Chapel of Happiness on Broadway too noisy for neighbors

Six “miserable years” on the other side of Broadway

Many are the tales locals tell of dodge-and-deny tactics the City of San Diego uses to avoid enforcing its own laws. The most common excuses, especially in this time of budgetary woes, are that it costs too much. But listen to Robert Vacchi, today’s deputy director of the City’s Neighborhood Code Compliance Department. In 1997, when Vacchi was an associate planner for the department, he copyrighted a document entitled “New Options for Code Enforcement: San Diego’s Use of Administrative Remedies.”

Recently, two of the options Vacchi discussed, civil penalties and administrative citations, caught my attention. Both involve fines, civil penalties being the more expensive. They often start at $2500. For less serious matters, administrative citations start at $100, followed by $250 and $500 fines for noncompliance. “The advantages of administrative citations are…[that] most people comply after receiving the first citation,” wrote Vacchi. “In addition, citations bring in revenue.”

That was 12 years ago. On January 22, 2009, Vacchi wrote to the office of Mayor Sanders, explaining why Neighborhood Code Compliance had refused to act on certain noise complaints in Golden Hill. Vacchi explained that his department “could no longer expend resources in continuing an investigation of noise level limits.” Considering what happened, however, one has to wonder whether city government spent more on evasion tactics than it saved by refusing to act.

“Complaining about church services didn’t seem right,” says Golden Hill’s Ruchell Alvarez. “So I waited quite a while from the time I moved in next door.” The church is Chapel of Happiness on Broadway, a half block east of 30th Street. It has long been renowned in San Diego as a site for weddings. But in recent times, different pastors also bring their congregations there almost daily for Pentecostal services that often last three hours. The music, preaching, and speaking in tongues are not the problem. The amplifiers and speakers that broadcast them all over the neighborhood are what drive local residents to complain.

Late in 2006, Alvarez’s father Richard bought a unit in the La Collinda Condominiums immediately to the east. The living room, two of the condo’s bedrooms, and an outdoor patio are approximately 100 feet from the chapel and look down on its parking lot. During negotiations for the unit, real estate agents disclosed no noise problems. It was the first time Richard Alvarez, who is 63, had ever purchased residential property. He intends to live in it the rest of his life, to allow his daughter to live there as well, and to bequeath it to her after his death.

Ruchell Alvarez moved into the condo first, early in 2007, while her father remained in his apartment until August. “I started telling him about how loud it was next door and how disturbing the sounds were,” she says, “but he thought I was exaggerating. He told me, ‘I’ll take care of it when I get there.’ ” But she could not wait. By July, Ruchell Alvarez was calling the chapel’s leaders and asking them to turn down the noise and close their windows and doors during services. “Sometimes they turned it down,” she tells me, “but only for a short time. Eventually, they ignored me and a few times even hung up on me.”

Within a month of his arrival, Richard Alvarez was calling the church too. But to no avail. In February 2008, the Alvarezes reached Mary Burriel, whose husband, Reverend Jesse Burriel, now deceased, founded the Chapel of Happiness in 1964. (At least one letter from the 1960s has surfaced, already complaining to the City of San Diego about noise and building code violations at the church.)

Mary Burriel still lives in apartments attached to the back of the chapel. According to the Alvarezes, Burriel conveys by phone an immense weariness over the noise issue. “She told us to either move out of our condo or call the police,” says Ruchell Alvarez.

Within several days, the Alvarezes began a long and insistent history of calling the police. It took the police only a few visits, however, for them to announce that they would do nothing. The Alvarez family, they said, should take its complaints instead to the San Diego Neighborhood Code Compliance Department. On its website, the department states the following: “Because excessive noise can be harmful to the health and welfare of citizens, the City of San Diego prohibits excessive and annoying noise within City limits.”

The first question Richard Alvarez had for Mike Wisnieski of Neighborhood Code Compliance was, “How many complaints about the Chapel of Happiness have there been already?” None, he said Wisnieski told him. However, Alvarez soon discovered that a neighbor in his building had complained as early as 1996. After he called the complaint to Wisnieski’s attention, the official sent him two other complaints. Not satisfied, Alvarez filed a public records request asking for complaint letters. Six more were provided. “I’m sure there are more,” Alvarez tells me.

