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Late night with Council

By Jon Mays and John Geluardi Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday July 25, 2001

Hours of input heard before votes 


Because of an unusually hefty agenda, the City Council put off a vote on the controversial Beth El project – called Berkeley’s biggest planning decision in 10 years – into the wee hours this morning. 

Because it is the last meeting before the Council’s six-week summer break, councilmembers decided to keep the meeting going until all 66 items on its agenda were heard.  

Although the City Council was expected to approve the Beth El project – a 32,000-square-foot synagogue, school and social hall at 1301 Oxford St – as of press time, it was placed after two other agenda items, and no vote had been taken.  

A back room mediation session between Beth El members and representatives from the Live Oak Codornices Creek Neighborhood Association – who oppose the project – was on-going close to midnight. If the mediation is successful, it may mean the project will be reduced in size.  

The council vote would end two years of a contentious planning process, which included three commissions, numerous public hearings, hundreds of hours of staff time, a professional mediator and hearings on two appeals before the City Council.  

The process created a city document, containing staff reports, consultant studies and hundreds of letters expressing opinions about the project. The report, nearly 18 inches high, cost the city $3,500 to make 35 copies. One City Clerk employee dubbed the unwieldy, 20 -pound document, “the ugly thing.”  

The vote however may not be the end of the conflict because both sides have threatened to take the council’s decision to court.  

The City Council did approve a three-unit townhome development at 2025 Rose St. despite nearby resident’s concerns that it would cause traffic and parking problems in their neighborhood.  

The City Council normally holds a vote two weeks after a public hearing to give opposing sides an opportunity to dispel misinformation.  

Mayor Shirley Dean said she wanted to vote on the project because of the summer break.  

The vote was 6-1-2 in favor of the 5,509-square-foot  

development with a 810-square-foot garage. Councilmember Dona Spring voted against the project, while councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Linda Maio abstained. 

The Council denied a plan to redevelop a parking lot on Oxford Street at Allston Way into a five-story mixed-use art, retail, housing development that would also be home to the David Brower Center.  

Because some arts groups said they wanted more space in the facility, councilmembers said they wanted to discuss it again before making a decision. 

The City Council also appointed Stephen Barton as director of housing and Carol Barrett as director of planning and development.