Church of Scientology asks for rezone to care for history

Union Democrat, Sonora, California/July 18, 2008

When talking about the Church of Scientology, the township of Tuolumne probably doesn't immediately come to mind.

But the small town might as well be mentioned in the same breath as Los Angeles, the religion's mecca, and movie star adherents like Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

Tuolumne is home to an archive of the religion's relics, and has been so for the past decade, according to Jane McNairn, a representative of the Scientology-affiliated Church of Spiritual Technology.

According to published reports, the Church of Spiritual Technology oversees the archiving of the works of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard in vaults throughout the world.

The late Hubbard founded the religion in 1952, following a career of writing science fiction and fantasy novels.

McNairn spoke at Thursday night's Tuolumne City Design Review-Planning Advisory Committee meeting in Tuolumne. McNairn came from Los Angeles to appear before committee members in order to request a simple rezoning of land the church owns just east of Tuolumne.

There are no immediate plans to build on the property, McNairn said. In fact, through the proposed rezoning, development will be further restricted. Under the new zoning, the land would be categorized as agricultural, 20-acre minimum, down from residential and 10-acre agricultural zoning. The church is looking to re-subdivide the land in question into two parcels with the new zoning. The parcels would be 20.1 and 23.8 acres in size, according to planning documents.

Committee members gave the proposal a thumbs up, but their rulings are advisory, with the county Board of Supervisors having the final say.

McNairn said the rezoning will help serve to "buffer" the archival storage area from the street and public.

"Our vow is to take care of our religious scriptures, similar to what the Mormons do," she said. "It's a very high-tech type of activity. You're very lucky to have top world-class archives in Tuolumne."

Though the archive is closed to the public and even most church members, McNairn offered to give committee members a tour while she was in town for the weekend. Committee members declined, but expressed interest in a tour at a later date.

McNairn didn't elaborate on the workings of the archive, but, according to published reports from 1997, the church constructed an underground tunnel and chamber in the area at the site of the former Lady Washington Mine.

Planning documents filed with the county at the time called for a 15-foot-wide, 250-foot-long-tunnel. The first 98 feet from the entrance were improved, with a 10.5-foot domed ceiling. At the end of the 98 feet, documents showed a 10-foot-long storage room, with the rest of the tunnel unimproved.

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