Livermore’s iconic Shiva Vishnu Temple – also known as the Hindu Cultural and Community Center (HCCC) – received approval last week (November 16) to increase its opening hours and allow music outside.
In a decision weighing the ability of a religious institution to practice its rituals and customs without disturbing its neighbors, the Livermore Planning Commission unanimously agreed to update the conditional use of the temple permit which restricted activities nocturnal and forbade the faithful to play music while honoring their gods.
“What we are seeing is the need for a balance between freedom of religion and the idea that a man’s house is his castle,” Planning Commissioner John Stein said. “The fact that we haven’t had any formal complaints for 10 years… says a lot about the fact that they are a good neighbor. “
Temple officials, which provide a place of worship for Bay Area Hindus at 1232 Arrowhead Dr., have requested changes to a conditional use permit issued during a building extension in 2010 that imposes conditions on their schedules and on the noise they can make. The property established in 1977 has grown with the surrounding neighborhood.
The request was simple: open their doors at 6 a.m., instead of 7 a.m., and close at 10 p.m., instead of 9 p.m. Increase the number of annual special events that continue until midnight from 6 to 9; allow limited outdoor amplified music for religious services and special processions; and reopen 22 parking spaces eliminated due to its proximity to neighboring houses. Temple officials said they hoped to use parking spaces closer to their apartment building for the elderly, people with disabilities and their priests, who do not wear shoes.
The 11-year permit placed further restrictions on the temple, including requiring authorities to notify neighbors of events, eliminate amplified music, and install landscaping and fencing between the parking lot and their neighbors’ homes.
Sreeni Malireddy, a representative of the HCCC, told the panel that the institution had met the requirements, but had been forced to compromise some of its religious practices, including rushing to services that were due to end at 8 p.m. or not not holding them at all in the early morning.
Most of the services, Malireddy said, take place indoors, but some festivals include processions with worshipers praising the gods by carrying the deities around their building.
Malireddy said they wanted to use an iPhone, not a speaker system, to add music and would stick to 60 decibels, which is the sound of a normal conversation.
Twenty people expressed their support for the changes during the meeting.
Some neighbors, however, wrote letters in opposition.
Ricci and Michelle Ragnesi, who live next to the temple, complained that “non-Hindu residents who live in houses surrounding the temple are discriminated against because they are not Hindus or do not wish to worship their religion.” The Ragnesi said the temple created problems with traffic, noise and parking in their neighborhood.
Tom and Luanda Sherman wrote that the extension of hours was “unreasonable and unsuitable for our and / or any neighborhood”.
Malireddy countered that worshipers at his temple adhered to the rules and engaged in activities that benefited the community, including inviting neighbors to lunch each year and organizing blood drives, health fairs and yoga classes. Any outdoor music that the commission could authorize, he said, would last for a maximum of 20 to 30 minutes.
“We did everything we could to watch each other and be the best neighbor possible,” said Malireddy.
City staff agreed, saying they hadn’t received any complaints in years. The commissioners wondered if other religious institutions in the city had restrictions on their activities.
Project planner Jennifer Ackerman cited three Christian churches with conditional use permits, but said none placed restrictions on hours, noise and traffic. One church, Ackerman said, had a permit that related to parking; another had restrictions on landscaping; and one institution required permits for processions when police and firefighters were needed.
Although the city’s planning department recommended that the planning commission allow everything except parking changes, commissioners approved all temple requests on the condition that open-air amplified music be limited during each event. at a maximum of one hour at low decibels. Commissioners also approved the reopening of some of the 22 parking spaces following a review by the city’s transportation and landscaping department.
Malireddy said temple officials will continue to find ways to coexist with some of their neighbors.
“We will continue to be a good neighbor,” he said. “We will definitely contact them. “