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Los Angeles pays $950,000 to settle Jewish prayer house case

August 14, 2013|By Catherine Saillant
  • Congregation Etz Chaim in 2003 built its sanctuary at 303 S. Highland Avenue in Hancock Park. Federal ruling allows its use as prayer house.
Congregation Etz Chaim in 2003 built its sanctuary at 303 S. Highland Avenue… (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles…)

A long-running legal dispute over the use of a Hancock Park home as an Orthodox Jewish prayer house ended Wednesday with the city of Los Angeles agreeing to pay $950,000 in attorney fees and costs to settle the case.

The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to pay lawyers representing Congregation Etz Chaim in the case involving a residential property at 3rd Street and Highland Avenue. Synagogue leaders sued the city in 2010, challenging its denial of a conditional use permit to use the enlarged home as a religious sanctuary.

The conflict stretches back to 1996, when the city first denied the congregation’s application for a zoning variance. The city found that the synagogue would produce too much traffic and was out of character with the neighborhood’s stately homes.

Etz Chaim filed suit after a second permit was denied, citing a federal law that prohibits governments from imposing land-use regulations that intrude on exercises of religion. In 2011, U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder agreed that the city’s denial of permits violated federal law.

In May, Snyder issued an injunction allowing the congregation to use the home as a synagogue, with restrictions on the type of events that can be held and how many cars can park on nearby streets.

A city Claims Board, which reviews potential settlements, recommended that the council approve the pact. “It’s the final, absolute resolution of a long-brewing struggle,’’ said Councilman Paul Krekorian.

A lawsuit involving some similar issues was filed last year by San Fernando Valley residents who objected when Chabad of North Hollywood was permitted to replace an aging synagogue on Chandler Boulevard with a much larger one. 

That case is scheduled for a hearing in October, said Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for the city attorney's office.


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