By KAREN VELIE
A San Luis Obispo County judge denied a request to keep members of the Bethel Baptist Church from holding services at the church on Newport Avenue. The question of ownership led Judge Ginger Garrett to say she was inclined to deny the request from the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) for a temporary restraining order against parishioners.
At stake is the ownership of the 67-year-old church and 3.1-acre lot valued at between $2.4 million to $2.9 million.
“I am not sure what is going on,” Judge Garrett said. “I don’t know who the people are who have rightful ownership or control of the property.”
CMA’s attorney Michael Pick argued that the Bethel Baptist Church parishioners had changed the locks, emptied the bank account, and filed a new grant deed, all without legal authority.
Judge Garrett denied Pick’s request for a temporary restraining order and scheduled a hearing for June 27 to further review the issue of who controls the property while they move through the legal process.
“It is not right. It is not fair,” Pick said. “Kicking it over almost validates what the defendants have done here.”
Members of the Bethel Baptist Church have been battling the CMA over ownership of the property on Newport Avenue since early 2019 when they were told that the church was being shuttered and sold because membership had fallen.
On Oct. 17, 2018, then-pastor Ronald Kennedy filed a grant deed transferring the property from Bethel Baptist Church to the Hillside Church of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, according to the deed. At that time, Kennedy was in negotiations to sell the debt-free building to the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition.
The property sits on a 3.1-acre lot overlooking the Pacific Ocean in a quiet residential neighborhood.
In early May, the Bethel Baptist Church’s current pastor, John Fleming, filed a grant deed transferring the property back into the ownership of Bethel Baptist Church.
On May 17, Pick filed a lawsuit against Fleming and the Bethel Baptist Church congregation to quiet title. The suit also alleged wrongful possession of property, trespass and intentional interference with contact.
In his lawsuit, Pick says as membership and finances declined, the church legally became under the governance and ownership of CMA. Pick alleges Fleming improperly closed the church’s bank account, removing $7,993.
In his lawsuit, Pick asked the court to compel Fleming to transfer legal title to C&MA, to eject the congregants from the property, for return of the bank account funds, for punitive damages and cost of the suit.