The complaint letters cite amplified drum playing, singing, wailing, children screaming, car alarms going off in the parking lot, and stones being thrown at the complainers’ condos, among other things. One writer says that, at her church, she is taught to “love thy neighbor.” “But that’s a two-way street,” she writes. Another complainer submitted a calendar showing that the days that were loud approached five per week over long periods of time.

Nevertheless, Code Compliance told Alvarez that his complaint would need the support of other complainers. So in April, he and his daughter obtained 17 contemporary supporting letters from his building. Meanwhile, Code Compliance’s Oscar Prado went to a Sunday-morning worship service at the Chapel of Happiness and announced that he saw no problem. It would be one of four visits made by Code Compliance officials. A salient characteristic of the visits, however, was they went into the church or onto its property during services, tipping off the alleged offenders.

Several weeks later, Prado visited the La Collinda Condominiums to get firsthand accounts from the residents who sent in complaints. He left “door hangers” at the residences, saying later that he found nobody home. Although the door hangers had on them Prado’s name, office, and a phone number, they did not indicate why he had come. A woman later told Ruchell Alvarez that she called the number and couldn’t get through. “No wonder,” says Alvarez, who instructs me to dial the number on my cell phone to listen. “It’s a fax number. Then Prado proudly told us later that our complaint had no supporters in the building.”

I located one of the people (he wishes to remain anonymous) who complained to Code Compliance in 2004. He told me he lived for six “miserable years” on the other side of Broadway from the Chapel of Happiness. He complained numerous times and, on one occasion, went onto the chapel’s parking lot. There, he says, a group of church members surrounded him, demanding he give them a satisfactory reason for his presence before letting him go. People in the neighborhood were always calling the police and Code Compliance, he told me, but the chapel had a system of sentries who stood out on Broadway looking for trouble. If City officials came into the neighborhood, the noise turned low.

By now, the Alvarezes were soliciting the help of Ben Hueso, their District Eight city councilman and council president. Hueso expressed his sympathy, saying that he had endured a loud Pentecostal church in his neighborhood and that its noise was awful. He said he knew the leaders at the Chapel of Happiness and would ask them to reduce the noise. Whatever he told them, say the Alvarezes, noise levels remained the same.

Eventually, the issue ended up in arbitration. Mike Littlefield, a dispute resolution officer in the city attorney’s office, held three meetings between the parties. The Alvarezes and another resident of their building met with three Spanish-speaking pastors and Abram Rodriguez, who lives on the Chapel of Happiness property.

During one meeting held in the chapel, according to Ruchell Alvarez, Rodriguez “jumped up at the sound of a jetliner passing over nearby and asked, ‘Do you call the police on that?’ ” (Rodriguez has not returned my calls seeking his version of events.) In the end, the meetings proved useless, as the City’s Mike Littlefield did not even recommend a solution.

On September 10, Robert Vacchi of Code Compliance wrote to Richard and Ruchell Alvarez that “we will no longer investigate noise issues for [the Chapel of Happiness] site.” “The decision has a ring of finality about it,” says Ruchell Alvarez, who wonders whether the City is intimidated by potential freedom of religious expression lawsuits. “What about the rights of local residents?” she asks.

The nuisance at the Chapel of Happiness does seem to violate standards of all nine criteria for deciding noise regulation issues. These include duration of the noise, proximity of the noise to sleeping facilities, whether the nature of the noise is usual or unusual, and the level of the noise. Regarding the last criterion, Alvarez is especially frustrated. She says Neighborhood Code Compliance has refused to bring a decibel meter into her building to measure noise levels during the Chapel of Happiness services. “We have given a standing invitation to any City employees to come to our home and listen for themselves,” she says.

Richard Alvarez offered to purchase his own decibel meter and show its readings to the appropriate officials. But Neighborhood Code Compliance says only its official decibel meter can be used. Yet the office will not use it in the La Collinda Condominiums.

