Synagogue and Neighbors Spar Again Over Parking By MATTHEW ARTZ

Tuesday May 03, 2005

Just months before its new synagogue is set to debut, another rift has opened between Berkeley’s largest Jewish congregation and its soon-to-be neighbors. 

The Live Oak Codornices Creek Neighborhood Association has threatened to seek city intervention or possibly file a lawsuit should Congregation Beth-El implement its parking management plan. 

Neighbors insist the congregation’s latest proposal would make finding an on-street parking spot nearly impossible on days when the congregation is hosting an event. 

“Our opinion is that they haven’t met the terms of the agreement,” said LOCCNA member Alan Gould, referring to parking regulations spelled out in the congregation’s use permit. “If the terms have not been met the city shouldn’t allow them to occupy the building.” 

Harry Pollack, a congregation member and chair of Berkeley’s Planning Commission, said Beth-El’s parking plan abided by the conditions of the use permit, but that the congregation was open to further neighborhood input. 

Pollack was a leading player in the roughly 600-member congregation’s three-year struggle to overcome opposition to their move from their current home at the corner of Arch and Vine streets to 1301 Oxford St. The landmarked property was once the site of the Napoleon Bonaparte Byrne house, which burned down in 1985. Byrne’s farm in the mid-19th century was home to freed slaves who may have been Berkeley’s first African-American residents.  

Opponents charged that the 34,000 square foot synagogue and its proposed 32-space parking lot resting over a creek bed would increase traffic in a residential neighborhood and eliminate any hope of unearthing that section of Codornices Creek. An eleventh-hour settlement that moved the parking lot and scaled down the synagogue spared the City Council from having to rule on the project. 

The compromise was a parking plan requiring that for events of 150 people or more the congregation must employ “on-site valet parking and satellite parking or other effective techniques.” Beth-El’s latest draft parking plan, however, does not mention valet parking and proposes satellite lots only for events with more than 200 people. Also of concern to neighbors is that the congregation’s plan does not employ satellite lots for “religious services,” but would not specify what constitutes such a service. 

“That is completely outrageous,” Gould said. “There are very few things that they do there that could not be construed as a religious service. It is a synagogue.” 

He added that that the neighborhood’s biggest concerns were bar mitzvahs, because they happen frequently and tend to draw a lot of people. 

Pollack, saying the parking issue was premature for print considering that the synagogue isn’t scheduled to open until this summer, declined to discuss specifics of the plan with the Daily Planet, including the definition of a religious service. 

He noted that the project’s environmental impact report showed that contrary to the opinion of some residents, neighborhood streets were not filled with parked cars and wouldn’t be after the synagogue opens. 

Gould did credit the congregation for rehabilitating the section of Codornices Creek that runs through its new property. 

The congregation is already facing litigation from its new next-door neighbor, Dan McLoughlin. He filed suit last September charging that the congregation violated an agreement to keep the new building at least 20 feet from his property line. 

McLoughlin said a judge denied his motion for an injunction against the building project, but that he was proceding with the lawsuit. “They’re trying to wear me down, but I’m not going to let them do that,” he said.›