Lawsuit filed to block the sale of St James Newport Beach

A California court has been asked to block the sale of St James Newport Beach by the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles to real estate developers.

On 22 June 2015 a coalition of parishioners called the Save the St James the Great coalition filed suit in the Orange County Superior Court against the Episcopal Bishop of Los Angeles and real estate developers Legacy Partners Residential. A hearing has been scheduled before the Hon. David McEachen for 9:00 am on 24 June 2015 in the matter: 30-2015-00794789-CU-OR-CJ.

The St James lawsuit comes two years after the conclusion of a nine year legal battle between the diocese and former members over control of the property. In October 2013 the Orange County Superior Court awarded the property to the diocese. Parishioners who had remained loyal to the national Episcopal Church returned to the church and the Rev. Canon Cindy Evans Voorhees was appointed vicar by the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, Bishop of Los Angeles.

However, on 17 May 2015, Bishop Bruno informed the congregation that he had sold the church to a real estate developer who planned on knocking down the building to build 22 luxury condominiums.

In an open letter released over the weekend, Canon Voorhees said the congregation was appalled by the bishop’s plan to liquidate the oceanside church. The congregation had worked very hard to rebuild the parish over the past two years and was now financially self-sufficient. Canon Voorhees said that she had agreed to forgo a salary whilst the congregation got back on its feet, but now she was paid, and the church had a budget of approximately $530,000.

Nor did the bishop have the authority to unilaterally sell the property. Canon Voorhees, who had been active with the remnant group during the nine years of litigation, and had also served on the diocesan board and council, and currently is a director of the Corporation of the Diocese of Los Angeles, further stated the superior court had awarded trusteeship of the church properties in 2013 to the diocese, not to the bishop.

In its complaint, the Save the St James the Great coalition argues the sale violates the terms of the property deeds which state “no building other than a church and appurtenances may be erected, placed or maintained thereon.”

The sale of St. James the Great “has happened in the dark of the night. Bishop Bruno manipulated the Standing Committee and the Corporation of the Diocese to place the church in his Corporation Sole so he could have full access with no accountability,” Canon Evans Vorhees told Anglican Ink.

The church “has been stonewalled from all avenues at the diocese”, and no response to its concerns or claims has so far been forthcoming. However, “When I asked what was to become of the 150 families Bishop Bruno said they could go to other churches in the area. This, after spending 18 months of their time, talent and treasure to rebuild a viable, *growing *church,” she said.

“To some this was the second time they had lost their building; to most, who were just starting to come back to church or who are unchurched, could not understand how one man could unilaterally make this decision, especially on a church with a 70-year legacy and *the* last church near Lido Isle.”

Unless the court blocks the sale, June 28 will be the final Sunday for the congregation at St James Newport Beach. Following the service workmen will remove the pews, stained glass windows, and cremated human remains entombed in the church’s columbarium. The diocese did not respond to AI’s request for comments or clarification.

Before condominiums can be built, however, the city of Newport Beach must approve a change in the zoning of the property to allow residential construction on what is designated a non-commercial/not for profit site. That process could take up to two years, the Daily Pilot newspaper reported.

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