Six weeks ago, I walked the alley behind the Chapel of Happiness during one of its evening services. I had no decibel reader but became convinced immediately that the noise I heard coming from the chapel would violate laws anywhere. Later, Richard Alvarez played for me a number of tape recordings he had taken of other such services throughout his residence at the La Collinda Condominiums. The recordings sounded much like what I had heard in the alley.

“In the arbitration hearing,” Alvarez tells me, “Abram Rodriguez refused to listen to tapes of the noise his organization is responsible for. He argued that I have doctored the tapes to make them louder, that I turned up the volume while taping. Well, tape recorders do not record louder or softer. You can turn the volume up, yes, but only during the playback. And you can see here,” he says, holding the recorder close to me as he raises and lowers the volume, “that I’m playing this at a normal level.”

To further his case, Alvarez fast-forwards the tape to several intervals in which he is heard making remarks about a Padres game and speaking to his daughter. His voice is not loud. But as soon as the church music on the tape starts, we can barely hear each other talk.

Last spring and throughout the summer, the Alvarezes did not realize — nor did any City official inform them — that they may have had another recourse to getting City help. The city attorney’s office offers both a Code Enforcement Unit and a Neighborhood Prosecution Unit (there is a prosecutor who works with the police department in each of the four major divisions of the city: northern, western, central, and mid-city).

On January 27, in connection with an old Linda Vista loading site filled with festering water, newly elected City Attorney Jan Goldsmith had this to say: “We’ve raised code enforcement to a top priority.… We have a problem with Code Compliance generally. We need more officers and more training for them.… We will make sure we have prosecutors who know what they’re doing and they’re adequately funded.”

Goldsmith’s statement may have something to do with the phone call a police officer made to Richard Alvarez three weeks ago. The officer wanted Alvarez to know that he had just issued a noise citation to the leader of a choir and band practicing at the Chapel of Happiness. Alvarez had not even called the police.

The citation, which Alvarez learned carried the threat of a fine up to $500 for repeat violations, gave him hope. His optimism was shattered last week, however, when graffiti turned up in his condo complex. It started in the stairwell on the third floor, led along an inside wall, and finished ten feet from his door. The message inside the stairwell? “Help me please. I don’t want to die in here.”

Nevertheless, reports Alvarez, noise at the Chapel of Happiness has decreased markedly in the past two weeks. “It’s been quiet as a mouse,” he says.

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I hate noisy inconsiderate neighbors! Don't give up Alvarez!

Wow! Complaing about a church how low can your sorry azz go? I guess you devil worshiping azzholes don't want people to rejoice in the lords name. Then I suggest you go back to hell and stay there!!!!!

If it were anything but a church, the city would have reacted very differently. Ask the fraternities at SDSU about how often they get fined for similar violations.

Because churches in San Diego are actively involved in electing politicians, they have permission to break any laws they like.

These evangelical idiots in Golden Hill sound like the worst of a bad lot. Aggressive in their stupidity, and adamant that anything they do to "praise the lord" is something the rest of us just have to put up with.

To see this attitude in action, just look at comment #2 by "SpliffAdamz", a coward who makes threats with a pseudonym.

Spliff, when you're done frothing at the mouth and rolling on the floor, please check yourself into a mental hospital. The rest of us need our sleep, and you and your friends need to shut the hell up.

Glad your still feistier then ever... Spliff is a wanker!!

What is wrong with these neighbors? The City will never help them, but they have several nuisance causes of action under California Civil Code sections 3479 through 3481. Retain a lawyer and file a lawsuit in Superior Court. Precedent has allowed up to $500/day in damages, and the court may order defendants to pay prevailing plaintiffs' attorneys' fees under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5. Google what happened to local loud businesses Juke Joint Cafe and IB Rockin Bar when they didn't respect their neighbors and California's nuisance laws.

These neighbors were told the same thing when this story was reported by the Union-Tribune. What are they waiting for? Sue them.

hey JD your the only wanksta is the one you see in the mirror ever morning!!!!

