Pleasanton: Chabad Center damaged in overnight fire

Building largely intact but significant exterior damage; cause unknown with no sign of arson, per LPFD

The Chabad Center for Jewish Life caught fire overnight but remained largely intact Friday morning, with a quick response from local firefighters limiting the most significant damage to the exterior and roof of the Pleasanton synagogue.

The Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department reported finding no immediate indications of arson but is still trying to determine what caused the fire just after midnight Friday, and Chabad leaders are thankful no one was hurt and their building is still standing.

"An incredible thank-you to the firefighters who saved the building. They saved the Torahs and because of them we have our building," Rabbi Raleigh Resnick, spiritual leader of the Chabad of the Tri-Valley, told the Weekly outside the synagogue mid-morning Friday. "As a community, we will come together and rebuild, and it will be grander and greater than it was before."

Resnick said he's not sure how the fire ignited on the outside of the building when the Hopyard Road property should have been unoccupied for hours, but he is not jumping to any conclusions about the cause.

"It's important to not get the people up in arms that 'they're burning down synagogues,'" the Rabbi said. "There's no signs of arson ... But it's certainly suspicious that a fire would start in the middle of the night. We don't know."

The flames were first spotted around 12:45 a.m. Friday coming from the Chabad Center at the corner of Hopyard Road and South Valley Trails Drive, according to LPFD battalion chief Jason Solak.

Firefighters arrived to the one-story building within six minutes of the initial call and used an aggressive attack to contain the flames to the exterior and roof area in the back half of the building, gaining control of the fire within 30 minutes, Solak said.

The exterior wall in the backyard and patio area sustained significant damage, as did parts of the walls on either adjoining side, the eaves and roof. Inside, there was some minor fire damage in the dining room but smoke and water damage occurred throughout the interior as firefighters worked successfully to keep the flames out of the interior.

No injuries were reported in what was classified as a one-alarm fire, according to LPFD deputy chief Joe Testa. Alameda County Fire Department crews assisted in the initial response, and LPFD firefighters remained on scene for four hours.

"The cause of the fire is under a joint investigation by the Pleasanton Police Department and Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department. As of now there are no indications of arson," Testa said. A damage estimate is not available yet.

Resnick said he got the call around 1 a.m. Friday that a fire was raging at the Chabad Center and immediately rushed to the property at 3370 Hopyard Road.

He said the synagogue was empty when he locked up for the night Thursday around 10 p.m., so knowing nobody was inside the building, his thoughts turned to the sacred Torah scrolls. He said he arrived to see the Chabad Center in flames but as he tried to go inside to save the scrolls, police and fire personnel held him back -- but firefighters were soon able to remove the scrolls undamaged.

The Rabbi, who'd been back and forth to the Chabad Center during and after the fire, said around 10:30 a.m. Friday that he was grateful for the quick and thorough response of the fire crews that kept the building standing and intact, especially considering how intense the exterior flames appeared the night before.

"Big blessing. Big miracle," Resnick said. "We're here. Everybody's safe. We have the building. We have the Torah scrolls."

With the building unusable, Resnick said he was reaching out to local hotels for conference room space in which to hold services in the coming days before finding a longer-term solution after the fire.

The Hopyard Road property had been the Chabad's home since the group purchased it from the Pleasanton Masons in September 2017. The acquisition marked a key turning point for the Chabad, giving the growing orthodox Jewish organization -- that started in the Resnicks' living room more than a decade ago -- a permanent location after years moving through meeting rooms and leased space.

The Chabad's operational and expansion plans for the site resulted in nearly a year of public debate, including several tense city hearings, as some Valley Trails residents who supported Chabad arriving in their neighborhood were concerned with potential noise and crowd issues from expanded day care operations and non-religious outdoor events.

By April, Chabad, their neighbors and city leaders had all endorsed an amicable solution, and Resnick said with the city approvals in-hand, he was ready to meet with architects soon to finalize plans although no onsite work had begun yet in the 39-year-old building.

The Chabad Center is located on a prominent corner of Hopyard Road, on a block with strong religious presence. The property shares a parking lot with St. Clare's Episcopal Church, and across the street is Harvest Valley Christian Church.

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9 people like this
Posted by James Michael
a resident of Val Vista
on Aug 9, 2019 at 12:44 pm

James Michael is a registered user.

Shalom alechem, Rabbi.

3 people like this
Posted by Puzzled
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 9, 2019 at 12:56 pm

Why would there be several children's bicycles in different sizes shown in the picture the Pleasanton Weekly posted if the building was unoccupied? Why would a set of bicycles be present overnight? From the pictures, it looks like a family with many children of various ages could have been living in the building.

