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Judge rules in favor of diocese selling St. James the Great in L.A.

Judge rules in favor of diocese selling St. James the Great in L.A.

The Daily Pilot, in Fountain Valley, California, reports that a judge has allowed the sale of a church property to move forward after parishioners of St. James the Great in Newport Beach filed a lawsuit to at least temporarily halt the sale. A developer purchased the property for $15 million, a deal made by Bishop J. Jon Bruno and announced to the congregation in May.

Legacy Partners Residential is the buyer and plans to replace the 1940s-era church with high-end townhomes. The congregation says the sale was news to them, and besides that, according to an earlier story:

…is in violation of the original deed. The property is to be used exclusively for church purposes and “no building other than a church and appurtenances may be erected, placed or maintained thereon,” according to the legal complaint.

Ownership rights to the property transferred from the Griffith Co. to the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles in 1945. The Griffith Co. developed much of Lido Isle, beginning in the 1920s.

According to the Daily Pilot:

Judge David McEachen decided that parishioners of the Newport Beach church did not have the legal right to file a claim seeking to stop the sale since their group is not listed on the deed.

“It’s very disappointing,” parishioner Joel Bernard said. “We will continue to make the City Council aware of the concerns surrounding the transaction and appeal to the Episcopal Church.”

The diocese claims that the parish cannot prohibit the diocese from selling the property or the land being used for purposes other than a church:

Ownership rights to the property were transferred from the Griffith Co. to the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles in 1945. The Griffith Co. developed much of Lido Isle, beginning in the 1920s.

Lawyers for the diocese wrote to the court that the church in 1985 negotiated removal of the use restriction from the deed, granting the diocese the right to sell the property for other purposes.

Even with approval of the sale, rezoning is required and it could be two years before anything new is built on the site. The congregation, however, has very little time to move, according to the June 24 story:

If the court rules in favor of the diocese, Sunday would be the final service at St. James. The diocese plans to remove the pews, all stained glass windows and the cremated human remains stored in the church immediately following the service.

The parish’s history includes another property-related battle, resolved in 2013:

A group of parishioners split from the Episcopal Church in 2004 after disagreements surrounding the ordaining of a gay bishop and other issues that led St. James to affiliate with the Anglican Church.

The move launched a years-long fight over the Newport Beach property between the Anglican parish and the Episcopal diocese. The church was an Anglican parish from 2004 to 2013, when an Orange County Superior Court judge granted the property ownership rights to the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.

Posted by Cara Ellen Modisett


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Paul Powers

In the U.S. the general rule is that each party pays its own legal fees unless there’s a statute authorizing the court to award a party its attorney’s fees. This is an important factor that potential litigants must consider in deciding whether to go to court.

I hope the congregants can find a way to hold together even after the loss of their building. Perhaps the folks at the ACNA St. James can provide some guidance [that’s not meant to be a snarky suggestion]

Chris Harwood

The missing piece is probably the millions spent on lawyers. The dioceses in CA have also been getting money, including at least one loan I believe, from 815 to prop them up since the splits. Time to pay the Piper. If there are other churches nearby the people can go to and this piece is the most valuable….

Jay Croft

That doesn’t quite make sense. In court cases, doesn’t the losing side have to pay the lawyers, court costs, etc?

Chris Harwood

No, the breakaways are not paying the whole 40+ million dollars that some estimate this civil war is costing. 815 doesn’t give line item costs anymore, but TEC has given loans and grants to prop them up, and most of what the courts have awarded TEC is property, and in order to recoup the value of property you have to sell it.

I’m not sure where you’re from. I know Canada and England have rules regarding the loser paying all court costs, but that isn’t the case in the US.

Lee Schmidt

Yes, there is more to the story. The majority of the parish left the Episcopal Church in 2004 and affiliated themselves with the Anglican Church, bringing their property with them. I believe they are being punished by 815 for their removal of members and property.

Andrew Wright

Lee, as I read the material related to this, it’s very clear that the dissenting group left, there was a long court battle for the property, and the Episcopal Diocese won. I don’t see this action having anything to do with the group that left or “815” for that matter.

Subsequently, a new Episcopal Church congregation, authorized by the Diocese, was developed on site and has been growing and developing. It is this new congregation that is having their church sold out from under them by the bishop. I don’t know what piece is missing from this story to justify the bishop’s decision, but it is, on the face of it, chilling, to say the least.

Carolyn Peet

“Chilling” is a good descriptor. I’m glad I’m not the only one that senses some missing facts.

Jon White

That seems unlikely Lee, and contrary to both the story and polity of the church. The Church Center (815) has no power or ability to sell parish property. And though the congregation did experience a split about ten years ago, the property was returned to the Episcopal diocese and a mission parish, which was apparently doing quite well, has been in there for the past 18months or so. There well may be more to the story, but it’s unlikely to be anything like you’re suggesting.

Carolyn Peet

I just don’t get this at all. I get the legal part of the judge’s ruling, but my understanding is that this is a vibrant, growing, self-sufficient parish with an ASA of 150. Why were millions spent to keep the church in the Diocese, presumably for the benefit of Episcopalians, only to sell it to developers and un-house all those worshippers? There must be more to the story than I am aware of.

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