Late Night: Wine and Mega-Church Clash in Temecula’s Vineyards

It’s evangelicals versus wineries in a Southern California battle for land use, as churches seek to alter the environment of Temecula’s  American Viticultural Area. An AVA is  a designated wine grape-growing region, as defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), United States Department of the Treasury. Temecula is located in Riverside County, about 90 minutes  equidistant from Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego Countries.

Thanks to its location in an inland valley and the decades of  dedication by vintners, the Southern California burg of Temecula has gradually grown in recognition as a California wine producing area, and a tourist destination. The first vineyard was established by the padres of Mission San Juan Capistrano, 18 miles west of Temecula, in 1820, but commercial wine production began in 1968. The AVA was granted in 1984, and now there are 42 wineries on 33,000 acres in the Temecula Valley, which is located just east of Temecula’s city center. Within that area 5,000 acres have been designated as a C/V (Citrus/Vineyard) zone.

Tomorrow, August 22, the Riverside Planning Commission will address this long-fermenting issue.  A zoning ordinance, adopted in 1994, prohibits the building of  houses of worship and other non-commercial, non-agricultural ventures in the AVA and C/V zones. And at least one church wants that changed, Calvary Chapel Bible Fellowship in Temecula, which operates without a permit in the AVA; the church was built before current zoning went into effect. Calvary Chapel Bible Fellowship is seeking to expand their campus to include more parking lots and a K-8 school with a playground, and has launched an offensive, including urging their flock to write the Riverside Planning Commission and the Country Board of Supervisors, as well as attending the Planning Commission meeting on August 22. Chick-fil-A will be providing Wednesday’s lunch for the Calvary Chapel cavalry.

Along with Chik-fil-A, Advocates for Faith and Freedom, a Christian rights legal group is rallying for the cause:

Advocates for Faith and Freedom, a local nonprofit representing Christian interests, is saying it will file a federal lawsuit against the county if that proposed provision is upheld….Advocates for Faith and Freedom is not at all shy about filing lawsuits, but this maybe a little preemptive considering at a previous public hearing the majority of the Riverside County Planning Commission expressed distaste for the provision and asked staff members to come back with provisions that would allow churches in Wine Country…

On Wednesday, commissioners will have three options to choose from on that front: either continue to disallow churches, allow them, or disallow them except for Calvary Chapel, which already has a church (and plans to expand) there.

The reason the county had proposed disallowing churches and other non-wine-related institutes is plain and simply a matter of a demand on land. It’s way more expensive to start a vineyard, produce wine and sell it than it is it to build a nonprofit, bottom line.

The ongoing battle has been raging since at least 2010:

Confident the Temecula Valley wine-grape region’s strict zoning limits would protect that view, [Ray Falkner] built a multimillion dollar banquet hall with floor-to-ceiling windows peering across a gorge to a nearby vineyard. Now he’s worried that vantage could be ruined by a Christian congregation’s request to change the region’s zoning so it can build on part of the vineyard.

Falkner’s property has become the front line of a bitter divide between churches and growers in Temecula’s wine country, where vintners fear a push to allow more houses of worship would hurt views, limit wine sales and cause conflicts between grape growers and congregations.

“We are in an economic development zone specifically targeted with the mission of being able to enhance the development of new wineries and the growth of existing wineries,” Falkner said. “How does a church help that mission?” …

State regulations [bar] the sale of alcohol in the “immediate vicinity” of places of worship. That limit is open to interpretation, but vintners feared an influx of churches could stop them from selling wine and opening tasting rooms, where many small operators do most of their business.

The  Calvary Chapel Bible Fellowship is part of the Calvary Church empire, a widespread evangelical congregation that believes in the Trinity, the inerrancy of the Bible, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, placing them between Fundamentalism and Pentecostalism.  Calvary Chapel’s founder, Chuck Smith, predicted the end of the world would come in 1981. Though they claim to be non-denominational and to have no legal or financial ties linking the different Calvary Chapel worship sites, Calvary Chapel has its own Bible college and 50 affiliated campuses throughout the world, and to meet the theological definition of a denomination. Calvary Chapel is currently facing charges that they are permitted special access to Camp Pendleton, the U.S. Marine Base in Southern California, and even more creepily, of child molestation in their ranks:

A Calvary Chapel church pastor and youth soccer coach has been arrested for allegedly picking up an 8-year-old girl for a play date with one of his five daughters but instead driving her to a Huntington Beach park, molesting her and giving her $40 not to say anything.

She did.

Christopher Raymond Olague, 39, of Westminster, was booked into the Huntington Beach city jail on suspicion of committing a lewd act on a child less than 14 years of age and preventing/dissuading a witness.


Christopher Joseph Guardado, a 48-year-old Garden Grove man and volunteer Bible teacher at Calvary Chapel Pacific Coast in Westminster, is sitting in Theo Lacy Jail on suspicion of molesting two girls under the age of 14.

He was arrested on July 12 and is being held in lieu of $1 million bail.

