2008– NO.10-12 (Octombrie-Decembrie, 2008 ) – VOL. 51, ISSUE 10-12
STATUS OF BUILDING PROJECT
(end of 2008)
More that 6 Months have gone by since we did not report of the Status of the Building Project of the New Church.
In fact, during the Holy Week of 2008, the pastor received an e-mail from His Eminence Archbishop Nathaniel in which His Eminence made inquiry of the same.
On Sunday, May 4 2008 the parish council (of which the majority of the building committee are also members), had a meeting to specifically discuss this issue.
On May 12, 2008, the parish council wrote a 9 pages letter to His Eminence, explaining in detail the Status of the Building Project of the New Church at that time.
Below we are presenting excerpts of the parish council's conclusions, presented to His Eminence Archbishop Nathaniel regarding the reasons why the Building Project was – ONCE AGAIN – put on-hold for an unspecified period of time, as it happened when – for the first time THE PROJECT was put ON-HOLD, during Mr.Joe Oros's Chairmanship, in 1989.
After making the statement “I understand there are no further problems for us…” His Eminence posed the question: “I do not understand what is the obstacle for beginning the project”.
In it's answer, refering the minutes of the Parish General Assembly (printed in the “Christian Life” church magazine, vol.50, no. 1-4, January-April 2008, pgs.18-22) the council stated that, it was clear that, at the above-stated Parish General Assembly, after hours of deliberations, if the parish priest, as president of the assembly, would have accepted a motion from the floor to terminate the project (as it had become viewed as unrealistic and unnecessary, and, ultimately, under the present circumstances, financially undoable), the people would have voted unanimously to terminate the project.
The parish council also stated that, through the “Christian Life” parish magazine, and via Internet, the Parish Office has kept the general community, and the parishioners in particular, informed, at all times, about the progress or lack of progress of the building project of the Holy Trinity, Los Angeles.
Following the pessimistic conclusions reached with regard to the building project during the Parish General Assembly of 2/04/2007 - see minutes -, the Parish Office further published the minutes of the last Parish Council meeting of November 11, 2007 (see: Christian Life, vol.50, no. 5-12, May-December 2007, pp.30-31), in which the Council posed the question: “ let's assume that we will have all the building approvals until the end of the year, the question that arises is how would this small, poor community, build a multi-million dollars project, and support it afterwards? ” The minutes concluded with: “… this subject will most definitely be discussed at the Parish General Assembly of February 3, 2008 ”.
At the Parish General Assembly of 02/03/2008 (“Christian Life”, vol.51, no. 1-4, January-April 2008, pp.15-16), Mr Constantin Jercan, Chairman, for and on behalf of the Building Committee, reported on the technical and legal matters of the building project still going on with the L.A. Building Department, and, additionally, also expressed extreme dissatisfaction regarding the lack of interest and participation of the community as a whole, and the church parishioners in particular, with regard to the building project. The Chairman concluded with the following: “…astazi, la aceasta Adunare Generala Parohiala, putem sa discutam mai pe indelete despre proiectul de constructie al noii biserici, insa, folosindu-ne de cuvintele dlui Grigore Birtoc, si alti membri ai comitetului de constructie, este imperativ sa se foloseasca mai mult timp de deliberare, pentru a se studia situatia, mai în aprofunzime, si a se convoca o noua Adunare Parohiala Speciala care sa discute si sa hotarasca coordonatele noului proiect de constructie…” .
It is worth mentioning the fact that at both Parish General Assemblies (2007 & 2008), Fr. Constantin encouraged the participants to “Hang in there!” and “Don't give up!”; at the very least until the church gets the building plans approved. Then the Council could go ahead and call a Special Parish Assembly to discuss and decide on the future of the building project.