YO fred you sound as dumb as you look. Why don't you get your head out of your azz and smell that crap that's coming out of your mouth. You think its stupid to praise the lord? But you salute your racist american red white and blue flag right. Now that's stupid!!!! People like you always complaining about something. You idiots act like they are doing it at 9 at night until 3 in the morning. Are you mad that they don't invite you over to hang out with them? I guess when you are bitter on life and have nothing else better to do you complain about how others are having a good time and enjoying themselves!! You sound like a typical american always got your nose in other people business because you have no business of your own. Would you be happier if they were worshipping your god satan fred williams? You only hate on those who worship because you are to much of a coward to do it yourself. If you need sleep do us a favor and never wake up the world would be a better place with out you. But looking at the time of your blog i guess vampires sleep during the day right?

If you read the article, Alvarez waited for some time before reporting the noise, because it was a church. Nothing in the article was said about any attitude about churches or worship in general. Clearly, Fred and all should ignore SpliffAdamz's crass, epileptic invectives.

I'll add that we used to live in the downtown Church lofts some years ago, and loved it until an extremely noisy evangelical church moved in next door. They kept their ceiling level windows open at all hours, so we could enjoy bass-driven bands, amped up songfests, and speaking in tongues for several services a day--right through late evening. It was miserable, and my respectful requests to speak to church officials to work it out was met first with suspicion, then disdain and at last, insult. Love thy neighbor?

There was nothing to be done. We finally had to move, leaving behind our beloved loft, with its big bay windows and ceilings high enough to play badminton over the water pipes.

We can't imagine the frustration Alvarez and her father must feel, having actually purchased this property.

Along with Rickeysays, I chime in: "Don't give up!"

May be we should ignore all you idiots who complain. Don't act like you just found out how churches worship. Churches have been loud in their worship long before you devils came up from hell to complain. The way they worship is nothing new. By the way thanks for putting my name in your blogs me and my friends get a good laugh out of it.

Spliff, for a moment I'll pretend you're not just a troll, and try to help you understand this story. On the assumption that your reading comprehension is on a par with your punctuation and spelling skillz, let me explain what this story is about, using small words and simple sentences.
Feel free to read each sentence several times, until you grasp its meaning. 1. State law guarantees me the peaceful use of my own home. 2. The church is breaking the law. 3. One chat with the police seems to have solved the problem. 4. The city could have resolved this problem years ago. Do you understand now?
You're welcome. Now please permit me to address the wisdom of your arguments.
1. Is it prudent to play the race card when the person suffering from the noisy neighbor has a Hispanic surname? 2. Does Fred Williams really look "dumb?"
3. Does Fred Williams worships Satan? Does "rickeysays?" Where do you get your information regarding their religious views? 4. Later in your post about Mr. Williams, you wrote that he doesn't worhip at all, because he is a coward. Does he worship Satan, or does he worship no one?
5. Mr. Williams posts under a real name, whereas you post under a pseudonym. (That means "fake name.") Yes, he is cowardly. (That is sarcasm.) Please consider these points before posting again. Next time, maybe we'll be laughing with you, not at you.
Thank you.

The city is hypocritical, they need to Fine themselves for Noise abuse! Their noise hits many more vast areas than the Church singing does! And it is a Noise that never ends, It's like a refrigerator and when people need their sleep, they rev that thing up! It runs 24/7 and I think it's the sewage dept by Miramar.

But the low lifes of San Diego, think they are above it all! And no one complains to the very people who are abusing Vast areas with that damaging noise. Even right now my ears protest!

But I also feel sorry for those who can't speak up about it, like children and pets! The engineers and the city is responsible.

Spliff trolls wonderfully, doesn't he?

Back to the topic at hand, is there any update?

Have the cops been round to put the fear of God into this crowd of squawking crows?

Hey escortalex , wow it took you how long to right something on what i said what a dork you are ,(by the way dork means whales dick) I'm pretty sure you and fred williams are the same person. You talk about i'm using a fake name , But what the hell is escortalex? Is that your real name? For your sorry azz info spliffadamz is my real name , so the only cowards is you and fred williams. You scrubs talk alot of smack on a computer , but when it comes to the real issues where are you scrubs at? I've never seen or heard you speak to a crowd on serious issues. I only see your insignificant name on readers web page. But like i said early , complaining about a church how low can your sorry azz go. I'm so happy to see you web page debaters try to gang up on me because i put your sorry azz on blast. You always find cowards complaining about small issues and running to the cops to solve it for them. How about complaining about how your government is pumping you in the azz and you still go and vote like an idoit. Complain about how your proud to be an amerikkkan until they raise taxes on ya bytch azz. Complain about how your rent goes up and the only thing you do is pay it like the cowardly punk you are. Instead of fighting against a church , fight againts the government or are you too much of a chicken to do it. But please don't every forget as long as you live , the only troll is the one that had you at birth!!!

