BAPS Chino Hills Hindu Mandir and Cultural Center (2005)
In Chino Hills, California, Hindus are fighting for the construction of a 20-acre Swaminarayan Temple and Cultural Center that would liven the freeway area, increase city revenue, and provide a religious space for Hindus and an amazing cultural resource for the entire community.
The controversy surrounding the construction of the BAPS Chino Hills Hindu Religious and Cultural Center
serves as a good example of the sorts of problems Hindu temples face in the US and how factors like zoning laws, school curricula, city priorities, and level of support for immigrant communities affect the general opinion of and attitude towards a proposed project such as this.
Demographics of Chino Hills
Understanding the demographics of Chino Hills is important when looking at the reasoning for both wanting to construct a temple in this area and the concerns the community has about the project. The city of Chino Hills
, located about an hour and a half outside of Los Angeles in the Chino Valley of San Bernardino County
, is an affluent, family-oriented city, with a third of the population under age 18 (1), and is described by residents as a “bedroom community.” (2)
With a median household income of $84, 830 a year, Chino Hills is much better off than the average city in San Bernardino County and boasts a median yearly income twice that of the state of California median. (3) Chino Hills residents are substantially better educated than those of most other cities in San Bernardino County. (4)
In terms of immigration, San Bernardino County ranks number nine in the state of California for total legal immigration. With 22.6% of Chino Hills residents of foreign birth, however, the city of Chino Hills ranks above both the San Bernardino and state averages for foreign-born population. Despite this diverse population, Chino Hills currently has no public resources for immigrant communities or even a community center for general use. The neighboring city of Chino, which is slightly older and more established, does have a community center but also lacks resources for immigrant populations. (5)
, which stands for Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, is a socio-religious organization of the Swaminarayan faith and is currently the "fastest growing branch of the Swaminarayan Sampraday." (6) Religiously, it maintains that there are five eternal entities: jiva
(individual self), ishwar
(cosmic self), maya
(inert matter of the universe), Brahma
(transcendent to the first three entities but a servant to Parabrahma
), and Parabrahma. Bhagwan Swaminarayan
or the Supreme God, who is always present on earth in person.
The main tenants of the BAPS mission are to inspire, energize, promote, develop, and sustain. (7) BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha has over one million followers and runs the very active BAPS Care International
, a service organization that often provides medical services and other support to people all over the world. BAPS organizes many activities and festivals and aims to encourage "a healthy respect for all religions and people, irrespective of class, creed, color, or country." (8) BAPS is particularly oriented towards promoting family values
The BAPS Temple in Whittier, California
BAPS has a Hari Mandir
in Whittier, California, which is about twenty miles from Chino Hills. It offers youth classes, daily aarti
(worship), and monthly festivals. BAPS has been searching for another site in Southern California to accommodate a growing membership.
When searching for the appropriate site for the new temple and cultural center, twenty other sites were considered, six of which are located in Chino Hills. After ruling out most of the other locations for reasons such as "not central to the Indian community," "sell price too high," "in a residential neighborhood," and "too small," the initial application for this particular location, which is a 20-acre site set near Freeway 71 on Fairfield Ranch Road at Monte Vista Avenue, was submitted in June 2002. (9) The temple will be 19,894 square feet, with a cultural center that is 33,781 square feet, making the total building area about 164,372 square feet. The entire site will be 20.31 acres.
The project will have two main elements: a Hindu temple and a cultural complex. The temple will have a grand entrance and be an example of "classic, graceful Indian architecture." (10) Silence will be maintained at all times, and it will be sex-segregated. The cultural complex, which has goals such as promoting "inter-religious and inter-cultural harmony," will be more modern architecturally and will include a medical clinic, library, auditorium, meditation rooms, two gymnasiums (which will also serve as dining halls), locker rooms and showers, a vegetarian Indian sweets shop and restaurant, 18 classrooms, a large kitchen, computer labs, living quarters for swamis, a gift shop, and much more. (11)
The cultural complex will also include an exhibition hall with a permanent exhibit on Indian culture. As published in the Chino Hills Council Agenda Staff Report of September 14, 2004, "the exhibition will give visitors a concise yet comprehensive study of Hinduism—its origins, growth, glory and what Hindu values can contribute to the world at large. It will also convey strong messages expressing the importance of family unity and an addiction-free life. An exhibit, called 'Beautiful Borderless World,' will emphasize the feeling that the whole world is one big family." (12)
The project's website
outlines the benefits of the project: "The BAPS Shree Swaminarayan Mandir (Hindu Temple) and Cultural Complex will become a new center for the ongoing spiritual, social and charitable work of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha...The cultural complex will become a unique resource for Chino Hills, and also will generate ancillary economic benefits. The project will beautify the freeway corridor, creating new, open, public spaces with beautiful gardens, walkways, fountains and other landscaping. Both the temple and its grounds, and the cultural complex itself, will be open to the general public for visitation. The cultural complex will provide unique educational opportunities for the surrounding community and schools." (13)
According to the Staff Report, BAPS predicts 250,000 non-member tourists a year. A document in the report (it is unclear who it is written by), reads: "the proposed project of BAPS will help the City of Chino Hills become a major attraction like Disney Land in Anaheim. It will be a unique and outstanding gift to the City of Chino Hills from the Indian community." (14)
The project's website
is regularly updated and explains in great detail the project, the style of architecture, and BAPS, and has a section called "What People Are Saying" with comments from the community on the project.
