Church loses tenants following zoning dispute with city

First Baptist Church, 305 N. California Ave., Palo Alto
First Baptist Church, 305 N. California Ave., Palo Alto

Daily Post Staff Writer

Several community groups that rented space at the First Baptist Church of Palo Alto have moved out since neighbors’ noise, traffic and parking complaints led the city to order their removal, the Rev. Rick Mixon told the Post.

The Palo Alto Philharmonic and several folk and tango dance groups have left, but all have expressed interest in returning once the church obtains the proper permit.

The New Mozart School of Music moved out last month and has set up shop in a much more expensive space in the College Terrace neighborhood, at 2100 El Camino Real.

The church could lose $60,000 to $70,000 in revenue this year from tenants having to pack up, Mixon said.

First Baptist charges a base rate of $2.19 per square foot, a dirt-cheap rate that allows nonprofit programs and community groups to afford to operate in Palo Alto. It also accounts for about $110,000 to $120,000, or one-third of the church’s annual revenue.

The iSing Silicon Valley girls choir, which retired San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young threw his support behind at a City Council meeting in August, is still operating at the church. Young’s two daughters sing with the choir, which brings together girls age 5 to 18.

The church applied for a conditional use permit on Jan. 19. Mixon, who has served as senior pastor at the church since 2006, said the city hadn’t told him when to expect a response.
“It’s just all kind of in limbo,” Mixon said.

The conditional use permit would allow each tenant — including the Peninsula Macrobiotic Community, the art and language toddler class Children of Bisheh, and two therapists who work with adolescents — to forego the lengthy, expensive permitting process on their own.

Church hopes fees will be waived

The church requested a fee waiver for the conditional use permit application because it was submitted under duress and protest, Mixon said, but he hasn’t received a response to that request. If the fee waiver is denied, the application could cost thousands of dollars.

A few new groups have also begun renting space at the church, which Mixon described only as “some small activities.”
The city ordered the church’s tenants to vacate their space on the grounds that the church, like most of the city, is in a single-family residential district.

Other churches supplement their revenue by renting space to community groups, but the city typically enforces the code upon receiving complaints.

The 100-member church, which is almost 70 years old, once had a congregation of 800. Neighbors say the dance groups create too much noise at their social events and parents dropping off and picking up students have worsened the neighborhood’s traffic and street parking supply.

Some have pointed out that the new bike lane on the east side of North California Avenue wiped out much of the neighborhood’s street parking. The church has been wrongly blamed for that loss of parking, neighbor Ron Wilensky said in August.