The small Chabad of Oak Park synagogue has enjoyed warm relations with its neighbors for 15 years, but last week two events marred its placid existence.
On Tuesday morning (7/27), the shul’s two rabbis discovered the exhortation “Get Out of Oak Park” spray-painted on the front wall of the building.
Two days later, the Ventura County Planning Commission turned down Chabad’s request to more than double the number of worshippers currently allowed in the building for Shabbat services.
Chabad of Oak Park was established as a small shtibl in the rustic Conejo Valley community of some 16,000 residents in what had been a private home on a quiet residential street.
Under Chabad’s conditional use permit, attendance was limited to 70 worshippers, but as the young families grew and hosted occasional visitors, space became tight and Chabad requested that legal occupancy be raised to 145, a figure deemed safe by the fire department.
Annual High Holiday and Simchat Torah services are held in a different location.
Chabad also asked for easing of parking restrictions at its mikveh, the only one in the Conejo Valley, addition of Sunday services, and use of an unauthorized covered patio.
In a familiar Southern California scenario, some neighbors objected to Chabad’s requested “modifications,” which they saw as an expansion which would increase traffic and parking problems on their tranquil street. Chabad countered that the great majority of its members walked, rather than drove, to Shabbat services.
In a hearing three months ago, the Oak Park Municipal Advisory Council approved most of Chabad’s requests, but on Thursday (7/29), the Ventura County Planning Commission turned down all of Chabad’s requests by a 4:0 vote.
The hearing was attended by about 100 Chabad supporters and 25 opponents, reported the Ventura Star. Chabad leaders said they would appeal the decision to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors.
The graffiti is under investigation by the Ventura County sheriff’s department, and the Ventura Star quoted Capt. Ross Bonfiglio as saying that if a perpetrator were identified, he would be charged with misdemeanor vandalism, but not with committing a hate crime.
As part of its current community relations effort, Chabad has organized a hiking club among its members, who regularly clean the trash on surrounding trails, spokesman Harry Medved said, and plans to launch a Neighborhood Outreach Alliance to discuss and settle any problems and complaints.
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