LOS ANGELES - An attorney for a Sun Valley church locked in a legal battle with Los Angeles County over the house of worship's decision to hold indoor service despite health warnings of a potential spread of the coronavirus said Monday the county is retaliating by removing the congregation's access to a large portion of a county parking lot after nearly five decades.
Los Angeles County plan to ask for a preliminary injunction preventing further indoor services at Grace Community Church in a hearing scheduled Friday, although the church's lawyers are asking for a postponement. The county's several bids for a temporary restraining order have all been denied and Sunday indoor services have continued.
According to a letter sent by the county Department of Public Works to the church on Friday, the county Flood Control District is "exercising its right to terminate" its agreement with the church as of Oct. 1.
"If Grace fails to vacate the premise as required, the district may enter the premises and remove Grace's personal property in accordance with the agreement and applicable law and Grace will be responsible for any resultant expenses incurred by the district," the letter states.
Any church improvements, including fencing, that are not removed will become the property of the district at its option, according to the letter.
• Sun Valley church refuses to close despite pandemic
• Sun Valley church pastor: 'We spread the word, not the virus'
• LA County seeks penalties vs. Sun Valley church over indoor services
• LA County files lawsuit against Sun Valley church refusing to halt indoor services
A representative for the county did not immediately reply to a request for comment on why the agreement is being terminated.
Jenna Ellis, the special counsel to the Thomas More Society and an attorney for the church, said the county's motive is apparent.
"Los Angeles County is retaliating against Grace Community Church for simply exercising their constitutionally protected right to hold church and challenging an unreasonable, unlawful health order," she said. "In America, we have a judicial system to ensure that the executive branch does not abuse its power and Grace Community Church has every right to be heard without fear of reprisal."
The church has held the lease at 13248 Roscoe Blvd. for 45 years and the county is attempting eviction because Pastor John MacArthur "stood up to their unconstitutional power grab. This is harassment, abusive, and unconscionable," Ellis said.
Meanwhile, in its opposition to the preliminary injunction, the church is offering the declaration of economist Charles J. Cicchetti, a managing director at Berkeley Research Group Inc. Cicchetti has a doctorate from Rutgers University, is trained in statistics and econometrics and has been accepted as an expert witness in statistics, his declaration states.
"California's reliance on the number of COVID-19 cases to quantify health risks is too narrow a focus and this data alone will cause most counties to remain shuttered with little prospects for opening churches," Cicchetti's declaration says. "Very importantly, the number of cases tracks the level of testing, which has been ramped up."
Cicchetti says there are "other things wrong as well. Testing is not random and skewed towards people with symptoms. Further, testing/case data does not adequately or meaningfully reflect the key health metrics of hospitalizations and deaths."
The data and treatment of hospital and intensive care unit availability used in the state Department of Public Health and county watchlist and monitoring system does not adequately measure health risks, nor does it show "any sensible risk that the hospitals and the state will be short of necessary capacity," according to Cicchetti.