That’s just in Southern California. Here’s Idaho:

Two North Idaho churches are accused of concealing and protecting a known child predator who sexually assaulted boys in both congregations, according to a lawsuit filed last week in Kootenai County District Court. The two churches are part of an international fellowship of nondenominational churches based in Santa Ana, Cali. [La Figa says: That would be Calvary Chapel. The docs are here]. Calls to both churches were not returned Friday…

Their lawsuit alleges the churches knew or should have known Iglesias was a child predator because years before, a Calvary Chapel in California denied him access to children because he had been convicted as a minor of improper sexual conduct with a younger boy.

In addition, Iglesias had been recalled from a religious mission for North Country Chapel at an orphanage in Thailand.

The plaintiffs allege the churches acted in concert with Iglesias to hide his history of pedophilia.

(Calvary Chapel’s mishandling of sexual abuse by its pastors doesn’t really bear on CCBF’s expansion, but it does give some insight into Calvary Chapel culture and lack of judgement).

There are two basic reasons to restrict houses of worship in the Temecula region: The sensitive micro-climate that makes it possible for Temecula to grow grapes; and the county’s funding through property taxes.

Churches, especially mega-churches, which is  the status CCBF seem to aiming for, and other places of worship need parking lots. Parking lots are asphalt. Asphalt creates heat pockets.

One argument for building more churches is that weddings are held throughout Temecula Wine Country in banquet halls and hotels, so why not have more churches? Um, because some people don’t want to get married in churches.

Houses of worship are non-profit and pay substantially lower rates of property taxes than residential or commercial properties, which means that the county would lose money needed to maintain services and infrastructure.

In March of 2011 CCBF bought land and according to the website Protect Wine Country:

 began illegally (i.e. without a grading permit) removing the decades old vineyard overlooked by Falkner Winery and its Pinnacle Restaurant.

(Side note: If the land was for sale, concerned citizens should have bought it!)

The CCBF also stopped watering the remaining vines in the vineyard, hoping they would be granted permission to expand the church and build a daycare center and kindergarten through 8th grade school. The church’s proposed plans will not comply with 75% acre planted requirements imposed under zoning.

Federal and State law prevent vineyard owners from applying regulated substances necessary to protect vineyards within a quarter mile radius of schools. Calvary Bible fellowship’s large  unpermitted campus, with its vast parking lots, sits across from Temecula’s oldest commercial vineyard, now owned by Maurice Car’rie Winery, and about a tenth of a mile away from the Falkner Winery where wedding are held.  There is a push by environmentalists to expand the anti-chemical radius  to 1/2 mile, which would effectively prevent a number of wineries from  producing. No production and the land is useless–it could take years for land to be qualified as organic or biodynamic, and in the meantime, owners are losing money–unless, of course, housing developments are put in.

The State Alcohol Board of Control requires all licensed sales of alcohol have of setback of 200-600 feet from a place of worship, youth outdoor facility or school, and thus the potential for new wineries could be prevented from opening by the influx of  churches and their related schools, whose locations prevent the growing of grapes.

Meanwhile there are over 60 churches in Temecula proper, as well as Calvary Chapel K-12 located just a 20 minute drive from CCBF which is still accepting enrollment for the 2013 school year; and a Calvary Chapel Christian Academy which provides the ministry a home school for high schoolers. Why does CCBF need to expand its school? Or expand at all unless they have something else afoot….?

And as for the argument that since so many people get married in Temecula Wine Country, why not have more churches?  Because um, many people choose not to be married in churches, and having more  churches won’t convince them otherwise.

CCBF senior pastor Clark Van Wick has thoughtfully provided a list of email addresses of planning commissioners and county supervisors so concerned citizens can express their views on the matter. If you have an opinion on the importance of small businesses, the environment, viticulture, and family farms, and dislike the idea of large asphalt parking lots destroying a county’s tax base, well, now you know who to contact. The meeting begins at 9 am west coast time.

Mary Stark, Planning Commission Secretary
County of Riverside Administrative Center
4080 Lemon Street, 12th Floor
P.O. Box 1409,
Riverside, CA 92502
Phone: 951-955-7436

fax:        951-955-1811
Riverside County Planning Commission:
Write separately: “Attention” each Planning Commissioner

Commissioner John Roth, District 1

Commissioner John Snell, District 2

Commissioner John Petty, District 3

Commissioner Jim Porras, District 4

Commissioner Jan Zuppardo, District 5



County Administrative Center
4080 Lemon Street – 5th Floor
Riverside, California 92501
Bob Buster, Dist. 1, ph: 951-955-1010, fax: 955-1019
John Tavaglione, Dist. 2, ph: 951-955-1020, fax: 955-2362
Jeff Stone, Dist.3, ph: 951-955-1030, fax: 955-2194
John Benoit, Dist. 4, ph: 951-955-1040, fax: 955-2194
Marion Ashley, Dist. 5, ph: 951-955-1050, no fax given.
[Huge hat tip: Nelsy Rodriguez, Press-Enterprise. Her ongoing coverage is awesome!]
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Lisa Derrick

Lisa Derrick

Los Angeles native, attended UC Berkeley and Loyola Marymount University before punk rock and logophilia overtook her life. Worked as nightclub columnist, pop culture journalist and was a Hollywood housewife before writing for and editing Sacred History Magazine. Then she discovered the thrill of politics. She also appears frequently on the Dave Fanning Show, one of Ireland's most popular radio broadcasts.