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Advisory board rejects symbolic Jewish barrier

The ongoing debate about a synagogue’s plan to construct an eruv by stringing monofilament line high above La Jolla streets will move on to the city level without an endorsement from La Jolla’s advisory planning board.

The La Jolla Community Planning Association voted March 2 to deny Congregation Adat Yeshurun’s proposed plan to build an eruv, a symbolic boundary that would exempt Orthodox Jews from certain restrictions of the Sabbath. The proposal will now move on to a city planning commission before coming before the City Council. The vote of disapproval from the Planning Association will serve as an advisory vote for those two bodies.

The eruv proposal has been the subject of a number of public meetings in La Jolla Shores that were fiercely and evenly divided. However, the Planning Association did not hold any discussion on the proposal before voting against it because the item appeared on the meeting’s consent agenda as a result of a unanimous vote to deny the project by the La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee.

The La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee first heard the project because it would involve the installation of four aluminum poles, three inches in diameter and 20 feet tall, in areas of the Shores where there were not enough street lights to hang the monofilament wire that will complete the eruv.

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At a special meeting held Feb. 21, about 100 residents came to speak out on both sides of the proposal. Proponents of the plan argued that the eruv would have a profound positive impact on the lives of the Orthodox Jews it would effect, while everyone else would hardly notice it was there. Opponents of the plan worried that the monofilament lines might have negative aesthetic impacts and interfere with views.

Some speakers worried that the lines would pose a danger to birds and other wildlife. The eruv plans call for pieces of reflective tape, two square inches in size, to be placed at 15 foot intervals on the monofilament wire in areas near bird habitats so that birds would be able to see the lines and avoid them. Some members of the public argued that the pieces of tape would cause a negative aesthetic impact.

The Shores Permit Review Committee cast a split vote at the special meeting but decided to reconvene so it could come to a consensus on the issue and provide a clear recommendation to the Community Planning Association. The committee voted unanimously Feb. 28 to deny the application for a public right of way use permit.

The Shores Permit Review Committee’s official comments on the vote state that the application was denied because the applicant had not proven that the wire would not adversely affect views and the environment. It also cited possible safety risks to bicycles, pedestrians and vehicles should one of the wires fall. The committee also cited the La Jolla Community Plan, which calls for the undergrounding of all overhead wires.

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Because the Permit Review Committee’s vote was unanimous, the proposal appeared on the Community Planning Association’s consent agenda, meaning the association was not required to hold a discussion on the topic. They didn’t, instead moving directly to a vote.

The Planning Association voted 8-1 to affirm the vote held by the Shores Permit Review Committee and deny the project.

That vote will now serve as an advisory vote at the city level. A city planning commission will hear the proposal and submit an advisory vote to the City Council, which will make the final decision some time in the coming months.

There is already one eruv in the city of San Diego. Beth Jacob Congregation constructed one in 2004 in the College area. The eruv proposed by Congregation Adat Yeshurun is mostly under the jurisdiction of the University Community Planning Group, which has already approved it.

City Councilman Scott Peters said he supports an eruv in La Jolla.

“It’s a way to make life easier for some families in our community that has little, if any, impact on the rest of us,” Peters said. “It’s protected by the U.S. Constitution, we already have one in the city, and it’s difficult to imagine what is different about this proposal.”

Some opponents of the eruv have argued that it will serve a religious purpose on public land and compared it to the cross on Mount Soledad, which is currently involved in litigation and may have to be removed. Peters said the comparison is not valid.

“The eruv is not a religious symbol,” he said. “The main difference is the courts have told us we have to take down the cross and eruvs are protected. If we could leave the cross up, I’d like to do that, too.”

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