So with this all in mind, we can now begin to give Your Eminence a direct answer to the question You posed: “I do not understand what is the obstacle for beginning the project.” We start by outlining a few fundamental facts regarding:
The technicalities and legal matters the building project still faces;
The present composition of the Romanian-American Orthodox Community in Southern California;
The change in the parish's membership, and therefore the resulting changes in mentality and behavior ultimately culminating in a financial inability of the parish to achieve and support a new building project at this time;
1. Building project still faces technical and legal problems from the Zoning Administration
We are not aware, nor are we interested in discovering where Your Eminence got the information that there are no further technical and legal problems for our building project. We do, however, have to categorically state that this is not the case and the information is factually incorrect: the stated problems still exist and persist to this day. After almost 6 months of wrestling with the City, the attorney were able to set an appointment with the Zoning Administrator, Mr. Dan Green, at the end of October 2007, just 2 weeks prior to his retirement from the department (November 14, 2007). Present at the meeting were the following: the Zoning Administrator, Mr. Dan Green, and his assistant (representing the Zoning Administration), and two attorneys from Holme Roberts & Owen Law Firm, Architect Garo Minassian & Fr Constantin (representing the church).
The disingenuous meeting, which exceeded 90 minutes, was cordial on its face, but substantively, very revealing to our pastor. It was during that meeting when Fr Constantin realized that all the documentation regarding our church's building project, which, incidentally, the Zoning Administrator claimed to have lost, or was deemed “impossible to be found in the City's archives”, showed-up in the hands of the Zoning Administrator's assistant, in front of everybody, then tailor-made in such a way as to fit the scope of the administrator's agenda in the meeting.
The discussions led to the point about the changes in the architectural and civil engineering plans, the compliance with all the rules and regulations of the L.A. Building Department codes, and the implementation of the “16 clearances”. At that point Fr Constantin, based on prior information provided to him by church's civil engineer, Mr. George Boghossian, raised the question of obstacle removal ( namely: the claim that the Holy Trinity Church CUP – Conditional Use Permit – is not valid after so many years; clause placed in 2005 by the Zoning Administration in the Building Department computers ), from the Building Department CPU, thus allowing our church civil engineer to take care of the “16 clearances” he was working on 3 years ago (incidentally, also acknowledged by the Zoning Administration as a must before all plans could be approved by the Zoning Administrator).
To Father's question regarding the “removal of aforementioned obstacle” ( namely: Holy Trinity Church CUP – Conditional Use Permit – is not valid after so many years ), from the Building Department CPU, the Zoning Administrator led everyone to believe that there is “no such a thing in the Building Department CPU”. Everyone looked askance at Father for making such a “strange statement” (in other words, “not knowing what he was talking about!”) and passed on to accepting the Zoning Administrator's statement that if there were any problems with any state and/or governmental agencies regarding our church's building project, they should e-mail him (he, and his assistant provided everyone with a business card) and he would take care of the business personally.
Architect Garo Minassian made the architectural plan changes within days. Mr. George Boghossian, the civil engineer, did likewise with the engineering plans within weeks, but when he re-submitted the clearances, they were not accepted due to the fact that the Zoning Administrator had not changed the status of the CUP from “non-valid” to “valid” in the Building Department's computers, as he had promised.
It is important to note that this took place concurrently with the start of the Holiday Season (first Thanksgiving, and then later on Christmas), Father became extremely busy with Christmas, New Years season and Epiphany, then January 2008 house blessings; then parish administration (i.e. parish lists preparation for the Episcopate approval; preparation for the 2008 Parish General Assembly' reports, finances, budgets, etc.) took priority in Father's administration schedule; followed by the after election documentation preparation for the Episcopate office; preparation to preside over the San Francisco Holy Resurrection parish special assembly (February 10, 2008) and the documentation for the Episcopate afterwards; then gathering of materials for the printing of the “Christian Life” parish magazine, vol.51, no. 1-4, January-April 2008, the services during Holy Lent, Pascha and Bright Week, and all the parish activities, up to present.
Meanwhile, towards the end of 2007, Mr. George Boghossian, the church's civil engineer, tried to once again take care of the “16 clearances” in order to be able to finalize, and later-on submit the “civil engineer's plans”, together with the “architectural plans” but to no avail. Nothing had change in the Building Department Computers. The “obstacle” had not been removed (IT IS STILL THERE TODAY: MAY 12, 2008). All in all, nothing had changed since June 2007. As of March 2008, when he stopped effectively functioning as our church's civil engineer, he wasn't able to accomplish any of the clearances, due to Zoning Administrator's “ OBSTACLES ”, still registered in the L.A. Building Department CPU.
