Bluhon Group | Healing Relations, Building a Synagogue.

Healing Relations, Building a Synagogue.

Office of the City Manager, City of Berkeley
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The congregation purchased an open site in a single-family neighborhood for a new place of workshop and a school. Neighbors and creek advocates opposed plans citing potential environmental impacts of congestion, parking, noise, building scale, and deterioration of riparian habitat of a perennial creek on the property. The City retained Bluhon Group to mediate the dispute.


Mr. Bluhon facilitated four joint sessions and thirty caucus meetings. Issues were separated and addressed sequentially. The congregation asserted that their mission of religious life combined with social functions and education could not be constrained. Appellants identified design and environmental impacts that were baseline issues needing change. Mr. Bluhon facilitated a “design-based” negotiation that led to an alternative plan, modified programming, and long-term performance standards for the synagogue to uphold.


The congregation and appellants crafted and ratified a revised design and operations agreement, which the City Council approved unanimously. Congregation Beth El constructed and commissioned the facility in 2005 and, as of 2013, the neighborhood and congregation have worked collaboratively to uphold their agreement, restore the riparian habitat, and conduct joint events.