Whatever your opinion of the proposed Sufism Reoriented sanctuary in Saranap -- every conceivable argument for and against has been voiced in the past two weeks -- it was impossible to charge the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors with rushing to judgment in conditionally approving the project Wednesday.
In two nearly daylong hearings at the Lesher Center for the Arts' Hofmann Theatre, on Feb. 21 and again Wednesday, the supervisors listened with remarkable patience as opponents and advocates lined up at the microphone like ants marching to a picnic basket.
Every ramification of the project was put under a microscope, from the size of the structure (66,000 square feet), to suitability within the neighborhood, to safety of the vehicular entrance, to the number of dump trucks required to haul away excavated dirt.
Residents expressed concerns about the noise and traffic associated with two years of construction. They worried about water drainage from a project that will be two-thirds underground. They asked why a congregation of 350 that promised to grow no larger needed 42 toilets on the premises.
(That concern came to be known as the "toilet conspiracy," feeding rumors that the religious group was secretly building a convention center and passing it off as a church. Conspiracies are great fun.)
Sufi supporters, who showed their fervor in the past week by besieging the Times with 270 letters of support, charged the opposition with an irrational fear of the unknown. They reminded all that this project has been years in the planning, at considerable cost, and that a 2,000-page environmental impact report received planning commission approval.
By the time every aspect of the proposal had been sliced, diced and ground to dust, the issue largely boiled down to one question: Were 74 parking spaces enough to accommodate the congregation?
With several conditions attached, the supervisors said they were. I don't pretend to understand the Transportation Demand Management plan they cited in granting approval, except that if fewer people drive cars, fewer spaces are required. That has been the Sufis' track record.
If it was good enough for the supervisors, it was good enough for me.
The greater take-away was an appreciation for the democratic process at work. Every interested person who wanted to speak had a chance to be heard.
"I've listened and heard the residents, and I recognize the issues you raised," Supervisor Karen Mitchoff said, "but I believe the EIR adequately addresses the issues it needs to and provides mitigation measures appropriate. I acknowledge there will be disruptions to those who live in the neighborhood."
Said Supervisor John Gioia: "It's been a long process, more so for the people involved than for us. I'm sure at some level both the neighbors and the church congregation are happy to have this done. We tried to be thoughtful about it. It seemed like folks at least thought we were trying to be fair."
I was reminded of the pitched battle in Walnut Creek over the arrival of Neiman Marcus, which now is taking root in Broadway Plaza ... and the fight over an In-N-Out Burger in Pleasant Hill, which apparently will not ... and a proposed bingo parlor in Concord that was turned away.
In each case, the affected parties were invited to speak, a deliberative body considered arguments and a reasoned verdict was rendered. That doesn't mean everyone went home happy. It means they were given a chance to voice their opinions.
Considering what goes on in much of the world, that's quite a lot.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.