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Praise Christian takes on city

October 31, 2002

Jose Paul Corona

Leaders at Praise Christian Church, who have been battling the

city over their sanctuary for nearly a year, took the city to court,

claiming citations written by the fire department are invalid and

should be thrown out.

At a hearing last week, Alan Leigh Armstrong, the attorney

representing the church and a city attorney candidate, asked a

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Westminster judge to dismiss misdemeanor criminal charges against

church Pastor Derek Annunciation for failure to comply with a

citation that he received from the fire department.

If convicted on the charges, Annunciation could face six months in

jail and fines, his attorney said.

Armstrong contends that the citation, which was issued Feb. 4, was

not valid because the person who wrote it did not have the authority

to do so.

The citation makes reference to a section of the city's municipal

code that was repealed in 1990. That section allowed the fire chief

to designate a person under his command to write citations. Since

that section of the code was repealed, the only person who can issue

citations is the chief himself, Armstrong said.

The city has not rewritten that code, Armstrong said, and there is

no code that would replace that repealed section.

"That's not correct," Huntington Beach Fire Chief Michael Dolder

said.

Dolder disputes the claim, saying the city fire code authorizes

him to hand out that duty to any peace officer he chooses, although

the department generally has a fire captain or inspector write

citations.

"We have the ability to have other people in the organization

write it, it's just not the fire chief," Dolder said. "I don't write

citations."

"The bottom line is, we had an issue out there," he said. "From

the fire code point of view, they were violating the fire code."

The battle began last December, when fire marshals ordered the

congregation of Praise Christian Church to stop meeting in the church

on the corner of Goldenwest Street and Ellis Avenue because the

building did not meet safety codes.

The congregation began meeting outside the building each Sunday,

but a group of church members held a Bible study class in the

building, which violated the citation.

In September, the Planning Commission granted the church a

conditional use permit allowing it back inside provided it

soundproofed the building and closed its south doors and windows to

control noise.

The stipulations were made because the building is old and was

designed as a warehouse and not as a church, Planning Department

officials said.

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