New Harvest Christian Fellowship is under the leadership of Pastor Ignacio Torres. The Church, located on Main Street in Old Town Salinas for 22 years, seeks to spread the Gospel in the community, plant churches, and support international missionary work. In March 2018 the church—prompted by the growth of their congregation—purchased a larger building directly across the street which would accommodate their worship services and children’s programs concurrently.
A City official informed Pastor Torres that the zoning code amendment would only be approved if the Church gave up the entire storefront of the building for commercial retail use. When Pastor Torres explained such an agreement would inhibit the Church’s ability to practice their faith, the official told Torres to expect a fierce battle that he “could not win.” Torres replied, “The City better be ready for a David and Goliath type of fight. And we all know how that turned out.” In August 2018 the City Planning Commission denied the amendment, and the Church appealed that decision to the City Council.
PJI’s Staff Attorney, Dennis Faigal, sent a legal opinion to the Council to lay out the Church’s rights. Faigal, who is based out of PJI’s San Jose office, represented the Church at the November 2018 City Council meeting. The City Council adamantly defended the “Vibrancy Plan” and held that allowing religious gatherings on the ground floor would lead to “blight,” not vibrancy. The Church’s new building remains unused and unqualified for tax exemption, leaving them with an annual property tax of over $11,000.
Brad Dacus, president of PJI, commented, “The City’s absurd description of the Church and the unacceptable denial of religious assembly will be challenged in court. This space limitation on New Harvest burdens their exercise of religion and their ability to include everyone who wishes to attend their services.”