“This isn’t anti-Semitism, this is anti-stupidity!”
So says Jeff Gantman, one of a group of some 200 neighbors in the immediate neighborhood around the controversial Chabad House synagogue, who are actively opposed to its completion.
Chabad House is in the midst of building a 12,000-square-foot synagogue on their property at 13079 Chandler Blvd., which is in the heart of a residential Sherman Oaks neighborhood, and which has been the source of much ongoing controversy, .
Gantman sat down with Patch on Tuesday, along with Tess Jones and her husband, Mitch Ramin, to discuss this volatile issue and to clarify the facts surrounding their opposition.
It’s an issue which has been colored by allegations that the real agenda here is not genuine opposition to this specific project, but actually an expression of anti-Semitism.
It isn’t true, according to Mitch Ramin.
“I’m Jewish,” he said, sitting on a couch in his sunny living-room, two properties west on Chandler from the project, "and so is Jeff, and so are most of the people – not all, but most – of the people in this neighborhood."
“It is simply absurd to call mostly Jewish people anti-Semites because they’re against an oversized project.”
The real issue is not religion, he explained, it’s size.
“We are not against a development or an enlargement of this project,” he said, “it all comes down to size and intensity of use."
“We understand it’s a religious institution and they have the right to practice,” he continued. “We respect that right. We respect their right to expand, and to have a larger building than the 1,300-square foot building that they had. But this project is simply too big.”
Allegations that opposition to this project are led by only a handful of neighbors are false, they contend.
“There are 200 of us in this neighborhood,” Gantman said, “who have been opposed to this project for seven years. That is not a small bunch of people.”
“This [problem] is not the creation of the neighbors,” Gantman continued, “it’s the creation of Chabad, and it’s their responsibility. They knew the rules, they knew the lot’s limitations. [Their attorney] Benjamin Reznik told ABC-TV yesterday that this is a legal project. It is not a legal project, because the Court of Appeals found that it was illegally granted."
“As neighbors and opponents of this project, we can spend all of our time contradicting his rhetoric, or dealing with the facts. And the facts are that you don’t put 12,000 square feet with no parking on that limited lot.”
“This isn’t a visual problem,” said Tess Jones. "Although it does not fit in at all with the character of this neighborhood. The real problem is about intensity of use. This area cannot support the intensity of use we’re talking about from a 12,000 square-foot building.”
That intensity of use mostly has to do, she explained, with the parking problem, providing for only five parking spaces. The explanation offered by Chabad for this paucity of parking is that the congregation will not drive on the Sabbath, or Shabos as it is known, because it violates Jewish law to do so.
That justification doesn’t hold water, Ramin explained.
“The truth is that, as we know from living here for the past 10-½ years, that the no-driving-on-Shabos rule is kind of an inside joke. A lot of them drive in, park their cars in the area Friday before sundown, leave them, walk home Friday night, and then Saturday after service they drive home. So car alarms go off throughout the night, with nobody around to turn them off. And their cars are left all night.”
The three neighbors also reject Chabad's insistence that this project has nothing to do with their goal of expansion.
“This is about growth, although they deny it,” said Ramin. “And there is nothing wrong with that; we’re not opposed to Chabad, we’re Jewish. But there is no denying that Chabad intends to grow."
“The challenge that policy-makers have,” he continued, “is how to balance the needs of the entire community, not just one special interest. There are people who have lived here for 50 years, who remember the little market that used to be on that lot. They remember that Chabad came in 1981, and was only allowed to develop that lot based on conditions that were never followed. They are restricted from changing the nature of the neighborhood."
“But these conditions are not enforceable,” he added. “You can’t tell someone like Chabad, which is all about growth, not to grow.”
The blame for this development going forward, they all agreed, belongs to former Councilman Jack Weiss, whose invocation of section 245 of the City Charter enabled this project to move forward after it was halted.
“He did it 11 days before leaving office,” Gantman said.
Weiss’s successor, Paul Koretz, has been unresponsive to their concerns about the project, Ramin said.
“[Koretz] said he can’t do anything, it’s up to the City Attorney. But Koretz is the mayor here; he has all the control. The city attorney says that it’s up to the decision-makers, meaning Koretz. But Koretz will not touch this.”
Although none of the neighbors intends to back down, all three seemed resigned to the fact that their opposition is powerless to stop this.
"This is a fait accompli," said Gantman. "It's already done."
So why fight it?
“Because this is about the principle,” he said. “If this can happen here, it can happen in any neighborhood."
“What this story is really about,” he said, “is the lack of accountability of a government that isn’t working anymore for the people. This is about the rules not being followed. The reality is all that we asked for was just to do this right. Have this project go through the proper vetting and you won’t come out with a 12,000 square foot building.”
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See Part II of this story, .