Big Valley Grace Church has been using the Ceres Community Center for church services in Ceres for two years now and the city has been receiving revenue for it. But last week the church’s request for expanded use was shot down, partly because of two empty council chairs.
The request received the support of Mayor Javier Lopez and Councilman Bret Silveira but not Councilwoman Linda Ryno. The council needed three votes to approve a measure and Vice Mayor Couper Condit was absent, reportedly for an illness.
In 2019 the city agreed to rent the Community Center to the church on Sundays from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. for weekly services; and on Mondays 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. for Bible study and the breakdown of classrooms. The church doesn’t use the office area, utility/storage closets, the City Council dais, and the computer lab room.
Last week the church approached the council about preferential use of the large assembly room on Wednesday evenings.
The contract changes were included in the Consent Agenda which would ordinarily be approved without discussion but was pulled by Ryno. She said while she has not opposed the church using the center on Sundays because it’s typically dormant, she didn’t want to see the church dominating use on Wednesdays.
“My concern is that we’re limiting the ability of community members to rent our Community Center,” said Ryno. She said even if the center isn’t being used on Wednesday evenings, “we’re still limiting the ability if we rented it to the church.”
City Manager Tom Westbrook, in his final meeting of his Ceres career, countered that typically the Community Center is most used on Friday and Saturday evenings.
“The Wednesday evening (rental) is additional revenue to the city,” said Westbrook, “especially one night where we don’t necessarily have the Large Assembly (Room) rented.”
After the meeting, a church official said the church only wanted the ability to reserve Wednesdays months in advance like anyone else can, not have guaranteed use.
The matter will be continued at the council meeting of Monday, Sept. 13.