Regarding the Aug. 5 commentary “Little Rock Redux” by Katherine Haynes Sanstad, this is an open letter to Beth El congregants and sons of Ms. Haynes Sanstad.
Your mother is right to teach you to hold your head high and be proud of your heritage. But to liken your new neighbors to racists is terribly misdirected. We have also been called anti-Semites. Neighbors who are Jewish have been called self-hating Jews. Rabbi Raj, at a public meeting, made reference to kristallnacht which was when Nazi’s destroyed Jewish synagogues and homes and murdered Jews in 1938. Whether he intended it or not, many viewed this to imply that opponents of the Beth El synagogue project were anti-Semites and akin to Nazis.
Back in 1998, when we saw the original plan for your new synagogue with a parking lot to be right over Codornices Creek, neighbors advised that that was not environmentally sound, and contrary to the core values of the neighborhood (see http://loccna.katz.com/docs/corevals.html). After three years of bitter struggle and hearings all the way to City Council, Beth El elders finally saw fit to spare the creek.
My opposition is to the project as planned, not opposition to Beth El. Beth El elders signed a legal agreement with LOCCNA (your new neighbors) spelling out how the project could benefit all involved with provisions for creek rehabilitation, a parking management plan, and joint committees to solve problems.
Your mother said, “...neighbors don’t want fellow Berkeley citizens to park on public streets in accordance with existing parking regulations.”
She missed the point. If a new neighbor came into your neighborhood and announced that they intended to use half of the free parking spaces in the neighborhood every Saturday you would likely object to this, just as your real new neighbors have. Your mother says our lawn signs indicate that the “...hostility of the opposition to Congregation Beth El ... is extreme, even by Berkeley standards.”
The intent of the lawn signs is not to “foment public opinion against” Beth El but to draw attention to our concerns. There remain serious flaws in the parking plan, and the lawn signs will probably remain at least until those flaws are corrected and Beth El members and guests prove that they will not inundate the neighborhood with parked cars.
Your mother said, “What will I tell my sons in Berkeley in 2005 as they face the hostility of our North Berkeley neighbors? ‘You have a right to be here. ... We have rejuvenated land that had lain unkempt …. And yes, we are still not wanted, have not been wanted for 10 years.’”
Yes, you have a right to be here. The geothermal heating of your building is certainly an innovative and welcome feature. The dollars spent in rehabilitating Codornices Creek is appreciated, but the creek rehabilitation job is not completed, and many neighbors doubt your elders’ commitment to preserving the creek greenway, having seen them fight so hard to put a parking lot over the creek. The land that your mother refers to as “unkempt” was viewed by many of us as a vital part of the Codornices Creek corridor, home to many essential plants and animal life.
I urge you to really read the signs and understand what they are saying. They do not say “We don’t want you here.” They say “Honor your agreements. Minimize parking impacts. Restore the creek and greenway. Respect your neighbors.” If we secure outside funding to daylight the creek, this cannot be done without Beth El’s consent and cooperation spelled out in our agreement. We sincerely hope that Beth El will honor the agreement.
The agreement also says Beth El must minimize the parking impact on the neighborhood. A parking plan that allows 50 percent of the free parking spaces in the neighborhood to be used up does not minimize parking impacts. Earlier drafts tried to say the plan only applied to events of 200 or more (instead of 150 specified in the agreement) and to make the wording of “events” to refer only to non-religious events (instead of all events specified in the agreement). Some issues are resolved and I feel that we should be able to work out the remaining issues, then focus on actually successfully implementing the plan.
Your mother said, “Some may say, ‘But this is different. We are not attacking your children, we are attacking Beth El.’ ... Those signs need no ethnic epithets to scream ‘We don’t want you here!’”
We are not attacking Beth El, and never have. We are criticizing the development plan and urging improvement. About “ethnic epithets,” please just take the signs at face value. Reading ethnic epithets again implies your neighbors are anti-Semites and racists, which is just not true.
Your mother said, “… my husband and I never dreamed that we would be giving our children the same instructions in Berkeley, Calif., in 2005 that parents gave their teenagers in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957”
It’s ironic to me that your mother uses the Little Rock parents as an analog to your current situation with lawn signs. You see, I was growing up in Little Rock from 1955-1959. Though I was only in elementary school, I was still aware of a major impact of the racial struggle and desegregation efforts had serious impact on my family. Images of fire hoses and irate, indignant, violent and ugly white folks are emblazoned in my memory. My oldest brother was in high school and as the high schools closed, one by one, due to aborted attempts at desegregation, he had to attend a series of high schools further and further remote from where we lived in Little Rock. His education was virtually wrecked. My parents joined organizations that fought for desegregation and defended teachers who were being intimidated and harassed for taking positions in support of desegregation. The name of one of those groups was STOP (Stop This Outrageous Purge).
The main thing I want you to know is that I’m not opposed to you. I too “yearn for shalom/peace some day,” and wish that the Beth El elders and neighbors can come to terms so that we may turn our full attention to other important matters, such as improving education, peace in the middle east, and developing ways of living in harmony with our environment.