FREMONT (KPIX 5) – A small Buddhist temple in the Fremont hills announced plans to file a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city alleging she was discriminated against on the basis of race, religion and gender.
The lawsuit is the culmination of years of a contentious back-and-forth battle between MiaoLan Lee and the city's permitting department over her efforts to build a Buddhist temple and worship center on her property on the 6800 block of Mill Creek Road.
"I wanted to cry. I didn't know what to do. I wanted to have a place where I can learn about what is the suffering of the human world," said Lee.
City officials said Lee's build-first-seek-permission-later approach has run afoul of their building codes. A spokesperson for the city said structures are unpermitted and unsafe -- vulnerable to both earthquakes and landslides.
Lee's attorney said his client tried unsuccessfully for years to obtain the proper permits but instead encountered endless roadblocks and red tape.
"Here in the city of Fremont, they take a different approach. You try to permit, you try to work with them. You pay them your money. And for whatever reason, they're not working with her," said Tal Finney.
Attorney Angela Alioto, who is handling the civil rights case, said this is not a regulatory issue. She said her client has been the victim of discrimination because of her race, religion and gender.
"The permit never comes. It's because they do not want a Buddhist temple on this mountain. They do not want Asians on this mountain," Alioto said.
City Communications Director Geneva Bosques denied the claims of discrimination.
In a prepared statement, Bosques wrote, "It's disheartening to learn that a claim is being filed against the City. We are a community that celebrates our diversity and we are proud to have one of the largest Asian populations in the Bay Area."
Fremont officials said they want the unpermitted building to be demolished and removed.
Alioto said she will file her federal lawsuit on June 16 after a required 45-day notification period.
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