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Oakland Gospel Choir Draws Nuisance Complaint, Faces $500 A Day Fine

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) – Those who love Gospel music refer to it as "joyful noise" and it is anything but quiet.

"The music of the church reveals the life of the church, the enthusiasm of the church," said Michael Wright, pastor at Solid Rock Baptist Church.

But the City of Oakland has a different description of it, they're calling it a "nuisance." Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in West Oakland recently received a letter from the city threatening a $3,500 nuisance fee and a $500 a day fine unless it toned down its choir practice.

The letter states in part, "…this activity may constitute a public nuisance due to its impact to the use and quiet enjoyment of the surrounding community's property."

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"Kind of hard to believe because we've been here about 65 years in the community and all of a sudden we get some concerns about the noise," said Thomas A Harris III, the pastor at Pleasant Grove.

Church pastors who met Wednesday said the real issue is gentrification. The church sits in a neighborhood full of old Victorians being snapped up by affluent tech workers.

"We're being bought out. We're being moved out. We are being priced out of our own neighborhood," said Lawrence Van Hook, the senior pastor at Community Church.

They believe the complaints about the church's music are coming from people new to the neighborhood.

"Those persons who are just new arrivals should not come and try to change the culture that existed before they arrived here," said George Holland, president of the Oakland branch of the NAACP. "We cannot have people come attack churches about music."

The NAACP is also demanding more specifics from the city and criticizing its handling of the issue.

"There should have been discussions between the community and those people who are saying the church is making too much noise," Holland said.

At a meeting Wednesday night, the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition addressed the complaint. Coalition leaders said they are working with City Council president Lynette Gibson McElhaney to protect Oakland's churches.

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The pastors said all churches are threatened by the city's action and they plan to fight it. Pastors are also thinking about organizing outdoor services throughout Oakland so everyone can enjoy the joyful noise that much more.

For its part, the church said it will continue with choir practice on Thursday.

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