Kol Shofar moves forward on expansion despite appeal

The protracted legal battle over Congregation Kol Shofar’s expansion plans in Tiburon isn’t over yet, but the synagogue believes victory is almost in hand.

The 600-family congregation is moving forward with the completion of final design plans and a building department review, targeting a February 2009 groundbreaking for its new sanctuary, multi-

purpose room and classrooms.

The Tiburon Neighborhood Coalition recently filed an appeal over a county court ruling that had upheld the Tiburon Town Council’s previous certification of the synagogue’s environmental impact report and the project.

The coalition has been fighting with the synagogue since August 2005, when it first expressed reservations over the synagogue’s original expansion plan, citing traffic, noise, lighting and congestion as its main concerns. Kol Shofar eventually submitted a revised plan, which was approved by the Town Council.

In February 2007, the coalition sued the town of Tiburon over its approval of the Kol Shofar expansion plan. Earlier this year, the approval was upheld in Marin Superior Court.

Three weeks ago, a newsletter informed congregants that Kol Shofar’s legal team believes chances are “extremely low” that the coalition appeal will be successful.

Coalition attorney Stephan Volker said the group wants further concessions, but he wouldn’t reveal them, saying negotiations — which are currently suspended — are confidential, but he hopes they will resume on appeal. Volker added that he expects the appeal to be resolved within the next year.

“I’ve been up against [the law firm representing Kol Shofar] in four previous cases [across California], and we’ve won all four,” the Oakland-based Volker said. “So the assessment that they will win has to be assessed in light of that.”

That statement ignores the facts of this case, said attorney Andrea Leisy of Remy, Thomas, Moose and Manley, the Sacramento-based firm representing Kol Shofar.

“The congregation went above and beyond what is normally required for a project of this size, and they did so in a good-faith attempt to address the concerns of the town and the few residents who oppose the project,” Leisy said.

“We’re confident that the [First District] Court of Appeal will rule the same [as the Marin Superior Court],” added attorney Laura Harris.

The May 30 newsletter noted the many concessions Kol Shofar had made. These included reducing the square footage of the proposed multipurpose facility from 9,700 square feet to 8,300, agreeing to limit the number of Saturday and Sunday evening events, and setting a curfew and capping the number of attendees at those events.

The newsletter also touted how the synagogue had undertaken the comprehensive and costly environmental impact report.

“Our having done so,” the newsletter pointed out, “contrasts sharply with St. Hilary’s Church of Tiburon, whose redevelopment and expansion project only two years previously, which considerably exceeded our scope, had been exempted from an EIR, without challenge.”

Under the assumption that they will have a groundbreaking in 2009, Kol Shofar is moving forward with its plans — including an agreement with nearby Westminster Church to host Friday night, Saturday morning and holiday services.

But some are still puzzled by the latest turn of events over the Tiburon property.

“Frankly, they’ve made no proposals and no approach to us [since the latest ruling in March] … There’s absolutely nothing happening,” said Ron Brown, former Kol Shofar president and current building committee member.

“We remain puzzled … as to why they’re continuing to press this. The judge in the superior court found in our favor in every respect.”