Supes clear one of last hurdles for new JCC building

Loud applause erupted in Room 250 of City Hall on Monday when San Francisco's Board of Supervisors voted to uphold the Planning Commission's decision to reject landmark status for the JCC.

With Supervisor Sue Bierman as the lone voice of dissent, the board voted 10-1 in favor of the measure, which was, in effect, one of the last hurdles preventing the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco from razing its current building to build a new one.

The vote came after more than an hour and a half of impassioned testimony from both sides. The Art Deco Society of California led the appeal of the Planning Commission's Nov. 9 decision to overturn landmark status.

The society was joined by architect Arnie Lerner, who had opposed the new JCC from the outset, as well as urban planner Cynthia Servetnick, who came up with a last-minute plan to add a new building across the street on land owned by UCSF. However, the university had previously indicated it had no intention of offering that site to the JCC.

All the same arguments were made: that the building was the work of noted San Francisco architect Arthur Brown Jr.; that the Jewish community had inflated the cost of preservation; that razing such a historic building does not bode well for the city.

But despite the efforts of the 15 or so who testified to preserve the current building at 3200 California St., they were no match for the organized Jewish community, which came out in full force to speak on behalf of the new building.

More than 20 Jewish community activists spoke out in favor of a new JCC, including John Goldman, Jewish Community Federation president; Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council; and John Rothmann, who is also president of the Laurel Heights Improvement Association.

Again, the same arguments were made: that due to building limitations the JCC cannot financially support its current programs and is turning people away; that a new building is required to allow the JCC to flourish and grow.

Newcomer Tuffy Bental made an especially convincing argument. As the owner of Tuffy's Hopscotch, a children's shoe store near the JCC, Bental bemoaned the lack of parking in the neighborhood. She said she was willing to put up with the inconvenience of construction because the proposed JCC, which includes an underground parking structure, would alleviate the parking situation in the area in the long run.

At her store, she said, she has perfected what she calls a "drive-by shoeing," in which a mother calls her on her cell phone, tells her what size and kind of shoe her child needs, and then a clerk runs out and delivers it to the car waiting outside.

The tenor of Monday's hearing got a bit snippy at times, with both sides accusing the other of paying people to be there, or at least, for their bus or cab fare.

And J. Moreau Brown, president of the Montefiore Senior Center, which meets at the JCC, received a laugh when he said of the preservationists: "I don't know what these people have contributed to the JCC. I don't recognize any of them."

Ron Miguel, president of the Planning Association of the Richmond, seemed to sum up the feelings of those who support the new building when he said, "Nostalgia does not hold up the future."

On Tuesday, the Transportation and Land Use Committee of the Board of Supervisors approved the JCC's environmental impact report and conditional use permit. The Board of Supervisors must approve it now, and it will hear the case on Dec. 4.

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Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."