Let's just start with the biggest issue: the retreat center is in a mountainous chapparal ecozone, which is ordered to burn every 20 to 50 years (the vegetation would not survive if it did not periodically burn). The California wildfires that make the news every year are simply the natural effect of this condition. Last week's Blue Cut fire, which took place in neighboring mountains visible from the Santiago center, burned hundreds of structures. Barring some combination of luck and heroic effort, this is what happens to structures that are built in this ecozone.
The structures at the Santiago center appear to be built with this in mind -- in other words, they're cheap and temporary, and this is what you see anywhere in areas like this.
But why undertake a clearly expensive interior renovation of buildings like these when there's a good chance the wood paneling and so forth won't last through the next fire? If I were a donor approached for a project like this, it's the first question I'd have in mind.
But leaving the question of fire aside, why are we doing this? The total assets of the center are listed as $128,644, which simply matches what we see in photos. Yet a proposal appears to want to spend considerably more than this simply to renovate the interior of one very cheap temporary building on the site.
The goal is to comfortably seat people whilst [note the preciousness here] having the ability to hold a solemn high mass, for the Annual Pilgrimages, and to orient the chapel in a neo-gothic interior that blends with a Spanish mission exterior, as a nod to the Spanish Franciscans who named Santiago Canyon on July 25, 1769, during the Portola Expedition. The exterior grounds around the chapel will contain a prayer garden surrounding the building itself, in the design of the Rosary so that pilgrims may pray whilst enjoying the beautiful surroundings of natural Southern California.Hundreds of thousands of dollars in a multiphase renovation, to be used on special occasions or annual pilgrimages -- by a group that doesn't have its own facility at its normal location? I can imagine some lesser members of the Huntington, Crocker, or Stanford families endowing such a thing in the late 19th century, with the resource being passed down for occasional use now, but why are we doing this in 2016? Elsewhere I see mentions of a daily mass, but the Santiago property is not normally open to the public -- you have to call to make a reservation. Might there be a better use for someone's time here?
If Fr Baaten wants to e-mail me and set up a time for me to visit so he can make a case for what's going on here, I'll be delighted to bring my camera and take a detailed look. Short of that, I've got to call into question the judgment of anyone who is indulging this misbegotten proposal. (However, while it's apparently OK for Fr Baaten to call Patrick Madrid, it definitely isn't OK for anyone in the OCSP to e-mail me. Bp Lopes, you could potentially get me more on your side with a little more PR savvy.)
But I'm willing to listen.