In the three years that the project has existed as a proposal to the city, it has gone through a series of concerns regarding both logistics and appropriateness. BAPS and the City of Chino Hills have run many studies and talked with many people to help address these concerns, but several still linger.
Logistically, the project has gone through many approval stages. Zoning issues were a concern at the beginning. According to the Staff Report cited earlier, "the Land Use Element of the General Plan designates the project site for Very High Residential Development, and the Zoning Map designates the site as RM-3." (15) Religious institutions are "conditionally permitted uses in the RM-3 zone." (16) With the help of Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
(RLUIPA), passed in 2000 by President Clinton, the temple was approved for the site in terms of its zoning, although the issue of the height of the spires presented an additional concern. The temple proposed one 73-foot spire, two 67-foot spires, and two 52-foot spires. City code does not allow towers higher than 42 feet. As the towers are a key point of contention in the approval process of this temple, BAPS is currently consulting people in India to see if a change in the design of the temple is possible. As it is modeled after temples in India, it is difficult to say whether this will be acceptable.
Additionally, a traffic study conducted by the city proved that the temple and cultural center would not cause problems. Environmentally, the project passed all quality tests. Addressing another frequently voiced concern, the Initial Study by the City found that the project would not have a "substantial adverse effect on a scenic vista" (17).
Concerns of the Community Members
At a Planning Commission public hearing in September of 2004, 44 community members spoke, 50% in support of the project and 50% in opposition to it. The opposition cited concerns such as the "visual impacts of the complex," "conflicts with rural character of the community," traffic, and loss of potential uses for the space. (18) In addition to the speakers at the meeting, the Planning Commission Office of Chino Hills has been inundated with letters regarding the project since its possibility was first announced in 2002. "To date [as of September 14, 2004], staff counts a total of 1,600 comments, 809 of which are in support of the project, 791 in opposition. Comments in support of the project generally address the aspects of aesthetics, cultural diversity, religious freedom, and the positive nature of the BAPS community. Those in opposition of the project generally address conflicts with the community's rural character, traffic, loss of potential economic revenues by not utilizing the property for commercial purposes, and loss of a potential multifamily housing site." (19)
The letters from community members published in the report express many of these concerns, especially worries about the complex "blending in." Cassandra Putinier, in a letter dated July 3, 2003, writes, "The scope of this project seems too ambitious for the size of the congregation pledging to build it and sustain the complex." (20)
Other community members feel uncomfortable with such an obvious minority presence. In particular, Larry Blugrind, a Chino Hills resident, vocalized this concern in two letters. The first, dated June 5, 2003, reads: "Should this temple be allowed to be built, you are opening the door to Pandora's box. What will then happen is, for example, Chinese, Arabic, and other nationalities will want to build buildings in Chino Hills with THEIR third world architecture, and part of Chino Hills will look like a third world country." (21) saying in a later letter, dated June 21, 2003, he writes, referring to "that horrible Hindu temple," saying, "For one, it will RUIN, i.e., NOT FIT INTO the RURAL ATMOSPHERE of Chino Hills!!!"