Unfortunately, in February 2008 Mr. George Boghossian was diagnosed with cancer, going through eight chemotherapy sessions. During this time (February-April, 2008) Mr. Boghossian's son Eric, and some members of his family took care of George's professional obligations. Fr Constantin was assured that the “office will take care of all matters of the Holy Trinity”, regarding the building project, if only a single one paragraph-letter would be issued by the Zoning Administrator's office stating that the Church's CUP, issued in 1987, was still valid, and therefore, documentation for the 16 clearances could be accepted so as to prepare for the submission of the architectural and civil engineering plans to the L.A. Building Department.
As of today, May 12, 2008, the above-stated “obstacle” still has not been removed from the Building Department's computers, the clearances have not been processed, and Your Eminence's statement (…” I understand there are no further problems for us”) is not valid; in fact, it's quite the opposite. Nothing has changed since June 2007.
This once again gives us reason to state that: We do not know, nor are we interested in knowing, where Your Eminence got the information that there are no further technical and legal problems for the building project; but we know otherwise: the stated problems still persist and exist, even up to this time when we write this to letter to Your Eminence - TODAY: MAY 12, 2008 .2. Present composition of the Romanian-American Orthodox Community in Southern California Two (2) Romanian Orthodox parishes were established in about 40 years (1939-1981)
Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox Church (founded 1939)
(ROEA, a parish under OCA, Archpastor HE Archbishop Nathaniel)
Presently served by: V Rev Fr Constantin Alecse
Mailing address: PO Box 65853, Los Angeles CA 90065-0853; (818) 365 4274
Services held at: 3315 Verdugo Rd, Los Angeles CA 90065-2844
Holy Archangels Michael & Gabriel ; (founded around 1970)
( ROMARCH , a parish under ROMARCH - Romanian Archdiocese, Archbishop Nicolae)
Presently served by V Rev Fr Mihai Carpeniseanu Mailing address: 14833 San Jose Street, Mission Hills, CA, 91345-2130; Tel/Fax: 818-361-3743; Services held at: 4102 Hickman Drive, Torrance, CA, 90504; Tel/Fax: 310-214-8336
Six (6) more Romanian parishes were established in 20 years ( 1982-2002)
St. John the Baptist Church (f ounded in 1982) ( OCA – under the Bulgarian Diocese) Presently served by Rev. Hieromonk Teodosie (Bordieanu) Mailing address: 11618 Kiowa Ave #101; Los Angeles, CA 90049; Tel : 626-808-1337
Services held at: 6301 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048; Office: 323-692-0556
Falling Asleep of the Ever Virgin Mary Church ( Founded 1986)
(ROEA, a parish under OCA, Archpastor HE Archbishop Nathaniel)
Presently served by V Rev Fr Cornel Avramescu Mailing address: 555 S Walnut St, Anaheim CA 92802-1450 Services held at: 555 S Walnut St, Anaheim CA 92802; Phone (714) 776 1972
St Anne Romanian Orthodox Church (Founded 1987)
(ROEA, a parish under OCA, Archpastor HE Archbishop Nathaniel)
Presently served by: Rev Fr Andrew Lesko
Mailing address: 626 Greenwood Ct, Redlands CA 92373-5784; Phone (909) 798 5944
Services held at: First Christian Church of Pomona (Room 24)
1759 N Park Ave, Pomona CA 91768
St. Paraskiva Romanian Orthodox Church (f ounded in 1987)
( OCA – under the Bulgarian Diocese)
Services by: Rev. Fr. Simion Poptelecan
Mailing address: 12615 8th St., Yucaipa, CA 92399; Tel/Fax 909-446-1238
Services held at: Initially in Montebello, then Pasadena, and currently, Riverside, CA
Holy Archangels Michael & Gabriel Church ( Founded 1988)
(ROEA, a parish under OCA, Archpastor HE Archbishop Nathaniel)
Services by: Rev Fr Gabriel Liviu Popa
Mailing address: 69582 Ridgeway Ave, Cathedral City CA 92234-1105; Phone (760) 770 4917
Services held at: 590 Vella Rd, Palm Springs CA 92264-1456
Holy Cross Mission ( Founded 2001);
(ROEA, a parish under OCA, Archpastor HE Archbishop Nathaniel)
