South Bay Islamic Center sues Lomita after being denied a renovation permit

Erika Aguilar/KPCC

Islamic Center board member Amin Momand shows reporters the little space worshipers have when praying in the small prayer room at the Islamic Center of the South Bay mosque complex.

Erika Aguilar/KPCC

Wedged in between a neighborhood and the Pacific Coast Highway is the Islamic Center of the South Bay. L.A. Members want to renovate and expand the mosque complex, but the City of Lomita denied them a rezoning application to rebuild.

Erika Aguilar/KPCC

Islamic Center board member Amin Momand stand under the tented community room where they host meals and youth group activity, braving the cold, hot and raining weather.

Erika Aguilar/KPCC

The small prayer room at the mosque complex is one of eight buildings at the Islamic Center of the South Bay. Members say having a prayer room, the washroom and the dining area under one roof would be more suitable for religious practices.

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.

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