Berkeley's city planning staff continued their push for Temple Beth El's expanded synagogue and school complex last Friday, recommending that the City Council certify a decision of the Zoning Adjustments Board on March 8 to grant Beth El's use permit for a site at 1301 Oxford Street. Going quite a bit further, city staff also recommended that the council appeal the Landmarks Preservation Commission's March 5 denial of Beth El's alteration permit--perhaps wishing to save Beth El the bother of having to appeal that decision on its own behalf. Neighborhood activists and environmental groups had no illusion that the City Council would campaign for their concerns, and drafted their own formal appeal of the ZAB's approval in time for this Tuesday's City Council meeting.
At issue is a roadway and parking lot planned for the now-culverted portion of Codornices Creek crossing the north end of the site, as well as the scale of the proposed 33,000 square-foot complex in the North Berkeley residential neighborhood. The ZAB did make changes before approving the plan--the building size was reduced by six percent, and the parking lot was moved slightly so that it no longer squats exactly on top of the creek, though the lot's location still prevents future daylighting. Opponents argue that these changes are "only cosmetically different" from the original proposal.
Joining the Live Oak Codornices Creek Neighborhood Association in the appeal filed Tuesday were eleven other organizations, ranging from local chapters of the Sierra Club and Audubon Society, to community resources like Friends of Five Creeks and the Urban Creeks Council to wider-ranging nonprofits like the International Rivers Network and the Center for Biological Diversity. Petitions signed by over 2,300 area residents also support a revised plan that allows for protection of the creek.
"We're not opposed to construction of a new Temple Beth El," LOCCNA member Alan Gould insists. "Our efforts are to provide constructive alternatives that will allow both Congregation Beth El and Berkeley to benefit." So far, neither Beth El nor the city of Berkeley has agreed there is any benefit in protection and restoration of this section of creek. "It's been an uphill battle all the way," Gould says--probably a lot like life for the Codornices Creek steelhead.
On Tuesday night, the City Council did what adjudicatory bodies usually do when pressed on all sides by angry interest groups--they stalled for time, holding over the decision to certify the ZAB's decision until next week. The council is expected to hold a public hearing on all Beth El matters sometime in July, in the hope that all these appeals can be rolled into one noisy night.
Meanwhile, the council played for time on another sticky subject--the controversy surrounding Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory employee Gordon Wozniak. You may recall that several months ago City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque ruled that four members of the Landmarks Commission could not rule on the Beth El project, because they had previously expressed an opinion on the subject as part of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association. Activists seeking to curtail the lab's use of tritium noted that since Wozniak both works for the lab and sits on the Community Environmental Advisory Commission, Albuquerque's new conflict of interest rules ought to apply to him as well. Albuquerque agreed and recommended that Wozniak get the boot, but Wozniak decided to take his case to the City Council.
This issue finally made its way to the council on March 20--but since Wozniak couldn't attend that meeting, the council tabled it until March 27. That night, councilmembers couldn't get a majority to agree on any ruling; Dona Spring's motion to let Wozniak sit on the commission but recuse himself on lab-related votes came the closest, but Linda Maio abstained, so the council held it over until April 17. Unfortunately, the agenda was so packed that night that the City Council just didn't get to Wozniak, so now it's been held over yet again. "I don't think it will happen at least until April 24," says Spring. "No wait--that's a public hearing night. At least until May 8." At this rate, Wozniak will have retired by the time the council can resolve this, and the whole issue will be moot.
After an at-times cantankerous race, the Oakland City Council District 6 seat goes to carpenters' union rep Moses Mayne Jr., who squeaked to victory on Tuesday with a 129-vote lead. Running a close second was BART director Carole Ward Allen, followed by former Oakland School Board member Toni Cook and community activist Nancy Sidebotham. Mayne--with a $38,000 war chest--had been the top fundraiser, and had received the endorsement of many of the East Bay's political heavy-hitters, including Oakland City Council president Ignacio De La Fuente, state Senator Don Perata, and Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, all of whom had variously assisted Mayne's campaign by lending their aid to phone calling, precinct walking, and sponsoring a $250-to-$500-a-plate fund-raising reception.
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