeting the Monastery 

De & Pat Alcorn 

Lived in Sierra Madre for 49 years 

"We joined Sierra Madre Friends for 
Fairness to protest the Initiative’s 
intent to deprive Mater Dolorosa 
of their property rights as they go 
through the process to develop a portion 
of their property." 

Patrick Simcock 

Lived in Sierra Madre for 50 years 

"The initiative is focused on a single 
property/owner and changing their right to 
use their property as currently zoned. 

The initiative is ill-conceived 
and is setting the city and the 

taxpayers up for a lawsuit." 

Ad paid for by Sierra Madre Neighbors for Fairness, a Coalition of Local Residents, Taxpayers, and Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center; 
Committee major funding from New Urban West 

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