Don’t forget us
When Robert and Dorothy Bryant (6/21) suggested donating tax refund checks to a favored charity (preferably one Bush hates), they wrote that it was difficult to choose just one charity from a list they could not even name. While their decision to donate to the Library Foundation was a very good one, I’d like to offer another choice to those who agree with the Bryants.
Endorse your check over to the Berkeley Community Fund (2320 Shattuck Avenue, Suite A; Berkeley, CA, 94704; 843-5202). As a community foundation, we consider it a serious responsibility to know about the nonprofit organizations serving our city. We encourage proposals from small, innovative, “below the radar” organizations you might never know about, as well as from long-established ones. All of our grantees have programs in areas that match our mission of narrowing inequities within our community and creating hope and opportunity for disadvantaged youth. All of them provide their services in BERKELEY.
Our staff and board carefully review every grant proposal, including the organization’s financial information and history. Each grant cycle, though, we have to turn down proposals from organizations doing wonderful, important work in our community simply because our funding is limited. While I doubt President Bush could really hate any of our grantees, many of them are too small, too local, or too innovative to benefit from federal programs. Your gift would make a real difference right here in Berkeley.
And here is the very BEST part: every cent of your gift will go to grants. How can this be? Our Board of Directors covers all administrative costs of the Fund from their own pockets! This is something very few foundations can say (and something very few in Washington D. C. would even believe).
Executive Director, Berkeley Community Fund
EIR failed to look at cumulative traffic
The Daily Planet received the following letter addressed to Mayor Shirley Dean:
During the June 5 City Council hearing on 1301 Oxford St., you asked me a good question regarding the current impact of Congregation Beth El’s Saturday morning parking on the neighborhood that includes both the current site of the congregation and the proposed future site between Oxford and Spruce streets. Your question deserves a better and more detailed answer than I was able to provide at the time.
Indeed, the fact that you had to ask the question, and my inability to provide more than an anecdotal answer, are both testimony to the inadequacy of the Environmental Impact Report, which could and should have answered the question but did not. While acknowledging that neighbors had expressed concerns about the current, existing facility, the final EIR states that “it is not within the bounds of CEQA to appraise the operational conditions and capacities of the existing Congregation facility.” This was their conclusion in the face of numerous letters and testimony from neighbors that during the frequent Saturday Bar Mitzvahs at the present site, the neighborhood is indeed “parked up” between Cedar and Rose streets on Spruce and Arch, on Eunice between Cedar and halfway up Spring Way, and on Vine from near Hawthorn Terrace to Oxford St.
Worse yet, the EIR specifically declined to examine what it acknowledged is a “potential for cumulative (parking) impacts if both the existing and proposed sites of Congregation Beth El are operated with institutional uses,” as will clearly be the case. It also totally ignores the cumulative impact of parking at the proposed site in combination with the Berkeley-Richmond Jewish Community Center, which is one and a half blocks away. These two institutions offer virtually the same programs and services, and they share the same operating calendar. When they start doing so within a block and a half of one another, they will find themselves in fierce competition for the same few available parking spaces, and those who live in the neighborhood will be caught in the squeeze. Imagine the additional impact when yet another institution starts using Beth El’s Arch St. site!
Unfortunately, neither the drafters of the EIR nor the city staff nor the ZAB members dared to imagine such a thing. The EIR almost casually dismissed the problem with the observation that “a more detailed analysis of the potential cumulative (parking) impacts of operation of Congregation Beth El and the existing Arch/Vine site (by another religious institution) is not possible since no new use has been proposed for that site.”
What we are left with is totally inadequate data and analysis, which should be more than sufficient grounds for the City Council to decertify the ZAB report and require a new report, with reliable, objective data that will respond to your own very relevant question.
Beth El planning process worked
In a recent article, Kevin Powell claims that in the case of the Congregation Beth El Synagogue and School project, the City Planning process has been dysfunctional. Nothing can be further from the truth. Mr. Powell cites the unprecedented turnout (some 450 people) as evidence for his claim. He fails to mention that about 85 percent of the turnout were Beth El supporters. This expression by Beth El members, by Berkeley clergy, by Camp Kee Tov bus drivers, and by neighbors who are not Beth El members reflects the breadth and depth of support for this fine project.
Remarkably, in Mr. Powell’s long article about process, he has only one sentence about the EIR. He claims that although the EIR dissected the project in extraordinary detail, it did not guide ZAB’s decision. Mr. Powell is simply wrong. The EIR was a central event in the planning process. The EIR concluded that the project would have no significant environmental impacts that cannot be mitigated.
The final EIR contained responses to the extensive public comments made during this process. The EIR also included the significant ruling by the city attorney that no Berkeley ordinances or policies require the daylighting of Codornices Creek. Mr. Powell should have been at the numerous EIR discussions at ZAB. ZAB members discussed the three thick volumes, the analysis of parking, traffic, storm run-off, fish, sound, trees and the other environmental issues surrounding the project. ZAB members reviewed in detail the work of the team of engineering and environmental specialists.
This EIR went far beyond the scope of a standard EIR. It had an additional section analyzing planning and zoning impacts that are not “environmental impacts” under EIR law. It did so explicitly for the guidance of ZAB. ZAB used that analysis in coming to its decision to certify the EIR as complete and, ultimately, to revise and approve the project.
Mr. Powell would also have a different perspective of this process if he read the numerous City Planning Staff reports issued during the course of 13 ZAB public hearings - they represent many hours of time and effort. Significant among these were the detailed parking analysis of the staff. As is now well known, Berkeley has no specific parking requirements for religious institutions, this being determined on a case by case basis. As it was ZAB responsibility to determine the parking for Beth El, staff aided the ZAB by first reviewing the Fehr & Peers and CCS Engineering traffic and parking studies. Staff then analyzed other local projects, surveyed other localities in California and reviewed how Berkeley’s policies and treatment of parking have evolved over the years. This resulted in a staff recommendation of 1 space per eight seats in the sanctuary formula (31 spaces) which the ZAB eventually approved on March 8.
Mr. Powell also complains that there was little change in the plans during the ZAB hearings. But the original application reflected the most important of the values urged upon Beth El by the neighborhood. And there were numerous significant changes made during the ZAB process. The huge crowd in support of the project demonstrates that this is a balanced project.
James H. Samuels AIA,