Page One

Beth El issue goes before City Council

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Tuesday June 05, 2001

After months of controversy, the City Council will hold the first of two public hearings tonight on a synagogue and school proposed for 1301 Oxford St. 

The 32,000-square-foot project, proposed by the Beth El Congregation, has pitted the congregation against a group of neighbors, organized as the Live Oak Codornices Creek Neighborhood Association, who have vigorously opposed the design and size of the synagogue.  

Tonight’s hearing is part of an appeal by LOCCNA of the Zoning Adjustments Board approval of the project. 

A public hearing on a separate appeal, filed by Beth El member Harry Pollock on behalf of the congregation, will be held June 26. This is an appeal of a decision by the Landmarks Preservation Commission to deny an alteration permit for the project. The LPC’s denial prohibits Beth El from altering the property, which includes disallowing the congregation the right to raze existing structures on the property. The site is the location of the Byrne Mansion that burned down in 1985. Despite the loss of the building the site itself is still a designated city landmark, which LOCCNA argues would be significantly altered by the development. 

According to a report from the city manager, both appeals are scheduled to be resolved by the council no later than July 24, the last meeting before the council’s summer break. 

An indication of how controversial the proposed project has been might be the size of the appeal report which cost the city $3,888 for 35 copies of the 2,600 pages of individual correspondence, exhibits and staff reports. The unwieldy document, the largest anyone in the City Clerk’s Office can remember seeing, inspired one city employee to call it “The Ugly Thing.” 


LOCCNA appeals ZAB decision 


Sharon Duggan, an attorney representing LOCCNA and 10 other environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, the Urban Creeks Council, the Golden Gate Audubon Society and the International Rivers Network, filed the appeal to the City Council, challenging the Zoning Adjustments Board’s March 8 approval of a use permit for the project. 

The appeal claims the project, as it’s designed, will preclude a culverted section of Codornices Creek from ever being daylighted, that events at the synagogue will cause traffic and parking problems and that the main structure is out of proportion to the rest of the neighborhood.  

“To me the creek is the most important issue,” said LOCCNA member Alan Gould. “And the creek is being negatively impacted by the project’s size.” 

Beth El will protect the property 

Pollock argues the project has been changed significantly since the beginning of the application process and that the congregation will landscape a property that has been neglected. He said the congregation would be respectful of the historic nature of the site. 

“This has been a lengthy process and the end result is a better project than we started with,” Pollock said. “The project that’s coming to council is one they can be proud of approving.” 

Beth El Congregation purchased the Oxford Street property because it outgrew its present site at 2301 Vine St. “We are doubled up in classrooms and meeting rooms,” Pollock said. “This will give us a chance to move into a more appropriate site in, frankly, a more beautiful location.” 

In May, the council requested the opposing sides meet with a mediator and attempt to find a compromise. Both sides agreed and there have been two meetings in recent weeks with a third scheduled for Wednesday. The meetings are confidential and neither side will comment on whether they’ve been fruitful. 

No decision will be made at tonight’s meeting. 

The hearing will take place in the City Council Chambers at 2134 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way at 7 p.m. They will be broadcast on KPFB 89.3 FM and B-TV, ch-25.