18 people like this
Posted by Steve
a resident of another community
on Aug 9, 2019 at 1:27 pm

I hope it's not arson. Thankfully, no one was hurt. Building can be replaced.

3 people like this
Posted by Slack
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 9, 2019 at 5:13 pm

@ Puzzled - There seems to be some confusion. Up until the fire, the building was used daily by the congregation, not unoccupied as you may have suspected. With small children there from time to time and during services, bikes of various sizes are absolutely normal. No family living there, not sure where that idea/speculation came from.

7 people like this
Posted by pope john
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 9, 2019 at 9:10 pm

Rabbi activity and commentary is suspicious!

11 people like this
Posted by Appalled
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 9, 2019 at 11:08 pm

I find the entire situation appalling. The adjoining neighborhoods could have all caught on fire in the middle of the night causing a complete tragedy.

Also, I find that the article did not at all discuss nor explore the issues involving ongoing construction at this building.

For instance, why do city records online indicate that the electrical final inspection never performed for electrical work --- changes to the outlets and lighting work for 100+ canned lights --- being installed in the building? City records on the internet show on 4/9 this was recorded at 11:36 AM:

Date: 4/9/2019 Not ready for Final.

Though some issues were resolved, it looks like there was never a final inspection.
Why was a business allowed to go 4 months without ever receiving a final inspection?

Previous notations say:
"4/5/2019 This was more a rough electrical inspection. Not ready for a Final. 1. Need Min 15AFF to bottom of wall outlets. 2. For proposed chandeliers provide specs to the electrician in particular for the weight to determine the support boxes. 3. At existing j-box to be made accessible through the attic. Ok to cover false/soffit framing of the ceiling only. Schedule a rough electrical inspection for item No. 1."

In the end, the record say this and the final inspection with a full pass never seemed to happen or if it did, it is not in the city records. There was only a partial pass.

Completed (3)
2- Partial Pass - 2; 6- Cancelled - 1

2- Partial Pass 999 Final (1179993)
Result by: Alfredo Vasquez on 04/05/2019 at 10:09 AM

2- Partial Pass 405 Rough Electrical (1180126)
Result by: Alfredo Vasquez on 04/09/2019 at 11:36 AM

6- Cancelled 999 Final (1180081)
Result by: Alfredo Vasquez on 04/09/2019 at 11:36 AM

29 people like this
Posted by Grumpy
a resident of Vineyard Avenue
on Aug 10, 2019 at 9:57 am

Grumpy is a registered user.

Appalled and others,

It seems awfully unusual that you would be trying to litigate here a beef with the group, and would have so closely tracked the permitting of the building, so soon after the fire. Clearly you are not a fan of theirs and have been paying unusually close attention to them.

25 people like this
Posted by James Michael
a resident of Val Vista
on Aug 10, 2019 at 10:35 am

James Michael is a registered user.

I think the Grump is right. Maybe part of the same group of disgruntled neighbors that made the Masons flee.

2 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Aug 10, 2019 at 12:32 pm

In my many trips to the synagogue, I've never seen Congregation Beth Emek have bicycles in front or back of the building. It doesn't have bicycles outside.

Those that demand cancellations for building inspections and receive them for major electrical retrofit work must have powerful friends in city hall.

23 people like this
Posted by Chabad Member
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 11, 2019 at 1:00 am

As a member of the congregation, I see it important to set the record straight and not allow hatred, lies, and baseless accusations to be publicly spewed:

1) As per Chabad’s Conditional Use Permit, the outside of the back of the building (where the fire began) is to be a buffer area and not to be used for gatherings. Hence it is used as storage for equipment including youth and sports items such as bikes, basketball hoops, etc.

2) Chabad’s sanctuary is in the process of being remodeled by a licensed contractor with building permits. When the renovation is complete, a final inspection will take place. The sanctuary is on the other side of the building far away from the fire and was untouched by the fire.

18 people like this
Posted by Ptown Mom of 3
a resident of Foothill High School
on Aug 12, 2019 at 10:24 am

Ptown Mom of 3 is a registered user.

I agree with Grumpy! Leave this group alone and let them use their property for their benefit and the community at large. The prior owners The Masons, used this building for rental and tried to stay afloat, but your constant complaining drove them away. Now you are just creating problems for the new owners. Get a life. It's not like they are running a "massage" parlor out of there!

Like this comment
Posted by James Michael
a resident of Val Vista
on Oct 16, 2019 at 6:25 pm

James Michael is a registered user.

This story is over two months old. Any cause of the fire yet?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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