Before Saddleback moved to its present location, we bought a big chunk of land. While I thought at the time it was a dream come true, it turned out there were giants in the land.
The county began heaping on ridiculous requirements. First they wanted to allow us to build on only nine acres of the property.
Then they instructed us to build a berm—an eight-foot ridge of dirt—along the front of the property to hide the building.
Then they decided we’d need to move 150 trees from the back of the property to the front of the property and plant them on that berm.
Next, they told us we couldn’t build a 7,000-seat worship center. Instead, we could build a 1,000-seat worship center and have seven services.
Then they demanded that we put in a charcoal filtration water system so that the water that ran off the parking lot would be nice and pure as it went into the gutter.
Then they told us we couldn’t build a parking lot. We’d have to build a parking garage.
Finally, they decided we couldn’t build a preschool because “that’s not a legitimate church ministry.” We said, “Since when did the government start deciding what is and what isn’t legitimate church ministry?”
We battled for four years. Some 25 articles appeared in The Los Angeles Times and The Orange County Register during that time with headlines like, “Church Project Delayed” and “Church Project Delayed Again.”
I asked our people to write to the county supervisors. Shortly after, this headline came out: “Pro Canyon Church Project Letters Flood the County Offices.” Letters were coming in at the rate of 400 a day. Finally the county supervisors called me and said, “Please stop. You’re clogging up our mail system.”
The Orange County Register published an editorial supporting Saddleback Church called “A Church Beset, A Church Under Siege.” It said, “The church’s congregation has grown in 9 1/2 years from nothing to 7,500 but still meets in a high school gym. What this really amounts to is county bureaucrats trying to force and control their use of property along a pre-determined path. What gives people the arrogance to presume they have the right to do such a thing?”
Finally I took our church directory to our county supervisor. I laid it in front of that supervisor and said, “There are 18,000 names in this directory. They all vote and they’re all in your district.”