City Says Thai Temple Violated Food Sales Use Permit

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday June 26, 2008 - 09:32:00 AM

Wat Mongkolratanaram users will request the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) today (Thursday) for a use permit once again to build a new Buddha shrine at the Russell Street Thai Temple and add four parking spaces on an adjacent vacant lot.  

The temple’s supporters met with fierce opposition at a zoning meeting in May from neighbors who charged the 30-year-old Buddhist temple with running a commercial restaurant in a residential neighborhood, bringing litter and congestion to the area every Sunday. 

The board directed zoning staff to investigate whether the temple was violating the zoning ordinance and asked members of Thai Temple to mediate with its neighbors about parking, hours of operation and other concerns. 

Some neighbors were angry that the temple started work as early as 5 a.m., since a 1993 zoning permit limits the use to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. The temple previously served food to the public outdoors in the back of the property from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Sunday, which was changed to 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. recently. 

According to the monks at the temple, the temple offers food to its visitors, a typical Thai custom, in return for which they ask for donations.  

A recent zoning staff report states that the temple started mediation with its neighbors on June 21, but that the total number of sessions was unknown. 

Staff is scheduled to present an updated report to the board today (Thursday). 

The staff report further states that based on testimony provided by some neighbors at the ZAB meetings, the temple exceeded the frequency of events allowed by the use permit issued in April 1993. 

According to that use permit, the Thai Temple was supposed to limit on-site food sales to “special events occurring no more than three times per year, not to exceed a total of six days a year.” 

Zoning staff met with temple representatives on June 6 to review the existing approvals, the staff report states, and “believes that the applicant will review the temple’s existing operation and overall mission during the mediation process to develop a plan to proceed with a modified application to accommodate the Sunday activities.” 

The revised application will be available at the end of the mediation process. 

Zoning staff has recommended that the use permit request be continued to Aug. 14.