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A city planner scales back Museum of Tolerance expansion plan

March 20, 2009|Martha Groves
  • Students tour the Museum of Tolerance. Senior City Planner Jim Tokunaga said his recommendations took into account concerns of nearby residents, who had contended the expansion would exacerbate traffic and parking problems.
Students tour the Museum of Tolerance. Senior City Planner Jim Tokunaga… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)

The Museum of Tolerance would be allowed to expand but would not be allowed to rent space for private parties under recommendations made by a senior city planner in the Los Angeles Planning Department.

In a report prepared for the March 26 city Planning Commission meeting, Jim Tokunaga advised that the panel reject the museum's request that it be allowed to dramatically extend its exhibition hours and to lease reception and banquet space that could accommodate hundreds of guests until as late as midnight six days a week.

Rather, Tokunaga recommended that the Pico Boulevard institution, the educational arm of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, be allowed to hold two special events a month from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. and to extend its exhibition hours until 9:30 p.m. one night a week, rather than the five the museum had requested. The special events could admit a maximum of 500 people, as opposed to the 800 the museum had wanted.

Holding banquets, wedding receptions, and bar and bat mitzvah parties is "really not a function of a museum, if their goal is for educational purposes," Tokunaga said in an interview. He also recommended that the museum cafe be available only to museum patrons and not to the general public, as the museum had requested.

Tokunaga said he took into account the concerns of nearby residents, who had contended that the expansion would exacerbate traffic and parking problems and overwhelm the scale of the single-family-home neighborhood.

The Planning Commission may reverse, modify or accept Tokunaga's recommendations.

Susan Gans, a neighbor and attorney who has helped spearhead a group called the Homeowners Opposed to Museum Expansion, said opponents were "extremely pleased" by Tokunaga's recommendations.

"We feel that the Planning Department has listened to us, but we cannot rest easily until we are completely through the process," Gans said. "While we do have several concerns with the recommendations overall, we recognize that the department tried to strike a fair and reasonable compromise."

Among her concerns was that Tokunaga recommended that the museum be allowed to annex a 7,153-square-foot wing of the adjoining Yeshiva University of Los Angeles Boys High School, a private Jewish school that is connected to the museum by a bridge. Yeshiva is simultaneously seeking to add about 9,800 square feet to what was approved in a 1999 conditional use permit.

In another blow to the museum, Tokunaga also recommended that the museum's addition be limited to a height of 40 feet. The museum had asked for a maximum of 63 feet 8 inches. It also had requested a buffer of 20 feet from its nearest neighbor, but Tokunaga upped that to 30 feet.

Joan Kradin, a spokeswoman for the museum, said the planner's report "recognizes the museum's need for expansion and basically recommends approval of most of what we requested." However, museum officials had lobbied hard for the option to rent space for private parties, saying that the additional revenue would enable the museum to serve more visitors.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is headed by Rabbi Marvin Hier, whose supporters include Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Councilman Jack Weiss.


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