RICHMOND -- City inspectors say a mosque housed in a World War II-era former Kaiser field hospital is beset by hazardous safety conditions and building code violations and should be evacuated.
The move to force the mosque out of the building has drawn criticism from at least one Bay Area Islamic leader who claims religious freedoms are being imperiled, as well as two City Council members.
Masjid Noor, located at 1330 Cutting Blvd., has "serious structural integrity problems and potentially dangerous conditions" that were revealed during a late-December inspection by fire officials, said city prosecutor Trisha Aljoe.
"There were extreme life safety fire violations observed, and then the building officials cited dozens more code violations," Aljoe said. "Floors and ceilings are collapsing in there, and extensive work is being done that needs a structural engineer."
Aljoe added that raw sewage was present outside, along with mattresses and other evidence that people may be living in the structure.
But some have balked at the assessment, and vow to fight back if the city tries to force the mosque to vacate the structure.
"I recently heard that the city of Richmond might be having talks to shut down the Islamic Center," said Saadi Nasim, a community outreach coordinator at Al Sabeel mosque in San Francisco, in a Tuesday email to the City Council and Mayor Gayle McLaughlin. "First and foremost, freedom of religion is guaranteed by our constitution. I am confused how and why a religious (center) could be shut down."
Several men at the mosque, which is surrounded by an iron gate, answered the door Thursday. A red city placard dated Jan. 9 ordering the cessation of all work was posted by the door. The men declined to comment, saying the matter was being discussed by mosque leaders and their legal advisers.
The mosque is housed in a former Kaiser field hospital, first built for shipyard workers and their families in the 1940s, and is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The building was sold to the mosque by Kaiser in the late 1990s, said Councilman Tom Butt.
The National Park Service, which operates the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park, established in 2000, has expressed interest in buying the building from the mosque but was turned down, Butt said.
Council members Nat Bates and Corky Boozé have expressed concern with the way the city has handled the situation.
"Being punitive toward a religious group without just cause is asking for nothing but problems with perhaps national negative publicity," Bates said in an email this week to his council colleagues, adding that he is not abreast of all the facts of the case. "This mosque has been in operation for years without controversy, and there better be some strong reasons in suggesting the city shut them down."
Boozé, who has been the subject of numerous investigations by city Code Enforcement officials over his own allegedly substandard properties, said the matter was evidence that the Code Enforcement Department and Aljoe are "out of control."
"I visited the building this week, and to say it's dangerous is a bunch of hogwash," Boozé said. "The roof was leaking, there is some rot on the floors, but that is a huge building and the part they pray in has no problems."
Boozé said he will put the issue on the City Council's Tuesday agenda to gather more information.
Aljoe said the inspection was initiated by fire and building officials and city officials are working on a notice to abate, repair and vacate, which could come as early as next week. Mosque members told site inspectors they won't leave, Aljoe said, portending a possible legal showdown.
"They are entitled to an appeals process," Aljoe said. "We don't discriminate, but it's our duty to address dangerous buildings."
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/SFBaynewsrogers.