Monks, county reach agreement in civil suit

By LORELL FLEMINGNorth County Times, July 28, 2005

Bonsall, CA (USA) -- A handful of Buddhist monks can resume religious activities at their temple and meditation center on Camino del Rey in Bonsall while they pursue a required county permit for the site, attorneys said Thursday.

<< Illustration of the proposed temple complex in Bonsall, California

The activities are allowed under a settlement reached recently in a lawsuit the monks had filed against the county, according to attorneys for both sides. In light of the agreement, the county's counsel has requested dismissal of the federal suit the monks filed June 3 in U.S. District Court against the San Diego County Department of Planning and Land Use and the department's director, Gary Pryor.

In the suit, the monks sought relief from a cease-and-desist order issued April 4 by the county. The order prohibited them from assembling or practicing organized meditation at the site, 6326 Camino del Rey, which is designated for agricultural uses.

Also in their suit, the monks contended the county had allowed services at the Camino del Rey site in the past, and that the cease-and-desist order would "severely harm religious exercise."

Tom Bunton, senior deputy county counsel, said the order was issued because the group had fallen behind in submitting reports needed for the permit application. The permit is required to use agriculturally designated land for other purposes.

In the past, Sunday morning activities at the site had drawn protesters who voiced concerns about noise and traffic that the temple generated in the residential neighborhood.

"I think it was a good solution," Bunton said Thursday. "It protects the neighbors regarding traffic and sanitation issues, and we are also able to protect those interested in engaging in religious activities."

The suit listed the nonprofit group, Vietnamese Buddhist Meditation Congregation Inc., as the plaintiff. The monks who live in the single-family building on the 10-acre Camino del Rey property are the founders of the nonprofit group. They were represented by attorney William Fischbeck of La Mesa.

"We're happy," Fischbeck said Thursday. "It puts us back where we were before the county issued the cease-and-desist order."

The agreement also calls for the monks to continue to have parking attendants, encourage guests to car pool or take shuttle buses provided by the center during events that attract large crowds, and provide portable toilets for guests.

The monks also agreed not to use the stable on the property as a sleeping area, and not to use one of the rooms in the building as a kitchen. That room was not approved by county officials for use as a kitchen because it did not meet health standards, Fischbeck said. Instead, the monks will use a patio barbecue area.

Unveiled last year, the plan calls for a temple complex with a 6,196-square-foot main hall, a 7,664-square-foot meditation hall, an 8,936-square-foot dormitory for the monks, and parking for 72 vehicles. It also includes an expansion of the septic system.

Final say on the permit application rests with the county Board of Supervisors. The board takes into consideration the recommendations from the county Planning Department, the county Planning Commission, and the Bonsall Community Sponsor Group.

The monks' application is expected to go before the Planning Commission early next year, Fischbeck said.

The sponsor group rejected the preliminary plans for the project in April, but is awaiting more information before issuing a final recommendation. At its meeting Tuesday, the sponsor group will get an update, though no vote is expected. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. at the Bonsall Community Center.