Officials of a Muslim center in the city of Lomita want to renovate and expand their mosque. A City Council vote stood in the way. Members of the congregation are arguing in a federal lawsuit that Lomita is discriminating against them.
Inside the low-ceilinged prayer room of the Islamic Center of South Bay, Iraj Ershaghi stands tall. The mosque has operated for 25 years in small buildings that look like single-story motels.
"We have plenty of land here," Ershaghi says. "All we want [is] to make sure we demolish this building, bring all of the washroom areas and the dining room area in one integrated building."
Two years ago the Islamic Center applied for a zoning change to build a two-story mosque. The city planning commission approved it, but after a contentious public hearing, the Lomita City Council denied the plan.
City attorney Christi Hogin says that vote had nothing to do with religion.
"When you look right at it, this is just an odd-shaped lot with a big development that’s an assembly use," says Hogin, "in a neighborhood where you have to get people to park and move them in and out."
Attorneys for the Islamic Center say the plans would have improved parking. The federal Justice Department began investigating the City Council's decision last year.
Since then, the Islamic Center has purchased another residential lot adjacent to its mosque complex. The Lomita city attorney says that could help convince the City Council to approve the rebuilding plan.
Correction: The man in the photos was initially misidentified.