At-home Bible studies are allowed in San Juan Capistrano—as long as the neighbors are happy.
The Capistrano Dispatch has whipped up indignation after reporting two weeks ago that Charles and Stephanie Fromm have been fined $500 after upsetting at least one neighbor by hosting Bible studies that draw as many as 50 people twice a week.
Other media quickly picked up on the story and reported that San Juan Capistrano doesn't allow at-home Bible studies—an accusation that city officials are disputing.
In April, the Fromms received a notice from the city that they needed a conditional-use permit to host their gatherings at their Branding Iron Road residence. City Attorney Omar Sandoval said the notice was sent to the Fromms after a neighbor complained.
The city's code, he said, does not have "bright-line rules" for how many people may gather. "Enforcement depends on the zoning of the property and whether neighbors complain," he said.
"The issue continues to be, regardless of the number of persons in attendance, whether regular meetings where the public is invited, twice a week, support the policy of preserving the spacious, low-density residential character of the neighborhood," Sandoval wrote in an e-mail to Patch.
City officials are headed to court Oct. 7 to hash out the permitting issue with the Fromms. The couple has refused to apply for the permit, which would regulate parking and traffic circulation on their neighborhood street.
"How dare they tell us we can’t have whatever we want in our home,” Stephanie Fromm told the Dispatch. “We want to be able to use our home. We’ve paid a lot and invested a lot in our home and backyard … I should be able to be hospitable in my home.”
During Tuesday night's City Council meeting, several residents defended the Fromms. "Can you stop me from having 50 people over to watch football?" one resident asked.
Sandoval did not respond to Patch's request to provide specific examples of impacts to street access and parking in the Fromms' neighborhood as a result of the Bible studies.
"Note that we are not interested in trying this case to the press," he said.
City Councilman Derek Reeve said Tuesday that it was "disgusting" that the city is going to court on the matter. He also expressed ire that the council refused to take up the matter but did choose to talk about whether it was appropriate to