Berkeley’s Wat Mongkolratanaram Thai Buddhist Temple Faces Zoning Board
Berkeley Thai Temple Makes a Final Push for Public Support Before Zoning Board Hearing on January 22, 2009
The Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) members will hold a final hearing on January 22, 2009, where a vote to grant or deny the permit to continue the Sunday Food Offering Tradition will be determined.
By Debbie Sheen, Veena Dubal, Siwaraya Rochanahusdin, Christina Jirachachavalwong, Virada Chatikul
Wat Mongkolratanaram Thai Buddhist Temple in Berkeley is well-known for its Sunday Food Offering tradition during which community members, Thai and non-Thai, come to enjoy a meal at a suggested donation in support of Temple services and programming. The Temple is also home to a Thai language school and the Thai Cultural Center of the San Francisco Bay Area where for nearly twenty years Thai and Southeast Asian youth have been studying Thai language, music, and dance.
The Temple’s Sunday activities are not only its primary source of funding, but a religious practice of tum-boon, or merit-making, for all Temple goers involved in the tradition – both the food preparers and servers as well as visitors. As monk Phra Maha Sopasit Sonna explains, “The central tenet of Buddhism is merit-making which practitioners do by offering food and donations to the Temple. As a Thai Temple in the United States, monks cannot walk the streets collecting food and alms daily as is practiced in Thailand.”
On April 24, 2008, nineteen complainants from neighboring Oregon Street spoke in front of the ZAB and urged board members to shut down or limit the community event. Complainants spoke of parking scarcity, “offensive odors,” and litter in their yards. The Temple immediately responded to these concerns by undertaking extensive measures to participate in three mediation sessions with the complainants, cut its Sunday service hours in half, implement a neighborhood litter patrol, relocate the preparation of its food items, secure an exclusive parking lot from a nearby retailer, and actively reach out to its neighbors. At a second ZAB hearing held on September 25, 2008, immediate neighbors, members of community organizations, and generations of Berkeley Thai Temple-goers came together and spoke out in support of the Temple.
Volunteers to save the Berkeley Thai Temple, comprised of alumni from Wat Mongkol and other Bay Area Thai temple language and cultural programs, are working to engage community support for the Sunday Food Offering tradition. Over the past eight months, support from community organizations and local leaders have poured in, as the Temple struggles to sustain its religious activities and educational programming.
The Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board will hold a final public hearing on January 22, 2009, at 7:00 pm at the Berkeley City Council Chambers on 2134 Martin Luther King Junior Way.
Wat Mongkolratanaram is located at 1911 Russell Street in Berkeley, California. For more information, including ways to help, please visit Save the Thai Temple’s website and the Berkeley Zoning Adjustment Board’s website.