My man Spliff, he sho can riff, must be a g-d given gift, or is it just what he sniff, that cut us in on his lift, catch my drift, but in the end, he just remind me of Biff.........Henderson.

Duhbya , you a rapper? How long did it take you to right that romper room line? Your almost as good as marky mark , that one hit wonder fred willimas was mad about when i said he wasn't a rapper. Fred williams satan let his favorite dumb dog out again huh? You ask if the cops been around? Cops are around to keep cowards like you only on the computer talking trash , but when you are out in the real world you sit down and shut up like a good dog is suppose to do!! You want a scooby snack?

Wow , Duhbya damm man you put two blogs with in 1 minute about me you want my autograph next? I see you jocking my name you ain't got to ride my nuts that tough.

Lmao @ Spliff. You're just a typical brainwashed idiot. "omgz they complaining about a church, they must be the devil!!!" LOL

So if a church breaks the law and causes disturbance to others, it's ok because they're 'praising the lord' in doing it. Nice logic.

And it's ironic you're talking about others 'posting behind a computer', the only moron here is you. Their complaints are very valid, while yours is brainless whining without any logic.

Spliff is not "typical"...he's a very "special" kinda fellow.

Yet he is entertaining, in moderation.

And, Spliff, my good buddy, I do use my real name...so I guess while I am also behind a keyboard, I'm not hiding. I don't use a pseudonym on this site. And I've written some pretty harsh stuff about people far more powerful than you.

For example, I have repeatedly called John Moores a crook. Using my real name. To his face, once, in council chambers, while Jack McGrory stood by.

I sang, for the public record:

"Rip me off with a ball park Give me corporate pork Buy me a Mayor and council seat After the vote our team always gets beat"

Maybe you saw me on TV?

Most San Diegans (now, finally) agree that we were screwed. I was one of the few spreading the word, when everyone else was cheering for bulshyt economic stupidity.

Examine the public record, as documented by Matt Potter, Don Bauder, Voice of San Diego, et al., and I think you'll agree these bastards have messed up San Diego big time.

I've never hesitated to call them out. I hope they sue me, the f*ktards. I'd love to see them in court.

You, Spliff, do add to the character and vitality of our discussion. I welcome our continued banter. But let's not waste time calling each other names that don't happen to be accurate. Brown nose is really out. Come up with a new one, something more creative...or maybe we could team up and take on some real threats to our community.

Instead, let's focus on the jerks who make San Diego a worse place, including invasive and aggressive religious organizations, which ought to be regulated and taxed like any other social club.

For example, a marijuana growing cooperative ought to face similar regulations to a church...don't you agree, Spliff?

And baseball and football teams ought to face similar regulations as strip clubs. After all, young men using their bodies to entertain dudes drinking beer at the stadium, aren't really that different from young women using their bodies to entertain dudes drinking beer at Platinum...heh?

Let's get creative, Spliff. Propose some public policy. Write it up to 500-1000 words. Submit it to the Reader in your inimitable style. They might take it and print it...


Fred Williams (who is easy to find)

Wow!!! It took you a hole month and 15 days to grow some hair on ya nutz and get ya courage up to respond. dontknow that's a real good name for you , since you don't know shyt!!! The only reason why it's a disturbance to you is because you don't have a life of your own!!! When you sit back and bytch about others having a good time praising gods' name , you sound like the devil plain and simple!!! If you want to complain about a church then go right ahead , because we all know your too much of a pussy to complain about how your government is pimping your dumb azz!!! Like you still keep paying taxes even though they keep going up. I'm pretty sure you run out and vote thinking your vote still counts right!!! Why not find some bigger fish to fry??? Complain about how the $an diego courts let those priest get away for molesting all those kids!!! That seems like something worth complaining about. Not people worshipping god in a church!!! And if you really want to complain about loud noise. Then complain how people are at the chargers games yelling and screaming for a sorry azz team!!! So lets get rid of the chargers because they suck and i'm tired of hearing people cheering for their sorry azzes , when all they do is lose and cost me tax money!!!! Yo all you fake azz charger fans keep the noise down your team sucks!!!!