Services by: Rev Fr Iustin Capsa
Mailing address: 9155 Judicial Dr Apt 5318, San Diego CA 92122-4669; (619) 303 3167
Services held at: Our Lady of Kazan Russian Orthodox Church
3703 Central Ave, San Diego CA 92105-2506
Five (5) more Romanian Churches in 5 years (2002-2007)
(4 Orthodox + 1 Greek-Catholic)
Elevation of the Holy Cross (founded in 2003) ( ROMARCH – Romanian Archdiocese, under Archbishop Nicolae) Services by: V. Rev. Archim. Nikodim Bibart Mailing address: 1534 N. Formosa Ave, Los Angeles, CA, 90046-3681 Services at: 7501 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood CA, 90046-2813 Phone: 323-850-8072
St. Andrew Romanian Orthodox Mission (founded in 2006) ; Rev. Viorel Vasile Visovan ( OCA – under Bulgarian Diocese) Mailing address: 1932 N Wilton Pl, Los Angeles, CA, 90068; Phone: 323-463-0560; Services at: 11921 Saticoy St, North Hollywood, CA 91605
St. Patrick Mission (founded in 2003); Rev. Minas Sarchizian ( ROMARCH – Romanian Archdiocese, under Archbishop Nicolae) Mailing address: 14314 Burbank Boulevard Apt. 202, Shermank Oaks, CA, 91401-4811; Phone: 818-376-0049; Services at - St. Martin in the Fields Episcopal Church: 7136 Winnetka Avenue Winnetka, CA, 91306
St. Vladimir Ukrainin Orthodox Church (since 2004 services are held entirely in Romanian) - Ukrainin Orthodox Church in USA - Services by: Rev. Vasile Sauciur (from Romania) officiating also for Bassarabian-Romanians; Services held at: 4025 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90029-3607, Tel: (323) 665-7604
St Mary's Romanian Greek-Catholic Mission (Byzantine-Romanian Eparchy of Canton, Bishop John Michael Botean) Services by: Rev. Catalin Tamaian, (installed in 2003) Services held at Monastery of the Angels, 1977 Carmen Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90068; Phone (805) 988-7895 – Web-page: http://www.romaniancatholic.org
Between 1980-1989 a great number of Romanian immigrants settled in Southern California, and from the above information, one could easily grasp why in 1980, when there were only 3 Romanian Orthodox Churches in Southern California - Holy Trinity being the oldest and the largest of them - there was a real need to build a new Church in Los Angeles .
3. The change in the parish's membership, and therefore the resulting changes in mentality and behavior ultimately culminating in a financial inability of the parish to achieve and support a new building project at this time
In September 1982, Fr Constantin was appointed as parish priest of the Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox Church. The parish had a membership of some 200 parishioners, older people of satisfactory financial means, and who for many years contemplated starting a new project; building a new church and facilities up to $600,000.
Most of the parishioners attended the church services, and other cultural activities in great numbers. On a regular Sunday, some 100-150 people were in church. The church's back doors leading to the large hall had to be open every single Sunday, to accommodate all the worshippers. These Romanian-Americans were also generous donors and supporters of the existing church, with the intent of building a new church.
During 1980-1989 many Romanians immigrated to California. The Church became a “Little Romania” for them. There were only 3 Romanian Orthodox Churches in Southern California (Holy Trinity being the oldest and the largest of them); there was a real need to build a new Church.
In 1983, the first year of Fr Constantin's pastorship at the Holy Trinity Church, the Parish Council, understanding the need for a new bigger church, decided to appoint a feasibility study committee to consider if there was need of a new church, and if the community had the financial capability to build and support a new Church.
During the next 2 years (1984-1986), the committee diligently considered all the factors, and decided in favor of purchasing a new property of 2-3 acres, on which to build a new church, a Romanian Center (hall) and all the needed facilities.
