Grover Beach Police Chief takes sides in church ownership dispute

May 13, 2019

Grover Beach Police officers and San Luis Obispo County Sheriff deputies respond to pastor John Fleming at Bethel Baptist Church on May 11.


Grover Beach Police Chief John Peters authorized officers to arrest members and the pastor of the Bethel Baptist Church if they attempted to enter the church property. It was the latest development in a battle over ownership of the church and property worth an estimated $2.9 million. [Cal Coast Times]

Peters told officers on Friday that the Christian & Missionary Alliance (C&MA) was the legitimate owner of the 67-year-old church. The C&MA is trying to sell the property to the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition whose board membership includes Grover Beach Mayor Jeff Lee.

But records from the SLO County Assessor’s Office show the property is owned by the Bethel Baptist Church. And records from the SLO County Clerk-Recorder’s Office and a finding from a title company also say that Bethel Baptist Church is the owner of the property.

Members of the Bethel Baptist Church have been battling the C&MA 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.

As the fight continued, Mayor Lee pushed for the sale of the property to the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition. Lee is a strong proponent of transforming the building from a church to the nonprofit he represents.

The C&MA changed the locks on church doors and took down Hillside Church signs on Sunday, May 5, after a meeting between C&MA representatives and more than 100 parishioners ended with the C&MA telling the parishioners they no longer had a church.

Pastor and president of the Baptist Bethel Church board John Fleming then announced plans to conduct services in the parking lot on Sunday, May 12.

On Friday, Chief Peters said that the C&MA was the legitimate owner of property and that officers were to arrest members of the parish who refused to leave the property. A few hours later, Valerie Wilson, a representative of the CM&A, and several others removed property and a plastic tub filled with documents from the church, according to Fleming.

Fleming asked several officers to stop the pilfering, and provided county records showing Bethel Baptist Church as the owner of the property. Officers said they had to go by the ownership documents that Chief Peters concluded showed the C&MA was the property owner.

“We have to go by the paperwork we have at this time that we can recognize, that he can recognize,” officer Celis Rabena said. “If there is any trespassing on the property and Valerie (Wilson) chose to press charges, we have to take action.”

But on Sunday, the C&MA changed its request to have the pastor and parishioners arrested, and permitted them to have a service in the back parking lot behind the church while officers stood by.

Bethel Baptist Church sermon held behind the church

History of ownership:

In 1962, Byron and Hazel Ewing deeded the more-than-3-acre lot they owned at 1935 Newport Avenue to the Bethel Baptist Church.

About 10 years ago, Ron Kennedy became an assistant pastor of the church. A few years later, Kennedy moved into the position of primary pastor. He brought Valerie Wilson in to handle the very limited accounting required at the small congregation, parishioners said.

On March, 22, 2016, Kennedy changed the name from the Hillside Church of Grover Beach to the Hillside Church of Grover Beach of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, according to a state filing. At the time, congregants thought the name was changed in order to bring in more members. Fleming said.

But despite the name change, the Internal Revenue Service still knew the organization as Bethel Baptist Church. The church continued to use the original Hillside Church tax identification number rather than the C&MA’s tax identification number. And a filing to the state of California regarding donations received in 2017, listed the original church California tax ID number and not CM&A’s tax identification number.

About a year and a half ago, the church began allowing 5 Cities Homeless to utilize church property for a warming center for the homeless.

Last year, officials from the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition asked Kennedy if he would consider selling the property to them.

On July, 10, 2018, Kennedy listed himself as chief executive officer and Valerie Wilson as chief financial officer in a statement of information filed with the Secretary of State’s Office.

On Oct. 17, 2018, Kennedy filed for a deed of trust transferring the property from Bethel Baptist Church to Hillside Church of Grover Beach of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. For an address, Kennedy put “in care of Valerie Wilson” at her home in Arroyo Grande. Shortly afterwards, Kennedy informed the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition he would sell the property to them.

On Jan. 11, 2019, C&MA and the 5 Cities Homeless coalition entered into a purchase agreement, on a property valued at $2.9 million, with Wilson listed as the seller’s agent. However, the sale has not concluded because of issues with a clouded title.

On May 6, Fleming filed a grant deed on the church property listing him as the president of the Baptist Bethel Church board.

