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May 21, 2003

Church for the deaf is told to hit the road

From: Riverside Press Enterprise, CA - May 21, 2003

RIVERSIDE: Supervisors allow Caltrans to condemn the site to make room for freeway work.


RIVERSIDE - A church for the deaf in the way of freeway construction was condemned by Caltrans and the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, despite warnings from church leaders that the move could fracture the 40-member congregation.

Pastor Tom Mather read a detailed letter to the board outlining his fears that Caltrans would not pay enough to relocate the Calvary Deaf Chuch, which includes a church, parsonage, duplex and house occupied by deaf residents.

"Caltrans wants to give money to help begin building a church, but they don't want to replicate what we have," Mather said.

Supervisors, however, voted unanimously to allow Caltrans to condemn the property, setting up a confrontation that could lead to a lawsuit if the church, part of the Assemblies of God, is not satisfied with Caltrans' final offer.

"If they're not successful, the courts will ultimately decide," Supervisor John Tavaglione said.

The church supports the $295 million road project, which includes replacing the tangled clover-leaf interchange at Interstate 215 and Highway 60 with more simple entrance and exit ramps. The church's front door is about 20 feet from a planned bridge column. Construction is scheduled to start in November.

Caltrans must provide fair market value for the 149 disturbed properties, and help relocate business or residents, public affairs manager Rose Melgoza said.

"We have to be very careful using taxpayer dollars," she said. "It's our goal to find something that's suitable, but we may have to come to a compromise that can accommodate the tenants and the church."

Mather has estimated it would cost $4 million to relocate the church and said that Caltrans has offered less than half of that.

The church does not want to fall into debt, because it may not be able to offer discounted rent for deaf and deaf-related people, leaders said.

Church members do not want their three tenants, a deaf former homeless man and two single mothers, separated from the facility.

"If I lived at a different place, I could feel lost," said Marjorie McCarthy, speaking through a deaf interpreter. She has five children, three of them deaf. She moved to the church grounds seven years ago after her husband died. "I don't know what it would be like out there."

Nearly 20 church members attended Tuesday's board meeting, many watching an interpreter to follow the discussions.

The church, located at 1707 W. La Cadena Drive, was founded in 1956. More than half its members are deaf. People come from as far away as Victorville and Temecula, Mather said.

"The deaf are very proud to have their own church," member Connie Henes said.

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