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Temple Seeks Parking Waiver

Jewish leaders say Tarzana congregation members often walk to Sabbath services.

June 12, 2003|Julie Tamaki | Times Staff Writer

Members of the Beith David Educational Center in Tarzana know the city requires a minimum number of parking spaces at houses of worship, but they figured it may make an exception in the center's case.

As Orthodox Jews, Beith David members don't drive to synagogue on the Sabbath; they walk. Requiring 150 parking spaces at Beith David's proposed new location on Clark Street would be a waste, Ken Pezeshki, the center's president, said, adding that the congregation hired a lawyer and a consultant to study parking patterns at three other Los Angeles Orthodox synagogues to prove the point. The consultant found that Beith David needs 25 spaces, at most.

"We know we are short on parking, but we know at the same time most of our members walk," Pezeshki said. "In busy times, not more than 100 people come. Honest to goodness, 85% to 90% of the people don't drive."

"Parking is an excuse for those who don't want us here," said Parviz Hakimi, Beith David's treasurer.

City transportation officials deemed parking plans submitted by the group as sufficient. But so far, the congregation's efforts have failed to sway city planners or influential Tarzana residents and business owners. The matter is scheduled for a hearing today in Van Nuys.

Helen Itria Norman, president of the Tarzana Property Owners Assn., declined to discuss in detail her group's opposition to Beith David's plans before today's hearing.

"We just want the city codes followed," she said. "Parking gets to be just a terrible problem.

"We don't like to see exceptions made."

The association suggested in a letter to a city planning official that many of the synagogue's members may indeed get behind the wheel because, they contend, Beith David is actually a Conservative Jewish congregation.

"Members of a Conservative congregation are free to choose for themselves," Leonard Shaffer, the association's vice president, wrote in the March 14 letter. "While many do walk to services on the Sabbath, just as many or more do not."

The association reviewed parking practices at three Conservative Jewish synagogues and found that they require more parking than their Orthodox counterparts.

In an interview Thursday, Shaffer said the organization based its conclusion on statements made by members of the congregation. "As I recall at a meeting with [Councilwoman] Cindy Miscikowski's office, they agreed they were a Conservative Jewish congregation," Shaffer said.

Miscikowski represented Tarzana until recent redistricting.

Leaders of Beith David insist, however, that the congregation is Orthodox and produced letters from three local rabbis that they say confirm that.

The South Valley Area Planning Commission is scheduled to sift through the dueling parking studies at a 4:30 p.m. hearing this afternoon at the Airtel Plaza Hotel in Van Nuys. The commission will decide whether to grant Beith David's request, which includes asking for a reduction in the amount of landscaping required.

Beith David members currently use the first floor of a Reseda Boulevard office building just south of the Ventura Freeway as their synagogue. The congregation -- which serves 200 Iranian families, most of whom live within in a two-mile radius -- has only five designated spaces at the building, according to Hakimi.

Rising rents and a desire for more spacious quarters spurred the congregation to purchase a former printing plant on nearby Clark Street, which currently has about 31 parking spaces. According to the plans that the synagogue submitted to the city, planning department officials said 150 parking spaces would be needed.

Beith David arranged to rent nearly 80 parking spaces from a nearby post office and an office building, Pezeshki said. Even in the new quarters, the congregation would continue to hold large-scale services at Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana and bar and bat mitzvahs at hotels, he said.

"Every month we've been paying for nothing," Pezeshki said, referring to the unused parking spaces.

Opponents, however, note that the parking spaces the congregation rents from the post office have limited hours, are on a short-term lease and are unavailable during December. They also question whether the agreement with the nearby office building is viable due to a variety of similar conditions.

A report prepared by the Los Angeles Department of City Planning also recommends that the commission not approve the synagogue's request. It notes that parking is in short supply along the stretch of Clark Street, which is lined mostly with apartments and condominiums.

If the commission follows the planning department recommendation and rules against Beith David, the synagogue's attorney, Ben Reznik, said the congregation will probably appeal the decision to the Los Angeles City Council.

Councilman Dennis Zine, a former Valley Traffic Division police sergeant who represents Tarzana, recently made a surprise Saturday morning visit to Beith David's current location and said he found about 30 people gathered inside.

"I didn't see any cars parked on the street," Zine said. "There were a couple of cars in the lot."

Zine said parking at the Clark Street location remains a community concern, however, and suggested that perhaps the congregation could seek firmer leases for the additional parking spaces.

"I'm going to let the process play itself out," Zine said.

"But I believe in the Constitution and people's right to pray."

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