One letter expressed concern because most Chino Hills residents are Judeo-Christian, and Hinduism, which the letter incorrectly defined as a polytheistic religion, goes against the beliefs of the majority of the residents. (22)
Response to Concerns
It seems that community members are worried that the complex will stand out as a result of its size and architectural style, that the temple and cultural center is not being given enough time to be considered, that they have been uninformed about the project, that it is too large and imposing, and that it will attract unwanted tourists. Other concerns include worries about traffic congestion, insufficient parking and room for growth, lack of generating new revenue, and limited benefits for the entire community. BAPS has attempted to address most if not all of these concerns by putting lots of money into research on these issues. The city has also sponsored tests and studies. The research and analysis has proven that many of these concerns, particularly those about traffic congestion and revenue generation, are invalid. The project, set along a freeway, will not affect residential areas, thus not blocking mountain views, and a continuation of Fairfield Ranch Road will alleviate any traffic problems the center may create. BAPS has planned for more parking spaces than the city requires and is speculated to actually increase revenue due to its expansion of Fairfield Ranch Road and the resulting accessibility of that area. (23) In addition, BAPS states on the website that visitors and attendance at the temple will unquestionably generate additional sales and commerce in Chino Hills.
The other concerns, which cannot be evaluated as easily by quantitative research, have been harder for BAPS to address or, at the very least, diminish. In the fiction/fact section of its website, BAPS responds to the concern that the center will serve only a very limited section of the city's population: "The temple and cultural center will be open to all faiths, and to the general public...The size of the temple facility itself is similar to other churches, and the size of weekly attendance will be similar to the congregations of other churches throughout the community. Today, Chino Hills has over 500 Indian families, and is the geographic center of a large Indian-American population in southern California that has been part of the region's economic vibrancy over the last decade. The City of Chino Hills is an ideal and appropriate location for this temple and cultural center complex." (24) Additionally, BAPS provides a plethora of reasons why the center will not just serve the community but also be beneficial to it, as mentioned earlier in this report. (see citation number 32)
BAPS has made an effort to incorporate the local community into the project, in its design, process of getting approved, and intention. Architecturally, the center has been designed with both Indian and Californian styles in mind: "the cultural center is designed to incorporate a more typical California style, and is centered around two courtyards, further reflecting traditional California design." (25) This fact is used in response to the community concern of the center clashing with the surrounding area.
Responding to concerns that the community is not getting a say in the matter, BAPS says: "The City's Planning Commission held two public hearings, during which proponents explained the project in detail, and supporters and opponents voiced their opinions. The appearance and impacts of this project have been open to public scrutiny for a long period of time." (26) This is apparent in the letters and publicly voiced concerns available in the Planning Commission Office.
from Jitendra Dave, president of the Chino Hills Indian American Association, dated August 20, 2003
, appears on the website and explains the project and the benefits it will provide to the community. Emphasizing the presence of Hindus in Chino Hills, he writes: "Over the years, as our city has grown, so have the richness of our culture and the diversity of our population. Today, Chino Hills is the home to hundreds of Indian and Hindu Americans that live, work, operate businesses, and go to school here in Chino Hills." (27) Discussing the plans for the project and the impact it will have on the community, Dave assures his fellow residents that it will be a great contribution to Chino Hills: "a new Hindu temple and cultural center will bring new life and architectural beauty to the area. And it will bring new cultural and educational opportunities to many of the residents of Chino Hills and the surrounding areas." (28) He writes that there will be "an exhibition hall for visitors presenting 'A Borderless World' which will feature exhibits on the worldwide issues of peace and social harmony" and welcomes everyone to participate in services at the temple. After explaining the elements of the project, Dave calls for support of the project and articulates his excitement for this proposed new development.
On June 19, 2004,
a ceremony was performed at Ontario Convention Center during which His Divine Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj
bestowed his blessing upon the proposed Chino Hills center. The event drew local government officials and Hindus from many surrounding areas. "After Swamishri's arrival into the ceremony, he performed poojan of the shila. Then, Pujya Viveksagar Swami explained the importance of mandirs. Several dignitaries, including a representative from the office of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Governor of California, were also present at this historic event. The Mayor of Ontario presented a certificate of welcome. Also present was Gary Larson, the Mayor of Chino Hills—the township of the proposed mandir site. He expressed his support of BAPS' mandir construction plan, commenting that 'what His Holiness brings is a coordination of family and family values that our community holds very sacred.'" (29) The article expressed approval of the construction plans from the local leaders present, and concluded with Swamishri's closing wish for speedy construction.
A press release from the City of Chino Hills on August 24, 2004, announced a review of the proposed Hindu Temple to be held in the gymnasium of Chino Hills High School on September 14, 2004. The press release stated that materials, including the staff report for the project, would be available prior to the meeting. This event was to be extremely well attended with people on both sides there to argue their case.
A statement posted on the project's website
on July 12, 2005
announced the involvement of OTRI-I International
, a research firm in Los Angeles that BAPS hired to "identify the core beliefs and feelings towards the construction of a Mandir (temple) in their community by the people living in the City of Chino Hills—the planned location site—and surrounding environs." (30) The research is scheduled to be finished in August 2005
As of early August 2005, the project has been approved by the Chino Hills Planning Commission, after 18 months of review, but still needs to address the unresolved matter of the height of the spires.
