The Pleasanton City Council held off on deciding the operational fate of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life after learning of an 11th-hour partial compromise between the Jewish organization and backyard neighbors concerned about potential noise.
Central to the deal crafted by the two sides during the last several days -- and hours -- leading up to Tuesday's public hearing would be a wooden “soundwall” around the preschool playground and part of the backyard and shifting smaller outdoor group sessions from the backyard to a new patio at an opposite corner of the building.
The two sides initially described their disagreement as 90% to 95% resolved while asking the council to settle the remaining issues, though they seemed to be drifting apart somewhat after an hour of public comment.
Rather than making a final decision on the last-minute partial compromise and pending points of contention, the council opted to allow city planning staff more time to review all aspects of the proposed agreement, which was presented to the city less than three hours before the council meeting.
“I appreciate all the effort that’s gone into making a compromise, but there are three parties here that have to look at this and the city is one of them,” Mayor Jerry Thorne said.
“I know that you folks want to get this thing resolved and get it out of the council chambers, but I have to agree with the city manager: I don’t think we’ve had enough time to look this over, the information that was given to us this afternoon,” Thorne added.
The City Council was set to weigh in on the neighborhood dispute after the Chabad of the Tri-Valley, led by Rabbi Raleigh Resnick, and their backyard neighbors Darlene and Michael Miller each appealed the Planning Commission's earlier approval of the Jewish congregation’s request to expand its religious activities while also offering a preschool and hosting outdoor events at its property at 3370 Hopyard Road -- a site previously hampered by noise and rowdiness problems when it served as the Pleasanton Masons’ lodge.
The commission on June 27 endorsed permit conditions aimed at finding a balance between the property rights of both sides -- a middle ground that neither group appeared particularly happy with.
But that seemed to change in just the past few days, before what was expected to be a contentious public hearing before the council -- if the nearly seven hours of public debate between two commission meetings were any indication.
Resnick and the Millers said they met for hours in recent days to try to come to a compromise, and they delivered their partial agreement to city officials around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. Each side then described the deal in separate presentations at the meeting.
“As residents, our only concern has been outside noise. We are very enthusiastic about Chabad being in the community and about the value they bring,” Michael Miller told the council. “We recommend this solution to you as our best efforts to balance these needs of two groups who want to live together harmoniously.”
“The way we thought of them originally as being completely unreasonable … that was really as a result of what happened with them and the Masons, a result of 10 years worth, and we understand their scars,” Resnick said.
“I’ve spent more than a dozen hours with them in the last few days. I have newfound respect for them,” the rabbi added. “They are upstanding people. They truly value what we are trying to bring to this community.”
“We are happy to come before you tonight to tell you that we have reached a compromise with Chabad,” Darlene Miller said at the outset of a public discussion that ended about an hour later with her feeling much differently, filled with “frustration” and “disappointment.”
The Chabad's plans for their property, a one-acre parcel near the intersection with South Valley Trails Drive that Chabad purchased from the Masons nearly one year ago, have been under city consideration for months, including packed Planning Commission hearings in April and June.
The property acquisition marked a key turning point for the Chabad, giving the organization -- that started in the Resnicks' living room more than a decade ago -- a permanent home after years moving through meeting rooms and leased space.
But the Chabad's plans for utilizing their new building and property opened old wounds for the Millers and other neighbors, who dealt with rowdy groups who rented the space when it was the Masonic Lodge. The situation got so bad with the Masons that the City Council imposed strict regulations on the lodge in 2016, including outlawing outdoor activities, limiting occupancy and allowing music indoors only, with all doors closed.
Those neighboring residents were concerned about similar noise problems if the Chabad hosts outdoor activities, including special events, religious services, preschool playground and frequent small group sessions.
City staff and the commission said the Chabad should be limited to no more than 15 such gatherings per year for 50-120 people in the back patio, ending at 10 p.m -- and only two of those could have amplified sound.
Those proposed permit provisions, and others, were among the sticking points for the Chabad and the Millers, who each filed separate appeals asking the council to overturn the commission's approval in their favor.
The Millers, who submitted their appeal first, argued the commissioners did not adequately analyze noise impacts from the preschool and outdoor events, nor should they have allowed non-religious outdoor events or override the council's prior restrictions when the site was Masons-owned.
Resnick, in his appeal on behalf of the Chabad, said some of the commission's permit conditions violated the organization's rights under the federal Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act.
Those provisions included limitations on outdoor events to 15 per year, the number of people at the Chabad Center inside or out to 120 at any time, how the back patio could be used and how often preschool kids could play outside -- as well as a stipulation requiring all windows and doors to remain closed while the building is in use.
The debate before the council was more subdued Tuesday night than seen at the earlier commission meetings. The council chamber saw nearly 100 people, but only a handful spoke as most of the public discussion involved the two appellants describing their compromise, separately.
Michael Miller said the proposed wooden “soundwall” -- essentially a thicker fence -- would alleviate key noise concerns, as would shifting the small outdoor sessions to the front corner of the building, on the Hopyard Road side, in a new patio area.
Those concessions led the couple to now support the preschool with playground, up to 15 large outdoor events and the Chabad’s full use of the backyard, including a contemplation garden and a possible future residence for the rabbi’s family, Michael Miller said.
The Chabad agreed to build the sound buffer and create the new patio, but Resnick was still looking for more leeway from the city on the number of outdoor events and amount of people for religious services.
“Please give us (restrictions) we can live with and work with … please allow us to just do what we need to do to be able to observe our faith, celebrate our community and be here together,” Resnick said.
The two sides initially asked the council to make the final call on those remaining issues, but Resnick advocating for more events, higher capacity and over 24 kids outdoors in the preschool playground, along with comments from the Chabad’s attorney and some supporters, seemed to agitate Darlene Miller toward the end of the discussion.
In her rebuttal remarks, she said she was “disappointed and sad” after seeing how the meeting transpired -- comments that appeared to bring into question the status of the proposed partial compromise going forward.
In the end, the council members determined they needed more time for city staff to review the last-minute partial agreement and speak with both appellants before making a final recommendation.
The public hearing was continued to a yet-undetermined future date, likely in the next month or so. Councilman Jerry Pentin was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.