Generally when a city council is about to enact a new guideline, the residents of the city will accept it. Or if a number of residents oppose it, a formal process to change it may occur. In either case, the action is taken to meet the needs of a city, not the luxury desire of one single resident. But that appears to be the case in Burbank, CA where a regulation may have been changed for the benefit of one person, Chabad rabbi Shmuly Kornfeld.
LA Times reports that new Burbank, CA city regulations go into effect in about a month.
During a meeting Tuesday, City Council members unanimously voted to approve the second reading of heavily vetted amendments to the municipal code relating to single-family homes and guidelines that address concerns some residents have expressed concerning the construction of so-called “McMansions.”
Apparently these regulatory guidelines have been in the works for a few years now.
The city has been working on making amendments to its single-family home rules and guidelines for more than three years after several residents voiced concerns about large and bulky houses that were being built and did not conform with surrounding neighborhoods.
But it seems that the Burbank City Council made a change to the regulation during or shortly before their January 24, 2017 meeting. The change was regarding the maximum size a lot could be to be granted an exception to the regulation. The size limit was increased from lots 6,500 square feet or smaller, to lots 7,000 square feet or smaller.
Why the apparently sudden change? The article explains:
However, the council opted to extend the eligibility to lots that are 7,000 square feet or smaller after being approached by resident Rabbi Shmuly Kornfeld, who was looking to build a larger kitchen at the rear of his [home on a – Ed.] larger than 6,500-square-foot lot.
Kornfeld said that if the City Council had adopted the original proposal, he would not be able to build the addition because the floor-area-ratio of his home have been greater than the 0.4 limit that was proposed.
What the Times does not report is that Rabbi Kornfeld has had a relationship with the City Council for many years, especially with council member Dr. David Gordon. Dr. Gordon has served as mayor, on the city council, and has been a friend of Rabbi Kornfeld and supporter of Chabad of Burbank for many years.
Above: Rabbi Shmuly Kornfeld, Jack Soussana, and Burbank Councilman David Gordon cut the ribbon, Sunday, to mark the opening of the Burbank Chabad, The Soussana Family Jewish Center. 2006
Below: Burbank City Council Member, Dr. David Gordon, in 2009 Chabad promotional video
Below: Rabbi Shmuly Kornfeld, Burbank Mayor Jess Talamantes, Burbank City Council Member Dr. David Gordon, and Burbank City Council Member Emily Gabel-Luddy. Menorah lighting, 2011
Two ads from Dr. Gordon in the current 2017 Chabad of Burbank calendar
“I believe elected officials must be held to a higher standard of ethics and accountability. My goal is to put people first and support our small businesses.” -Dr. David Gordon
Chabad is a business; a very much for-profit “non-profit charity.” So he’s on target there. But I’m not so sure about the higher standard of ethics and accountability part if he’s one to place himself in situations like this that raise ethics concerns.
The change to the lot size guideline initially had opposition from Councilwoman Emily Gabel-Luddy. During the course of the City Council meeting she changed her vote, offering only a bland statement about “the strength of the overall effort”. However, it doesn’t explain how the change is better for the city of Burbank. We’re aware of how it benefits Rabbi Kornfeld.
Councilwoman Emily Gabel-Luddy had initially voted against the change to the proposal, but decided later in the meeting to support the amendments and guidelines.
“I thought about it while time was passing and decided that the strength of the overall effort is really the most important thing,” she said.
Commenters in the LA Times expressed their concerns:
Did I miss something? Exactly ONE rabbi makes a request and gets the rules changed for an entire city just for his private residence? This is like a bad a joke, what if a Catholic priest and Presbyterian minister had walked into city hall?
Nice to see that ostentatious greed is not limited to any faith, rabbi.
As for limiting, good ,just not good enough.All rabbi- like show offs can convert some of the existing footage.
