Council delays Chabad decision after last-minute compromise attempt | News | |


Council delays Chabad decision after last-minute compromise attempt

Two sides present surprise partial deal; city officials want more time to review

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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.

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8 people like this
Posted by Miffed
a resident of Valley Trails
on Aug 22, 2018 at 2:58 pm

Really disappointed in city government. This Council asked for a compromise and both sides gave them one. Now it cannot do its stat d job. No wonder people say government is broken.

1 person likes this
Posted by Map
a resident of Del Prado
on Aug 22, 2018 at 3:25 pm

What’s the zoning on that property? Is a future residential unit allowed, and if so how many residential units can be built there and still be called church property??

5 people like this
Posted by Grumpy
a resident of Vineyard Avenue
on Aug 22, 2018 at 4:09 pm

Grumpy is a registered user.

Compromise is good. Let’s avoid this becoming an expensive nightmare.

8 people like this
Posted by highdiver
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2018 at 4:49 pm

I have lived in Pleasanton for 47 yrs and my backyard faces a grammar school. The sounds of children have never bothered me. In fact in time you never know they are there. Similar to living near a railroad track, in time you tune it out. But, if one family can control a properly zoned property, they win. I bet it's quiet there most times of the day.

6 people like this
Posted by Jack
a resident of Downtown
on Aug 23, 2018 at 8:43 am

Jack is a registered user.

Both sides agree but City Staff has to weigh in? Once again the Council behaving like an advisory committee and not an elected body of leaders...

10 people like this
Posted by Orange
a resident of Willow West
on Aug 23, 2018 at 4:05 pm

You would have to watch the meeting to understand how the Rabbi double-crossed the neighbors. Wow!

4 people like this
Posted by Grumpy
a resident of Vineyard Avenue
on Aug 23, 2018 at 5:36 pm

Grumpy is a registered user.

Pray tell Orange, how do you beleive the “Rabbi double-crossed their neighbors”... Sounds like a cheap shot and rather intentionally disrespectful of a religious figure without any evidence. I’m afraid it’s comments like yours that make people wonder about hatred in our community being a contributing factor in this debate.

13 people like this
Posted by Julie
a resident of Birdland
on Aug 23, 2018 at 6:39 pm

Both sides submitted a long document that still had disagreements 2 hours before the meeting.

I’m thankful that Council had the good sense to continue rather than approve it without reading it.

11 people like this
Posted by Michael Austin
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Aug 23, 2018 at 7:14 pm

The city council made the right decision.
Staff must determine that proposed sound wall meets city code.
The new patio meets city code for human occupancy, etc.

7 people like this
Posted by Wilma
a resident of Alisal Elementary School
on Aug 23, 2018 at 7:21 pm

Wilma is a registered user.

Hopefully both sides work it out themselves and present the City Council with their compromise solution in advance of the next hearing so the regulations or conditions can be prepared by the city staff for a mutually agreed upon approval.

6 people like this
Posted by Realist
a resident of Harvest Park Middle School
on Aug 25, 2018 at 12:34 am

So sad that children today are considered a noise issue no different from the sound of motors and construction. When did American hearts become so hard against the natural process of growing up?

14 people like this
Posted by A parent
a resident of Downtown
on Aug 25, 2018 at 6:26 am

“When did American hearts become so hard against the natural process of growing up?”
That happened when parents started letting their kids behave like out of control animals. Look around in any setting at all — restaurants, grocery stores, movie theaters, airplanes— what you will see is kids with no concept of how to behave. And parents who take no control of them. My kids were raised to have some manners, these days all I see are ill mannered brats and it is disturbing to think that it seems to be accepted as normal.

8 people like this
Posted by Public nuisance
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Aug 25, 2018 at 1:38 pm

I've lived in Pleasanton all of my life and starting about 15 years ago, the city stopped enforcing the laws and zoning restrictions. This business used to be in Vintage Hills. How many dozens of police calls and letters from the city attorney's office are needed to stop middle of the night public nuisance behavior?

I find it outrageous that city personnel, most of whom seem to now live out of town, treat life-long Pleasanton residents with disdain and disrespect for the simple request that the city enforce the law and zoning regulations that are on the books.

This is what needs to be done, period. City personnel that recommend that children and grandchildren of Pleasanton residents take Ambien so they will get undisturbed sleep just need to be dismissed, period.

I wish they would just hire back Deborah McKeehan.

It is no wonder that city employees now mostly live out of town. They wouldn't be able to put up with the constant late night noise. At least where they live, they can get a decent night's sleep.

4 people like this
Posted by Realist
a resident of Harvest Park Middle School
on Aug 26, 2018 at 2:28 am

Children playing outdoors is not a restaurant, grocery store, movie theater, nor an airplane. Next!

4 people like this
Posted by Do the tough job and say NO
a resident of Jensen Tract
on Aug 27, 2018 at 10:28 pm

The Council is dreaming if they think the Rabbi will be reasonable with the neighbors. Each step he keeps asking for more and more. Someone needs to tell him to limit his use to religious activities only. For example, he wants to run a preschool and day care center - when the school nor his wife have a childcare license. This is a state violation. He has been making kosher wine since 2012 with Mitchel Katz at their former facility and serving at Castlewood to Dublin and Livermore Mayors: Web Link

What is next, wine making and selling in a neighborhood?

3 people like this
Posted by Sleep deprivation
a resident of Parkside
on Aug 29, 2018 at 4:08 pm

My entire neighborhood has had issues with the building on Hopyard Road for years that was regularly rented out as "Club Metro," a nightclub, and many other events day and night, weekdays and weekends. It is non-stop.

In addition, the run-down Hacienda Business Park can't attract name companies anymore. I'm not surprised with the lawns and landscaping that is brown and dying and the out-of-date buildings that now are there. The end result is that they are leasing to various groups that have made living in Pleasanton a nightmare. My house backyard backs to the Arroyo and MCC East Bay in Hacienda on West Las Positas is diagonally across from it.

This business regularly holds banquets, conventions, meetings, concerts and other events that go late into the evening and night. Cars park in surrounding businesses in the Hacienda Business Park. From their website:

"....meeting space for banquets, lectures, classes, workshops, Nikkahs, Aqiqah, and discussions and is open to the public to rent; subject to MCC’s approval.
•Banquet Hall – $500.00 – Seats 130 guest and includes tables and chairs, food warmers, and all utensils. Cleaning fee extra.
•Conference Center – $350.00 – Seats 120 guests on back-chairs and includes A/V setup.
•Prayer Hall – $65.00 – Seats 250 guests.

Our Conference Center is fully equipped with audio visual capabilities including microphones (wireless and handheld), speakers, projectors, Smart TV as well as tables, back-chairs, and chairs for your seating convenience. Free parking is available on-site."

Sound at night permeates the neighborhood from both sides. I don't face the Sports Park, but from the noise generated from the business on Hopyard and the Hacienda Business Park "banquet halls," living in Pleasanton is anything but "pleasant."

It is truly miserable. I would encourage anyone looking to buy a house in Pleasanton to go to a neighboring city instead such as Livermore where this type of abuse of neighborhoods is not tolerated by the city staff.

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