Yo fred love that song man!!! Man , do you got the rest of the lyrics??? You was on t.v. spittin those bars??? Comedy!!!

I don't know about baseball and football having regulations like a strip club??? I'm not going to the game to get a lap dance from a football player. I'm not going to a strip club to watch the women tackle each other. It would be nice and I would like to see some strippers catch these balls though!!! I don't think i would want to bring the wife and kids to a strip club for a hot dog and soda. I understand what your saying , but i couldn't have the same regulations for sports and strip clubs they are far from similar. But you did shock me with the dudes drinking beer at both spots , i never seen it like that. That was comedy!!!

I don't understand why the government don't tax churches. Or maybe they are and we just don't know about it??? Because ever politican has some religious ties. Maybe they getting money under the table. That's what i thought the government was already doing??? Shyt if amerikkka is willing to kill women and kids for oil , opium and cocaine. Do you really think they going to let the churches go tax free??? Holla!!!!

Ya, because such thing as search engines don't exist, so the concept that I recently read this article must be impossible! "Omg someone complaining about loud noise must not have a life!" another nice bit of logic there, care to explain how you came up with that conclusion? Ahaha, hilarious.

And where did you get the idea that I'm complaining about a church? I don't even live near one, dumbass. But anyone with quarter of a brain can see how disruptive and stressing noise abuse can be, regardless where it's coming from. The church has been told multiple times by multiple different residents and knows they're being disruptive yet refuse to keep it down to a decent volume. Too bad you don't have a brain though, just an ass and you refuse to get your head out of it.

"But there's much worse things to complain about!" = the old 'it's ok to cause harm to others because there's much worse being done in the world' excuse. Try thinking of something new. Oh wait, that would require Learning2Think.

It's ironic you mention the 'government is pimping me', when they're actually paying me much more than I pay them. Another baseless assumption. Either way being a religious fanatic is just as bad as being a government fanatic. Both mean you aren't able to think for yourself.

Please keep posting; you're pretty funny. Never know what kind of crap will come out of that butt of yours; except, I know it won't be your head.

Rip me off with a ballpark Give me corporate pork Buy me a Mayor and Council seat After the vote our team always gets beat

'Cause it's fraud, fraud, fraud economics Taxpayers lose it's a shame

Still it's one, two, three billion gone From this big shell game!

"your too much of a pussy".....I thought it was "puzzy". Thanxxxx, spleef

Yeah if you got enough time to worry about a church then something far more important. I would say you have no life!!! Know one cares where you live!!! But if your going to get in on the subject that is being talked about , you look real fuccing stupid!!! The article is about loud churches not loud noise!!! So dontknow you really don't know what the hell you talking about!!!

So enlighting us all!!! What is more important church noise vs education??? Church noise vs unemployment rate??? Church noise vs child abuse??? Church noise vs elderly abuse??? Church noise vs health care??? Church noise vs rape??? Church noise vs government corruption??? Church noise vs police corruption??? You say people have complain multiple times about a church. Well how many times have people complain about unemployment , health care , education , child abuse , elderly abuse , police and government corruption??? And it keeps getting worst!!! Why don't you pick a fight with the people that are making this country terrible!!!

You claim the government is paying you more then you paying them??? Yeah right!!! So you get gas for free??? You don't have to pay rent or property taxes??? You don't have to pay a water bill??? You don't have to pay a gas and electric bill??? You get health care for free??? You get free food??? You get free clothes??? It's easy to lie on a computer to try to make ya self look big and important!!! But if you say the government is paying you more , you must be their favorite bytch!!!

So if you not for government or religion , then what are you for??? Are you just some lab monkey that think you smart??? You related to michael jackson monkey bubbles??? Holla!!!

Sorry i spell that wrong. Yo dontknow where you go??? Maybe will see something in about a month and a half. Holla!!!

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