Local Temple Brunch Draws Crowds, Ire of Neighborhood

Neighbors Complain That Weekly Events Bring Noise, Odors, And Excessive Traffic

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A local temple's food program that attracts patrons from across California has provoked a backlash from community members who say it is disrupting their neighborhood.

Every Sunday, hundreds gather at the Wat Mongkolratanaram Thai Buddhist temple, located at 1911 Russell Street, for its reasonably-priced authentic cuisine and unique cultural atmosphere.

But some neighbors say that the event produces unappealing noise and odor and overcrowds the area.

"During the two days we're home, the odor is inescapable," said Tom Rough, who lives on Oregon Street. "I support the Thai community and the temple, but ... if they're cooking right outside your bedroom window, it's a matter of concern."

For the members of the temple, however, the food program is an integral part of the Thai Buddhist tradition.

"It is a fundraiser as well as part of a religious and cultural practice," said Sukum Saingarm, a temple board member. "They bring food to the temple as a way of merry-making. You get good with God by feeding the monks and the leftovers get fed to the people."

Saingarm said the temple, which has offered a public food service for nearly 20 years, relies on funds from the brunches for its Thai cultural programs, language classes and traditional dances.

Like many neighbors, Rough said he used to attend the temple's Sunday brunches, but became annoyed by the consistent disturbances like early morning food preparation and afternoon dining. Neighbors complained about the litter and traffic, he said.

Rough also said that the temple has been violating its 1993 land use permit, which allows for three food-serving events per year that cannot exceed six days each.

When the city's Zoning Adjustments Board held a public meeting to discuss the temple's request to build a new sanctuary a few months ago, Rough and other neighbors took the opportunity to formally file complaints.

Since the meeting, the temple has sought to reach a compromise with its neighbors by reducing dining hours, acquiring extra parking spaces at the nearby Any Mountain store and displaying signs urging patrons to keep the noise down, according to temple board member Komson Thong. The number of people attending the brunches has decreased by 50 percent, he said.

"The bottom line is that we want to work with our neighbors," Thong said.

The zoning board has scheduled a hearing on Sept. 25 to decide on the temple's construction request.

"It's an institution of Berkeley," said Jennie Batchelder, a San Francisco resident. "People who come from out of town plan their weekend trips around the Thai temple."

Tags: CITY OF BERKELEY


Contact Alex Gong at [email protected]



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