For the last fifteen years the Soquel Seva Ashram has endured a legal battle with the Santa Cruz County Planning Department. Our property is zoned for a single family residence but our use of the property does not conform to that zoning designation. The County filed charges against us because of this issue and we had to hire attorneys and other professionals to resolve the situation. Even though we have a reached a temporary agreement with the County, the ultimate solution is to change the property’s zoning to reflect how we actually use it. Sounds simple! But nothing is very simple when dealing with the Santa Cruz County Planning Department. Consider that California is the most difficult state for getting building permits, and Santa Cruz is the most restrictive county in California!
After conducting extensive research, hiring a land use consultant and meeting many times with Planning Department personnel, we concluded that we must submit a very comprehensive plan to apply for the permit to change the allowed use of the property. In 2007, thanks to generous contributions from our community members, we hired various engineers and other professionals to begin preparing our plan. Unfortunately, due to financial difficulties, we were forced to suspend work on the project early in 2009. Now in 2014 we are resuming work on the application to change our zoning from “single family residence” to a designation called “organized camp,” which will allow our temple programs to continue and permit us to build a larger temple room, prasadam room (dining room) and accommodations for guests and residents.
Our desire to serve the needs of sincere devotees makes us anxious to build guest accommodations. The Soquel Seva Ashram has been the center of our devotee community in the United States since Srila Govinda Maharaj established it in 1993. Many devotees would like to come for extended visits, especially during major festivals. Also, our community continues to grow as sincere seekers come here to take shelter of the Vaishnava association and service opportunities under the guidance of Srila Janardan Maharaj. Unfortunately we do not have proper facilities to accommodate them despite the fact that due to their naturally renounced mentality, devotees require very little. Some have wanted to stay at the Seva Ashram temporarily and others have wanted to live here permanently. It pains us that we cannot offer them even the barest facilities.
Srila Govinda Maharaj showed by his own example the importance of serving the devotees. He built nice rooms and accommodations for visiting devotees at all his centers in India, sometimes even before he built the facilities for worshiping the Deity. We have heard from our Vaishnava teachers that Krishna shows special favor to one who serves His servants. Srila Sridhar Maharaj said, “Krishna tries His best to give something to his devotees in return for their service to Him, but He fails. So when Krishna sees that His desired aim of rewarding his servants is done by someone else, He becomes indebted to that person.”
It is our hope and prayer that we may fulfill Srila Govinda Maharaj’s desire by expanding the Seva Ashram facilities for the worship of the Deities, Sri Sri Guru Gauranga Gandharvika Giridhari and to serve the needs of all the sincere seekers who come here to his dear Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Seva Ashram in Soquel, California.