The families who live in the Evergreen district of San Jose love their neighbourhood: orchards, deer, and oak trees a reminder of what the rest of San Jose used to look like before the encroachment of development. The same serenity attracted Bob Singh Dillon when he first saw the sprawling apricot orchards or the district; he was certain he had found the ideal site for his congregation‘s Sikh temple. Rural and detached from the busyness of the nearby city much like the original temples in India, where Sikhism was founded 500 years ago-the district seemed the perfect host to a temple of immense architectural and religious grandeur. He arranged for the purchase of 40 acres.
Plans for the temple were developed, calling for numerous interconnected buildings a total of 94,000 square feet, including at least one façade over 316 feet long; in some places the temple will rise to more than 60 feet. Even from a distance, marble balconies, tiled arches, and water fountains will be visible on the temple campus, which, in addition to being a center for worship, is intended to provide a residence for many priests. The proposed building will cost from $6 million to $8 million. Opponents and proponents agree, the structure should prove to be extraordinarily beautiful.
Ironically, the beauty of the site is a chief concern for the Evergreen residents, many of whom believe the temple may become a tourist attraction, causing traffic problems and the degradation of the tranquil lifestyle of their neighborhood. At least, thousands of Sikhs are expected to visit the temple regularly. There are more than 45,000 Sikhs living in the Bay Area.
Maybe Evergreen residents think their neighbourhood is not suitable for a facility this size, nor for the people is it expected to accommodate. The congregation plans to have gatherings of up to 1,500 people, though only one two-lane road approaches the site. The traffic, opponents argue, will cause commuting problems and introduce hazards on roads frequented by children and bicyclists. Increased traffic could also have an adverse impact on the environment.
But many temple proponents see a more insidious reason behind the opposition: prejudice. For example, an appeal to the city to stop construction cited problems at a Sikh temple in nearby
Fremont, calling Sikhs ―undesirable neighbors.‖ Some wonder if those who object to the temple are not, at bottom, motivated by racial and religious biases.
But members of the Evergreen Citizens Coalition, which oppose the construction, insist that racism has nothing to do with it. ―I want to make it clear to everybody that the Evergreen Citizens Coalition is opposed to any type of development that would allow traffic to congregate in one area,‖ Coalition Chairman Walter Neal told the San Jose Mercury News. ―It could be a
Safeway, a 7-Eleven, a Catholic Church. It has nothing to do with any type of religious or cultural differences at all. It‘s an issue with size and location. A church of this size is a regional facility.‖