Despite the great resistance the project is facing from the community and the logistical barriers it is attempting to overcome, some residents of Chino Hills support the proposal and are looking forward to the greater cultural diversity it will bring to the area. Jennifer Kosareff, in a March 23, 2002 letter, writes: "Having a religious and cultural center in Chino Hills will be a great asset for the city, for the broader community, and for so many families throughout the area." (31) Jeff Harrison echoes this enthusiasm in a June 7, 2002 letter: "Please, your Honor—let us know that the city respects cultural values and decide against yet another residential development [the other option for the site]. Make us proud to be residents of the city of Chino Hills." (32)
To inform the community about the plans of the project, BAPS has made attempts to reach out to Chino Hills residents with information and an openness to questions and concerns. Letters and informational materials were sent to 10% of the city's population. The town has held meetings, as have individuals in their homes. In addition, there have been many mentions and discussions of the project in newspapers and online resources.
The issues and concerns faced by BAPS in Chino Hills are not unique to their project. They are matters that arise in many Hindu and other immigrant communities seeking to create a new place for worship and community in the US. The task of resolving the issues and creating an accepting environment is one that occurs throughout the United States in cities attempting to respond to their increasing diversity.
(1) City-data.com states that the median age in Chino Hills is below state average. In 2000, it was noted that a third of the population is under 18. (City of Chino Hills Demographic Information.) According to 2000 Census data, 85.21% of the households in Chino Hills are family households, 53.84% of which are households with children under 18 years. (United States 2000 Census. State of California, Department of Finance, Demographic Research Unit, Summary File 3 Analysis. Sacramento, California, April 2005. More information can be found here
.) There are also a fair amount of senior citizens in the community, with 10.81% of households including individuals 65 years and over.
(2) Zai Abu Bakar of the Planning Commission Office of Chino Hills, in an informal conversation. Additionally, further information on Chino Hills and its demographics may be useful in understanding the community dynamics. Incorporated in 1991 with a population of 42,000, Chino Hills is a relatively new and rapidly growing community. The population of the city is 77,819, according to the State Department of Finance
in May 2005. (City of Chino Hills Demographic Information May 2005, as published on their website
.) Chino Hills is also home to a state park, and its residents enjoy the city's natural beauty. CNN Money's Best Places to Live 2005
ranked Chino Hills, California as number 68, citing its 6 museums and 102 public golf courses within 30 miles, and its 45 libraries and 173 bars within 15 miles. (CNNMoney's Best Places to Live 2005, Chino Hills, California, ranked number 68. View the profile here
.) According to an article
in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin,
"Chino Hills is the 'safest city in San Bernardino County,' according to Mayor W.C. 'Bill' Kruger." ("Beautiful backdrop: Open space abounds in Chino Hills, where preservations takes precedence." Written by Mason Stockstill, published in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin on May 25, 2005. View the article online here
.) Reinforcing this statement, city-data.com
ranks Chino Hills as having a crime index of 108.0, much lower than the US average of 330.6. (From City-Data.com's demographical information
on Chino Hills.) Of particular interest to this report, Chino Valley is also home to a large number of churches, including many non-denominational churches, and a mosque. A semi-complete list can be found here
(3) Ranking slightly below the California average, San Bernardino County's median household income in 2000 was $42,066, in the same bracket as surrounding counties with the exception of Orange County, which has a substantially higher median. (United States 2000 Census.) Of the 18-64 year old population, 14% in San Bernardino County had a 1999 income below the poverty level. Despite these somewhat encouraging numbers, four places (with at least 100 housing units) in San Bernardino County appear on the list of "places with the 50 lowest median housing values" in the state of California. (United States 2000 Census.) However, 57.4% of the occupations for employed civilians over 15 in the county are white-collar. (United States 2000 Census.) Financially, Chino Hills is much better off than the average city in San Bernardino County. According to CNNMoney
, the median household income per year is $84,830, which is double that of the 2000 census report of the San Bernardino County and state of California median household income levels. (CNNMoney Report (see endnote 3). Note: this needs to be looked at with an understanding of inflation and the change that has occurred over the past 6 years.) In addition, CNN cites the median home price in Chino Hills as $449,246, which is substantially lower than in areas like Ranchos Palos Verdes and Manhattan Beach, but higher than in many of the immediately surrounding areas. According to an article
in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin,
"the median household income for Chino Hills is higher than that of many ritzy enclaves throughout California, including Beverly Hills, Palm Springs and Carmel-by-the-Sea." ("Beautiful backdrop: Open space abounds in Chino Hills.") The demographical information published in May 2005 by the City of Chino Hills confirms these evaluations, stating that the median household income is $86,443, as of 2002, and the average household income is $95,990, also as of 2002. (City of Chino Hills Demographic Information.) These numbers are substantially higher than those of the income levels of both San Bernardino County and California. It may also be important to note that most people (84.76%) in Chino Hills own their homes, according to the 2000 census. (United States 2000 Census.) While it appears that most people earning these high incomes commute out of the city, there are a few major employers within Chino Hills. The largest employer in Chino Hills in 2004 was the Chino Valley Unified School District
, followed by Costco and Albertson's, Inc.( City of Chino Hills Demographic Information.)