In 1983, the church inherited 3 properties from Joseph and Pearl Paraschiva Brezean (in La Canada, Montrose and timber land in Arkansas) on the condition that both donors were taken care of until death by the church. Joseph passed away that same year, and the church found itself in courts, entangled in litigations by some unknown relatives of Joseph Brezean. Subsequently, the church lost the share of Joseph Brezean. Pearl Brezean was taken care of by the church until her death in 1988.
From Pearl Brezean's share of La Canada & timberland in Arkansas, the church received a net donation of close to $ 400,000.00 (the bulk amount of the building fund accounts).
In 1987, the Parish General Assembly voted the purchase of the Sunland property; a 7.9 acres row land, for the amount of $ 235,000.00, where the new project was to be built.
Because the newly acquired property was in a “agricultural/residential” area, it took the church over a year of public hearings until the Los Angeles Building Department issued the Conditional Use Permit. During 1988-1989 the architectural plans were drawn, the CUP was in place, and the community was ready to start building, if and when funds became available.
In 1989, national and international events, including but not limited to the first Gulf War and the collapse of communism in Easter Europe affected the American economy. Many big companies from California moved out to other States with lower or no corporate taxes; therefore many people from California, including Romanians, went were the work was, and subsequently moved out of this State to other States like Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Nevada and the like.
During that same period of time (1980-1989) many of the church parishioners and supporters passed away. After 1989, the collapse of communism in Romania, many older church parishioners and supporters chose to repatriate, re-joining their families in Romania from where they emigrated during the Communist regime.
Unfortunately, by 1990 the cost of building a new structure had doubled in comparison to 1980. The $600,000 predicted cost for a new church project in 1982-1984, would have cost over $ 1,000,000 in 1990.
Considering all these facts, as well as miscellaneous other factors, the Building Committee decided to put the whole building project “on hold”. No building activities took place for more than 10 years.
In 2002, considering the pledged substantial donation from the Moldovita Foundation, as well as the values of the church's real estate assets, the new Building Committee decided to reactivate the building project. During 2002-2005, all the building architectural plans were finalized, construction bids were sought and accepted from six different building companies, including grading companies. The 2005 estimated building cost for the project: $3,500,000 to $ 4,500,000.00
Unfortunately, as it has been reported time and time again to the community via the “Christian Life” magazine, through Internet, and reports at the general parish assemblies, in June of 2005, the church encountered a grave and potentially damaging hurdle from the Los Angeles County Zoning Administration office; the CUP was deemed invalid. For almost 2 years thereafter, nothing could be done to revive the project, until last year, June 2007, when the Holme Roberts & Owen Law Firm was hired, and when we believed that we were able to finally enter a new phase. (What happened afterwards is also well-known, and has been adequately expounded upon in the first part of this document.)
Since 1990, and up to the present, the cost of living in California has skyrocketed. Real estate prices have quadrupled, and many young families have moved out of California. And despite the church's best efforts to attract the new generation, fewer and fewer young people have shown an active interest in joining the church or participating in the church services. In addition, the taxes on everything, including properties, insurance, transportation, and gasoline have doubled, tripled, and in certain cases, even quadrupled, while church donations and participation in church fund-raising events have diminished substantially.
From the construction point of view, during the last 15 years (1990-2005), construction costs have tripled, newer, stricter building codes have been imposed by the Building Department, and the various professionals' fees (architects, city taxes, etc) have been raised.
Meanwhile, most of the church participants have shown no interest in a new building project. Compared to 1982-1984, when the contemplated building cost of the project was $600,000, 25 years later, in 2008, the cost to build that same project will exceed $6,000,000.00, while the value of the real estate assets has diminished about 30% compared with 3 years ago (2005).
As it stands, the church presently has just over $600,000 in the banks. This is only 10% of the total cost necessary to complete the project, and in fact is only 30% of the cost of the grading alone (estimated at $ 1,800,000.00 including the retaining walls).
