Images provided by Jessica Christian and The Chronicle.
Fremont is known to be a very diverse and safe city, but MiaoLan Lee, religious leader of the Temple of 1001 Buddhas (located in the Mission San Jose District), filed a lawsuit in June against the city due to racial, religious, and gender discrimination she alleges she has been facing for years. The city claims that Lee built multiple buildings without any permits, which goes against the city’s need for environmental safety due to the potential for collapse when an earthquake occurs. The city also says that the building has bad ventilation, lighting, sanitation facilities, and insulation, which threatens safety standards. Lee’s land use lawyer, Tal Finney, has spent thousands of dollars to get permits for all the structures, but there is still a dispute between the Temple and Fremont’s guidelines. It is a 29-acre property that includes renovated buildings, such as an old garage that became a temple, and a California-style barn that became a meditation hall. Although the buildings were originally old, they were repaired and are maintained to resist wildfires and earthquakes. Lee was able to get permits for a solar array in 2010, but when they tried to obtain them for other buildings and structures, the city decided not to allow it. In 2018, police searched the property’s permitting issues, and Lee’s personal furniture and rooms were searched without her consent.
Nick Pham is a senior at Washington High School and a Buddhist himself. Pham feels particularly affected because he goes to a small temple every weekend and believes if this one gets shut down, the city might target other Buddhist temples and stop all religious activities related to Buddhism. On the topic of whether Asians are held to different standards in Fremont, he says that, “seeing as the majority of Fremont’s population is Asian, I don’t think that Asians in our community are specifically held to different standards compared to the rest of the population. I do however find the actions that the inspection officers took on her and her property to be incredibly disrespectful and out of line.” Pham believes that Lee’s buildings should not be demolished completely and instead she should work with city officials to get the permits that are needed to allow the temple to continue allowing all Buddhists to continue to worship, meditate, and seek enlightenment freely.
Lee’s situation seems unfair to her because many resident’s homes are not taken care of although they do not have their permits to be built in the location they are at. She feels targeted due to her race, religion, and gender, saying “if I had been a white woman I am sure this would not have happened.”
Yet, nothing has happened to the temple, and a lawsuit is going through the courts to stop the city’s orders of tearing down the structure. It is also required for the city to accept where the property is and acknowledge what emotional distress the city has put on the owners of the property. The lawsuit will charge a minimum of $4,000 for each act of discrimination. Although the lawsuit is yet to be passed, Lee hopes it will be successful in court and her temple will remain at its current location and continue to serve Buddhists well.