There was one supporter of the rabbi:
Anthony, your reporting is false. If you are going to write something you should do your homework otherwise you are to blame for the antisemitic remarks such as the ones below. I was there and can tell you that the LOT is 6,750 and NOT the house which is much much smaller. This hard working family wanted to enlarge a small kitchen which is often used to host the most needy in our community and you should be ashamed of yourself for picking them as a target. The law in place allowed for exemptions for homes on 6500 lots and all they were asking is that the same consideration be made for their home which is on a 6,750 lot. I believe a retraction and a correction is in order.
We can thank him for the clarification of lot vs. house. And the Times did make the correction. But his accusation of antisemitism is out of line. It is, however, almost a ‘standard operating procedure’ accusation by Chabad supporters whenever Chabad’s integrity is questioned. What’s in question is did the rabbi use his ties to the City Council to influence the change of the law? The Times article certainly makes it appear that way. The City Council should be there to hear the concerns of citizens, no doubt. That’s what they’re for, among other things. But rabbi Kornfeld didn’t go to them (or him, Dr, David Gordon) on behalf of the citizenry of Burbank. He went there to serve himself. Did rabbi Kornfeld stand beside other Burbank citizens in City Hall during the many meetings? Or did he appear at the last minute to appeal for his kitchen extension? Is his concern for a city, or a home improvement? And did the City Council alter the law at the request of this one rabbi?
Out of curiosity I checked Chabad’s “End of the Year Campaign” page for the name associated with the defending comment above. It appears on the list noting a $1,000 donation. So, a bit of bias there, perhaps.
Chafraud-Depravitch also has on very reliable information that the Kornfeld’s private residence kitchen is not especially “small” and could expand into existing square footage.
It currently holds a dozen women and a baby.
Nor is the house itself especially “small”.
Though not what I’d call a ‘McMansion,’ it appears the rabbi’s residence (pictured above and on public record) already stands out among his next-door neighbors. One would think that the proposed city regulation was intended to prevent these homes from getting bigger.
The argument that this rabbi needs this kitchen extension in his private home to serve the community also holds no validity. A simple web search shows that their $1.7 million synagogue which has full kitchen accommodations for serving large and small groups of people, is very nearby. And isn’t that the structure intended for serving the community?
Rather, as a Jew familiar with Orthodox Judaism and kashrut practices (and Chabad’s standard of luxury), this looks more like a case of ‘change the law for the sake of an ultra-Orthodox, ultra-kosher, entertainment and private use luxury kitchen.’
And that, unfortunately, casts a City Council that runs an otherwise very nice city into an especially bad light (and in a primary election month). The citizens of Burbank don’t need a church and state (or synagogue and city) shidduch (marriage match). Especially with a rabbi who in recent years has advertised slogans like this:
“Every Dollar is a Mitzvah” -Rabbi Shmuly Kornfeld
And as we see above the Chabad rabbi brought in $108,337.00 worth of, uh, “mitzvahs” at his year-end fundraiser. Most Jews recognize that our Torah has 613 mitzvahs included in it, not 108 thousand.
A “mitzvah” is a Divine commandment from the Torah. And I don’t recall “give to your local Chabad missionary (and change laws) so he can build his luxury kitchen” being in the Torah. But I may have missed that one.
And as for the implication that this rabbi is there for the”most needy in our community”; there are very reliable reports that he’s in fact abandoned former community members when they were most in need. But that’s another story for another day.
For now, I guess the citizens of the entire city of Burbank should all just wish the Kornfeld residence a “Mazel Tov on your new extra-kosher kitchen expansion!”
However, in the City Council meetings seen below, Burbank citizens don’t appear to be pleased with the idea of already large houses getting larger. These meetings go at least as far back as March of 2015 (likely earlier). Was Rabbi Shmuly Kornfeld at those meetings? If not, he can hear the opinions of his fellow citizens here. What about the meeting on November 17, 2016?
Maybe Dr. Gordon can explain to these citizens at a future council meeting what a “mitzvah” it was to allow the rabbi to do what he wants. Perhaps tell them (the “goyim” – as rabbi Kornfeld reportedly frequently calls non-Jews) they’ll get a great reward for it in ‘The World to Come’ (afterlife). It always works for Chabad on naive and ignorant Jews. Maybe the citizens of Burbank will fall for it too.