By Monika Tjia
A $1 million grant that would have helped repair the earthquake-damaged Mission San Miguel was rejected by the California Culture and Historical Endowment recently because the structure is owned by the Roman Catholic Church.
 
The grant money was to come from funds raised by Proposition 40, a tax passed in 2002 to help fund parks and cultural and historic restorations.
 
But the Friends of Mission San Miguel, the nonprofit group overseeing the restoration project, is not giving up on trying to secure the grant, said John Fowler, project manager for the mission.
 
Fowler is drafting a letter in response to the decision, asking for reconsideration.
 
"The endowment’s rejection is premature," Fowler said Thursday. "We don’t see it as a major setback. We just have to provide them with some information."
 
The decision came as a crushing disappointment to the California Missions Foundation, which has launched a $50 million campaign to help restore and preserve the state’s 21 historic missions, 18 of which are still used for religious services.
 
"That’s the mission that is in the direst need," Knox Mellon, executive director of the foundation, said of San Miguel. "This makes it even more difficult to swallow."
 
Endowment Executive Director Diane Matsuda, in her rejection letter to Fowler, said the decision was based on a recent advisory opinion by the California Attorney General’s Office. The opinion was not specific to the application from Friends of Mission San Miguel, Fowler said.
 
Church ownership of the 208-year-old San Miguel mission alone is enough to bar Proposition 40 money going to its restoration, Matsuda said. Proposition 40 money is overseen by the endowment.
 
"It is found that a grant to Friends of Mission San Miguel would have a direct effect of advancing religion, since the proposed project concerns a building that is owned by a religious organization (and) that is used regularly for daily religious services," she said.
 
But the mission is used for more than religious purposes, Fowler said, explaining that 90 percent of its use is for nonreligious activities.
 
Before it sustained damage in the 2003 San Simeon Earthquake, thousands of elementary school children and tourists frequented the landmark.
 
The missions were so crucial to the state’s development that elementary schools are required by law to include a course on them in their curriculum.
 
It will cost $15 million to repair the mission. So far, nearly $1 million in private donations has been raised.
Officials have asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for $7 million. But it’s unclear when a decision might be made on that request, mission officials said, because FEMA is backlogged with work on other natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina.
 
The mission was designated in January as a National Historic Landmark, which will allow the structure to receive funding from the Getty Foundation and other organizations.
 
The mission is expected to receive a $300,000 grant from the state parks department that the Missions Foundation will use to match a federal $300,000 appropriation secured last year under Save America’s Treasures, a Department of the Interior program.