City Approves Beth El Parking Plan By MATTHEW ARTZ

Friday August 05, 2005

Over the objections of some neighbors, Berkeley opened the door Tuesday for its largest Jewish congregation to move into its newly built multi-million dollar synagogue. 

The city approved Congregation Beth El’s plan for holding major events without taking up a majority of on-street parking spaces around its new home at 1301 Oxford St. 

The congregation, which will have 31 parking spaces on site, has scheduled a grand opening for Sept. 9. 

Although the city has yet to grant Beth El an occupancy permit, approval of the parking plan was seen as the final obstacle for the congregation in its four-year battle with neighbors. 

“We’re extremely pleased that we’ve crossed this major hurdle,” said Katherine Haynes-Sanstad, the synagogue’s first vice president. 

Nancy Levin, of the Live Oak Codornices Creek Neighborhood Association, said her group had consulted an attorney and would consider its options in light of the city ruling at a meeting next week. 

LOCCNA contends that the congregation’s plan to use four satellite parking lots for major events of more than 150 people is unsatisfactory, because some of the lots might not be available on event days. 

It also opposes the city-sanctioned monitoring plan that would call for Beth El to possibly add more off-site parking if it were determined that congregation guests used more than 50 percent of available on-street spaces in the surrounding neighborhood. 

“I don’t see how allowing Beth El to use 50 percent of available parking spaces minimizes impacts to neighborhood parking,” Levin said.  

The congregation and LOCCNA have battled over the new synagogue for years since Beth El announced it was moving from its home two blocks away at the corner of Arch and Vine streets. 

After coming to terms over the restoration of Codornices Creek, which runs through the property, Beth El officials and LOCCNA signed an agreement outlining the congregation’s responsibilities to keep the neighborhood unburdened from members and guests looking for parking spaces. 

Neighbors have insisted that street parking around Oxford and Spruce streets is sparse, while an environmental study commissioned by the congregation found that there were between 50 and 100 on-street parking spaces available at all times of the day. 

The compromise required that for events of 150 people or more the congregation must use “on site valet parking and satellite parking or other effective techniques.” 

Over the past several months Beth El has submitted several draft parking plans and made significant changes to their proposals to bring it more in line with the framework agreed to with LOCCNA. 

In approving the proposal, Deputy Planning Director Wendy Cosin wrote, “staff believes that Beth El has worked hard to accommodate neighborhood concerns into its parking management plan.” 

The congregation has contracted with Safeway, St. Mary Magdalen Church, First Union Title company and the Berkeley Richmond Jewish Community Center to provide spaces for large events like weddings and congregation functions. 

Combined, the satellite lots would add up to 102 parking spaces in addition to 31 spaces at the site and 26 on-street parking spaces along the synagogue’s street frontage. Beth El’s current home has two on-site parking spaces.