Islamic cultural center gets the go-ahead in Serra Mesa

A local Afghan group won unanimous approval last night from a San Diego community advisory board to open an Islamic religious and cultural center in Serra Mesa. More than 65 residents filled a library meeting room for the issue before the Serra Mesa Community Planning Group. Last June, when the Afghani Community Islamic Center first proposed moving into a former bank building on Sandrock Road near Gramercy Drive, anonymous fliers on lampposts and in mailboxes had proclaimed “No Terrorists in Our Community.” But no anti-Islamic fears were voiced last night, only concerns common with any potential high-use project: traffic and parking. Leaders of the Afghan group, which has leased spaces in Kearny Mesa and Miramar since 1994, assured the committee that their center would rarely draw more than a few dozen people at a time, even during its main prayer services on Friday afternoons. Joseph Jawed Hayat, a board member and spokesman for the center, said one of its main aims will be to promote cross-cultural understanding between Afghan Muslims and the broader community. “Our goal is to create a dynamic so we can share information about each other,” he said. The group expects to open the center in two to three months, after obtaining design approvals and a conditional-use permit from the city planning officials.

Afghans again seek permission for center; Fliers labeled them terrorists

A local Afghan group will be back before a San Diego community planning committee tomorrow seeking approval for a religious and cultural center — and hoping this time not to be branded as terrorists. That’s what happened in June, when the Afghani Community Islamic Center first proposed moving into a former bank building in Serra Mesa. A near-record crowd of more than 100 turned out for an informational hearing, many alarmed by anonymous fliers they had found on lampposts and in their mailboxes exclaiming, “No Terrorists in Our Community!” Planning group leaders say the fliers were circulated by a small handful of opponents, at least one of whom apologized afterward. “We’re Americans. We’re not terrorists,” said Akbar Sadat, a board member for the center. “We live here. Our kids grow up here.” The county is home to about 10,000 Afghans, Sadat said. Many live in San Diego, but just as many are in outlying cities such as El Cajon and Vista. The majority have been in the United States at least 10 to 20 years and are U.S. citizens, he said. Sadat, 48, a microchip design engineer who has lived in San Diego for 26 years, said the Afghan center was chartered in 1994. It has operated out of a series of leased spaces in Kearny Mesa and Miramar, offering prayer services and cultural programs to its 400 to 500 members. The center bought the 7,300-square-foot bank building on Sandrock Road near Gramercy Drive for $1.5 million in January 2006 because of its central location. Members donated and raised the $500,000 down payment, abandoning their Miramar lease to pay the $10,000 mortgage in Serra Mesa, Sadat said. But the proposed relocation has been delayed months by building and code upgrades insisted upon by city officials. Serra Mesa Community Planning Group chairman Doug Wescott said projects like this go through two steps with his group — an informational presentation at one monthly meeting, then a vote of the 14-member board at another. Sadat said it has taken until now to be ready to ask the planning group for an up-or-down vote. It’s on the agenda for tomorrow’s 7 p.m. meeting at the Serra Mesa-Kearny Mesa Library, 9005 Aero Drive. Sadat said the center would be used mostly for Islamic prayer services on Friday afternoons and for small, informal gatherings on other days of the week. He said it would have a library and other resources to help researchers and the public learn about Afghan culture and Islam. Part of its goal will be to reassure neighbors that local Afghans do not support the Taliban, Sadat said. “Everybody in Afghanistan hates these people,” he said. “Al-Qaeda and (the) Taliban, they’re destroying Afghanistan. They’re destroying my relatives.”