BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
An associate pastor at the First Baptist Church of Palo Alto called the city “disgusting” and an “elitist s*** den of hate” in public tweets, spurring Vice Mayor Eric Filseth to say at City Council last night that he would think twice before sending children to an event at the church.
The Rev. Gregory Stevens’ Twitter account has since been taken down, but a resident sent pages of his tweets to the city, where it was posted to the city’s website with correspondence related to last night’s tense council hearing on the church’s request for a conditional use permit to act as a community center.
After a more than four-hour public hearing, the council voted 7-2 to allow the church to continue leasing space to outside tenants like the girls’ choir iSing Silicon Valley, dance groups and up to five counselors from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. with a maximum occupancy of 70 at any one time.
Councilwomen Karen Holman and Lydia Kou dissented, wanting more restrictive conditions for the tenants.
The church will be allowed to hold six special events per year with more than 70 attendees.
And in order to control traffic and parking issues that neighbors complained have caused safety issues for bicyclists, any events with more than 32 attendees must stagger their pickups and drop-offs by at least 15 minutes.
If at some point in the future the church is replaced with something other than a place of worship at 305 N. California Ave., the permit will cease to exist. The permit is also set to come up for renewal after five years.
The dispute over whether the church should become a community center seemed to be overshadowed at times last night by Rev. Stevens’ tweets.
Pastor’s role in church
Stevens has worked at the church as a full-time associate pastor for faith formation and family life since August 2015, according to the church’s website.
A Florida native, Stevens graduated from the University of South Florida before earning his master of divinity degree at the Claremont School of Theology in Southern California in May 2015.
Filseth described the tweets as “vile.”
When council members Holman and Filseth questioned him about the tweets, Stevens’ boss, the Rev. Rick Mixon, reluctantly said he was “appalled,” but that he had only been made aware of the tweets yesterday.
After some prodding from Holman, Mixon said the church would need to address the issue, and said that it’s possible that Stevens’ contract wouldn’t be renewed after it ends in August.
That may not be such a letdown to Stevens, who on Saturday afternoon posted, “I do not live in Palo Alto by choice. I cannot wait to leave! 3 months!”
On March 20, Stevens posted, “The musician bailed 30 min prior to the event. ‘I love this job.’ -Nobody,” “I can’t figure out how to grow a church. I can’t even get 3 people around a table of free food to talk about compost as a metaphor for social/personal change. #bye” and “Looking for new jobs! lol send details plz.”
Old people falling asleep in church
Stevens also expressed frustrations at elderly congregants.
“In our church council meeting the old people always fall asleep. Always. ALWAYS. FALL ASLEEP,” Stevens wrote, adding, “old people in a church council meeting = repeat everything times.”
Stevens also wrote, “I hate ‘social justice’ in Palo Alto. What a f***ing joke.”
Councilman Adrian Fine suggested the tweets were irrelevant and asked Mixon whether he thought they should have any bearing on council’s decision on the conditional use permit, to which Mixon said no.
In a dispute that erupted last summer, scores of residents spoke for and against the church’s ability to rent space.
Neighbors have complained repeatedly about noise, traffic and parking issues, while supporters of the church’s tenants have said the cheap space makes it possible for nonprofit groups to grow without getting priced out of Palo Alto.