(4) Of people age 25 and over in San Bernardino County, 25% are high school graduates and 34.6% have some college or hold an AA or AS. 10.4% have a BA or BS, and 5.5% hold a master's or higher. (United States 2000 Census.) This most likely means that 75.5% of San Bernardino County residents over age 25 have completed high school. According to the statistics, Chino Hills is substantially better educated. 90% have a high school degree or higher, while 37.6% of Chino Hills residents hold a Bachelor's degree or higher (City-Data.com Demographic Information.), compared with the 15.9% in the county. In terms of educational opportunities within Chino Hills, there are three public high schools in the district: Ayala (Ruben S.) High
, which has 3,367 students, Chino Hills High
, which has 501 students, and Boys Republic High
, which has 154 students. There are two middle schools, each with approximately 1200 students, and eight elementary schools, with between 727 and 1132 students each. (City-Data.com Demographic Information.)
(5) Between 1996 and 2004, San Bernardino County's count for total legal immigration is 105,599, coming in at number nine after counties like Los Angeles and Orange. (2000 Census Report: An Overview of Californians. View the report here
.) The most popular languages other than English in San Bernardino County are Spanish and Tagalog, with 92.1% of the county's population speaking English at a fluent level. (United States 2000 Census.) Of the county's residents, 57.9% were born in California and 23.5% were born in another state, Puerto Rico, the US Islands, or to American parents while abroad. 18.6% were foreign born. (United States 2000 Census.) According to city-data.com, 22.6% of Chino Hills residents are foreign born, with 14.3% coming from Asia. (City-Data.com Demographic Information.) This puts the foreign-born population percentage of Chino Hills above both state average and San Bernardino County's average. While the census does not publish breakdowns of particular ethnicities by county, it provides more detailed information for cities. According to census information published on the city of Chino Hills website, the population of Chino Hills went from 11.5% Asian in 1990 to 22.1% Asian in 2000. In 1990, 8.4% identified as other, and in 2000 15.3% identified as either "some other" or "two or more." (City of Chino Hills Demographic Information.) AreaConnect.com's demographical information on Chino Hills, taken from the 2000 US Census, states that 56.38% of Chino Hills is white, 22.08% is Asian, and of that 22.08%, 1.98% is Asian Indian. 1.93% of the Asian population identifies as "other Asian." (AreaConnect.com's Demographical Information of Chino Hills. The profile can be viewed here
.) Indians are the fourth largest identifiable Asian community in Chino Hills, after Filipino, Chinese, and Vietnamese, outranking Japanese and Korean.
(6) BAPS website, FAQ section, question #9. Can be viewed here
(7) Ibid., question #7. Can be viewed here
(8) Ibid., question #10. Can be viewed here
(9) The Council Agenda Staff Report, September 14, 2004, available in the City of Chino Hills Planning Commission Office, 2001 Grand Ave, Chino Hills, California.
(10) BAPS Chino Hills Hindu Mandir and Cultural Center website, in a section entitled "Elements."
(11) Ibid., in a section entitled "The Project."
(12) The Council Agenda Staff Report, September 14, 2004, page 26.
(13) BAPS Chino Hills Hindu Mandir and Cultural Center website, in a section entitled "Public Appeals."
(14) The Council Agenda Staff Report.
(15) Ibid., page 8.
(19) Ibid., page 17.
(20) Ibid., page unnumbered.
(23) BAPS Chino Hills website, in a section entitled "The Site."
(24) Ibid., in a section entitled "Fiction/Fact."
(27) Ibid., in a section entitled "Letter from CHIAA."
(29) BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha website, in an event listing
(30) BAPS Chino Hills website, in a section entitled "News Media."
(31) Staff Report, page unnumbered.