Lemon Groves City Council Refuses to Separate Church and State

By Katie Burke

Last Tuesday, August 15, 2017, Lemon Grove City Council threw all reason, laws, and ordinances aside to side with the Catholic Church.

There were about 60 people in attendance of the Lemon Grove City Council Meeting; some came to support the three dispensaries facing appeal for being declined for zoning with Measure V.

As it turned out, only representatives for one property, out of the three declined, were heard that evening. The city council of Lemon Grove does a great job at posting the agenda and all submitted documents on their website five days before the hearing. That gives people enough time to research the issues on the agenda before the meeting.

Due to the controversy surrounding medical marijuana dispensaries, it was in the best interest of the public to carefully review all documentation submitted by the CUP Applicants and the parties opposing the location of said dispensaries. The appeal that was heard had a well thought out argument.

In Measure V, there are four “sensitive uses” put in place to protect minors from having access to medical marijuana dispensaries. Any dispensary must be at least 1000 feet from schools, playgrounds, daycares, and substance abuse centers.

You may be familiar with the church that the proposed dispensary had a dispute with; St John of the Cross Church in Lemon Grove. Although it was settled out of court, a clergy member of St John of the Cross Church was revealed to have molested children.

St John of the Cross owns three parcels; one parcel holds a school, the second parcel holds the church, and the third parcel holds a Knights of Columbus building, a multi-use auditorium as well as an older building that was used as a youth care and daycare in the past. The first parcel mentioned is located furthest away from the proposed dispensary; it has the only building where St John of the Cross Catholic School’s curriculum is taught. The property at 8260 Broadway is 1007 feet away from St John of the Cross Catholic School, which is located at 8175 Lemon Grove Way.

In a letter submitted to Eric Craig, the former Associate Planner, by Jesse Ramirez, the Director of religious education/facilities manager for Saint John of the Cross argued that “church programs activities for both the school and the daycare on all three parcels that comprise the church property. The school uses the auditorium on the eastern parcel to conduct school related activities and to serve school lunch on a daily basis. The youth center is also used extensively for child care and youth activities.”

A school is defined as  place where instruction is given. Cafeterias do not have curriculum.

The room witnessed the church explaining that the school actually stretches across all three parcels. However, the address of St John of the Cross Catholic School both on their website, and registered with the city, is different than the addresses of the church, Knights of Columbus, St John of the Cross Auditorium, and the dilapidated once-upon-a-time-daycare-building.

When reading the applicants argument and then reviewing the church’s argument, it was obvious this was going to be a fight. It was assumed that the city council would have to require more than the churches word to go on. The ordinances in place are crystal clear.  

As it turned out, City Council member Jennifer Mendoza is part of the St John of the Cross Catholic Church. As the meeting began, Mendoza announced she had volunteered at the school ten years ago in said cafeteria and is currently an active church member. In fact, Jennifer Mendoza was granted the most time speaking for the church in the meeting. St John of the Cross Catholic Church had a representative active on the city council. Council member Jennifer Mendoza was not in any position to be objective and vote on whether or not St John of the Cross Catholic School was at the actual address 8175 Lemon Grove Way. Nor was she in any position to vote on whether the church, auditorium, Knights of Columbus, and old day care building are to be considered the school, thus marking the parcels on which they lie, as sensitive use zones. Again, zero curriculum is taught on any of those properties.

The council voted in 5-0 decision that all three parcels were part of the school and therefore within the 1000 feet of the proposed dispensary.