From the point of view of the community's structure and composition, during the last 15 years (1990-2005) most of the older parishioners, or the church's “bread and butter” donors have passed away. Additionally, fewer and fewer immigrants come from Romania; most of the younger generation leaving for college never comes back, and finally, there is less participation at the church services. All of this translates into substantially reduced donations and contributions, which detrimentally affect the church's bottom line with regard to its current operating costs, not to mention further expansion and building commitments.
To graphically illustrate this point, we underline a few recent fund-raising events: at the church dinner of Sunday March 30, 2008 only about 60 people attended (net profit: $500.00); at the donated Fish dinner of Sunday of the Entry into Jerusalem Feast-Day, April 20 2008, some 70 people attended (donations received $1,200); Easter banquet, April 27, 2008, less than 100 adults attended (net profit $ 1,400.00); at Mother's Day dinner, May 11, 2008 some 60 participants (net profit under $400.00). Most of the parishioners did not attend any of the stated events, and yet some are still wondering: “What does the Parish Council do to raise funds?”. However, if asked to volunteer for occasional church activities, or even to undertake fund-raising activities, we often receive the same answers: “We have no time…!”, “We have to be with families and friends…!”, etc.
For reasons known only to them, some parishioners of this church attend other Orthodox Churches in the area (Greek, Bulgarian, OCA, Serbian, Ukrainian, even other Romanian churches) and even go as far as having occasional services performed there like: weddings, baptisms, anniversaries etc, thereby choosing to financially support those churches over their own home parish.
Yet, we hear time and again, the same questions raised: “What's new with the building project?”; “When do we start?”, etc. We hardly ever hear the other legitimate lines of questioning, however: “How much will the new project cost?”, “Do we have enough funds for such a project?”, “When was, if ever, the last time I made a donation to church?”, and finally, “How often do I attend the church services and other church related activities?”. We feel that these types questions would be much better suited to constructively advance the conversation with regard to building a new project.
After 1989, the Romanians and American-Romanians, at least in our community, diminished their ties with our church, but strengthen their ties with the churches in their Motherland's villages and cities. They make more contributions to those churches, than our church.
In summary :
Even assuming that as of today, May 12, 2008 : all building approvals have been obtained; all the building plans have been stamped and finalized; all the building permits have been secured, and no other obstacles remain (which we emphatically emphasize is NOT the case), the Parish Council, at the Building Committee's recommendation, has decided to not start building under these present circumstances, for all of the aforementioned reasons we have expounded upon in the previous paragraphs.
This decision is taken, after all facts and factors have been carefully considered, including, but not limited to: the American economy is in poor shape, going towards a potential recession; many people have lost and are losing their jobs and homes; the church membership has declined considerably due to death of genuine supporters, and the indifference of the young generation towards spirituality is greater than ever before; fewer and fewer people attending church services and other parish functions; and finally, the costs of basic commodities have been continuously rising since 1988 ( i.e. gasoline cost in 1988: less than $1.00/gallon compared to 2008: over $4.00/gallon; insurance, property taxes, etc.)
This has become abundantly apparent in recent years, and more so in the last 5 years as the church has been unable to meet its annual budget, instead being forced each year to borrow from the building fund accounts. This is problematic because as it stands now, the church building fund account has in its vestry less than 10% of the construction cost. Further depletions will make future construction much more difficult, if not outright impossible.
Under this scenario, it would be ill advised to contemplate the process of building a new church at this time.
This decision will be reconsidered if and when the above stated conditions change, and more favorable circumstances will ensure the financial capabilities of the church to not only build a new project, but to further financially support the currently existing church's quarters and facilities.
On behalf of the Parish Council and the Building Committee
Livia Ecaterina Literat
Parish Council President
Building Committee Chairman
* * * * * *
This document is circulated with the knowledge BUT NOT THE ENTIRE APPROVAL NOR ENDORSEMENT of Fr Constantin Alecse, parish priest of the Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox ChurchP.S. NOW, at the beginning of December 2008 we have learned from the US governmental officials that OFFICIALLY, WE ARE IN RECESSION. It is not the best time to think of “STARTING BUILDING NEW PROJECTS”. Not Churches for sure!
Viaţa Creştină - alegeţi versiunea dorită