by AT News Team

Updated September 27

How difficult community involvement can be for a congregation is illustrated in the local conflict that the Redlands Seventh-day Adventist Church has become embroiled in. The church had two trees removed near the edge of property where a new annex is being constructed, redwoods that belong to the municipal government and are over 80 years old, according to the Redlands Daily Facts.
City officials responded very negatively when they found out about it. On September 6 a special meeting at city hall was convened to discuss the situation. It included “city manager N. Enrique Martinez, Quality of Life director Fred Cardenas, city attorney Dan McHugh, director of community development Oscar Orci, the city’s parks and field coordinator Erik Reeves, city code enforcement officer Robert Montaghami and public information officer Carl Baker,” the newspaper reported. A week later at a community forum Martinez was questioned by “passionate” residents as to what the city planned to do about it.
“I take it very, very seriously,” the city manager told the newspaper. “I can’t speak for the City Council, but the City Council has gone record since I’ve been here about how important the urban forest is to the city. It’s not just important for oxygen, but for economic development and beauty.” Cardenas said “quite a few ordinances were violated.” The newspaper reported that the replacement cost of the trees is estimated to be $27,000.
Pastor Zach Thorp has taken responsibility for the removal of the trees without getting permission from the municipality. “He said … the trees posed a safety hazard to traffic, because branches blocked the stop sign; pedestrians, because drivers could not see people waiting to cross [the street]; and churchgoers and passersby, because the tree was dying and, especially during and after storms, limbs could fall,” according to the newspaper.
The pastor is quoted, “We certainly value the trees in Redlands, and we’re wanting to put five large trees in there to landscape that boulevard, and give them adequate water so they can (be healthy), obviously at our cost. We’ll maintain the trees on a regular basis.” Evidently the plan violates a city code that requires 40 feet between trees, which means there is only room for two trees in the space in question.
The city government is deciding whether or not to pursue criminal or civil penalties, according to the newspaper. The next City Council session is scheduled for September 18 and Martinez has indicated that a full report will be made on the issue.
The pastor “has been cooperatives by all accounts, and stressed that he never meant to hurt anyone,” the newspaper reported. It quoted his apology, “we’re sorrowful for any sorrow that it’s caused anyone. We obviously want to be great neighbors.” The newspaper did not report on any neighbors who support the removal of the trees, although history indicates that there likely are some, perhaps even a majority.

At a meeting of the city council on September 18, the pastor apologized to the neighbors and municipal representatives for the removal of the trees and assured them that the church would replace the trees. Sources have told Adventist Today that the company that did the removal failed to alert the pastor to the restrictions involved.

Sources familiar with the congregation and the town told Adventist Today that the Redlands Church is known to be a community church. Out of the 244 active members, 146 or nearly 60 percent live in the City of Redlands. This is a very different situation than most Adventist churches as shown in national surveys. In most Adventist congregations, the majority of the members do not live in the community where the church building is located.

In fact, the purpose of the current construction project is to create space for meeting community needs as well as for church activities, a source told Adventist Today. A large part of the new building is dedicated to rooms for the community to utilize for concerts, programs and social events.