On May 10, Kevin Irot, the vice president of the San Luis Obispo First American Title office, found that Bethel Baptist Church is the owner of the property, according to an email from Irot that included the SLO County Clerk/ Recorders Office official record.

Also on May 10, the SLO County Assessor’s Office confirmed that the Newport Avenue property is owned by Bethel Baptist Church in care of John Fleming.

“Attached are the screen shots from the County assessors office, proving yet again that the property is in Bethel Baptist Church of Grover Beach, wrote Hayley Smith, a San Luis Obispo County Assessor’s Office property transfer technician.

On Friday afternoon, Fleming provided the Grover Beach Police Department with multiple county records denoting Bethel Baptist Church as the owner of the Newport Avenue property. Even so, the police department continued to recognize the CM&A as the legal owner of the church.

Both the C&MA and the Bethel Baptist Church congregation continue to claim to own the property. It is likely a court will make the final determination.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Yes, PLEASE let’s get this squatter’s magnet up and running as fast as we can!

Just as flies flock to sugar, so do the “homeless” flock to where the red carpet is rolled out for them.

People who encourage stuff like this need to pay a visit to downtown L.A. and see what the welcome mat has wrought.

Kevin Irot is 100% right: he based his entire business on facts. The police and mayor of Grover Beach are commiting real estate fraud. Why? Because the City of Grover Beach will pay for their fraud when the City settles the upcoming lawsuit. Like they do every time city officials or their law enforcement commit crimes. Even when the truth is clear: the title is what the law enforces. Unless you live in corrupt Grover Beach.

In the unlikely event that Mayor Lee and Chief Peters are help accountable for their illegal actions, the only people paying will be the Grover Beach taxpayers

Perfect use for all those funds the pot business brings in. No wonder Shoals & Lee pushes so hard for it!

How does this seriously happen???

Officers said they had to go by the ownership documents that Chief Peters concluded showed the C&MA was the property owner.

Chief Peters, I have papers that say I own your home. Move out.

It could be Mayor Lee gave the order to the Chief and I suppose Chief Peters knows when the mayor says jump he asks how high. For Mayor Lee it must be nice to have your personal security force to support whatever you want, regardless of what the law says.

Clearly John Shoals has handed the GB baton of corruption to Jeff Lee.

Carry on.


Grover Beach Mayor Jeff Lee and Grover Beach Police Chief John Peters are both well known corrupt public officials, and I encourage the real church members take these two clowns to court, as they will prevail.

The church belongs to the people who run the church, and its members.

Jorge, good argument in most situations, but in this one, as a church, they don’t pay taxes!

Sounds like Mayor Lee and his toady police chief, John Peters may have gotten ahead of themselves. This is surprising because you would think Jeff would un-ass his desk, walk across the footbridge from his office building into the government center and ask Tom Bordanaro who owns the property. But, hey why do that… better to let some third party, who doesn’t have standing, sell the property they don’t own to 5 cities homeless coalition and then record the sale with the clerk recorder. Find a crooked title guy to dummy up a title report and you are in business. Typical day in Grover Beach… if Jeff really cared he would use some of the cities new found cannabis cash to legitimately buy a piece of property for the homeless shelter, maybe something near 805 Beach Breaks, instead of a residential neighborhood.

Homeless people and people who help the homeless have more and greater rights than aging, Caucasian, Christians.

Do these politically granted enhanced rights grant enough power to steal property? Can a class of people with victim status, based on their newly minted enhanced rights, rise up and take from people who have a “punished” status ? That’s what the courts are going to have to decide.

The whole concept of laws, property, ownership…..all of it is getting turned upside down now.

It reads as a simple embezzlement scheme to me Doc.

The homeless are not a party to any of this. A greedy pastor and a well connected non-profit board member are to blame—-not the people they supposedly serve.

Often these criminal types hide in plain sight cloaking themselves in “moral goodness” where society gives them a pass or simply doesn’t look. Where’s your focus? It seems to be on the least powerful of the bunch.

If this Kennedy guy didn’t get permission from the church elders or governing board then he had no authority to change the name on the deed, or to transfer the title to another entity. That’s fraud. The church board should fire Wilson and Kennedy and regain control of their church.

I’m not sure they have the PCness to do it. We’re not protected by the law anymore.

It’s all about who has the most “virtue” and homeless people definitely have way more than white, Christians.