[Berkeley, CA] â€“ On April 7, 2009, three complainants submitted an appeal of the City of Berkeleyâ€™s Zoning Adjustments Boardâ€™s (ZAB) approval of the Wat Mongkolratanaram Thai Buddhist Templeâ€™s Broader Land Use Permit. The appeal requests that the City Council reconsider the ZABâ€™s 6-to-3 vote in approval of the Templeâ€™s religious activities.
In the appeal, complainants state that the Templeâ€™s Sunday activities are â€œovertly detrimentalâ€ and â€œconstitute a chronic nuisance that negatively impacts the value of the properties immediately adjacent to the Thai Temple.â€ However, the appeal fails to bring new considerations that have not already been addressed by the ZABâ€™s findings in previous hearings.Â The ZAB concluded that there were minimal traffic, noise and odor impacts to surrounding residents and that the Temple posed no detriment to the health, safety, peace, morals, comfort and general welfare of the neighborhood. Though the Temple has been practicing its religious activities for over two decades on Temple grounds, the appeal ignores the religious nature of the Sunday Food Offering and makes a blanket assertion that it is â€œnot a religious service or accessory rite to a religious institution,â€ It also reiterates the complainantsâ€™ desire for the Temple to decrease the frequency of the Sunday Food Offering when the Temple has already reduced its service by fifty percent. In addition, it makes additional requests such as moving the Sunday activities to an off-site location, asking the City to repeat neighborhood impact studies already conducted and lowering the height of a proposed Buddha sanctuary whose height is already within City limitations for religious structures. The appeal suggests that the Templeâ€™s religious practices should be curtailed, reduced, and compromised to the point that the Templeâ€™s religious freedom is threatened.
In response, Temple members continue their public outreach campaign on the Theravada Buddhist tenet of merit-making that is practiced during the Sunday Food Offering and its centrality to Thai Buddhist teaching. The Sunday Food Offering tradition is an essential part of the Thai Buddhist religious practice of communal food sharing, giving Buddhists an opportunity to earn merit by providing their time, service, food and donations to the monks and to the Temple. The Food Offering tradition and the generous donations of its participants, also allow the Temple to sustain its facilities, host five resident monks and two visiting teachers annually, and maintain its Thai Cultural Center. Siwaraya Rochanahusdin, a Thai American who grew up at the Temple, is spearheading the efforts to save the Temple. She said, â€œThe Temple offers an invaluable range of services to an otherwise underserved population. Discontinuing the weekly food offering would deny this community access to spiritual and educational opportunities not readily found elsewhere.â€
A City Council hearing is slated for July 2009 where the Council will decide toÂ accept the appeal or reaffirm the ZABâ€™s decision in support of the Temple.
Wat Mongkolratanaram is located at 1911 Russell Street in Berkeley, California. For more information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call Virada Chatikul at 510.725.9549. Additional information can also be found at savethethaitemple.com and www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/commissions/zoning.
On Sunday, March 8th, Wat Mongkolratanaram Berkeley Thai Buddhist Temple held the 100th Day Memorial Service for its Founding Abbot who passed away on December 3, 2008 at Chulalongkorn Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand. He was founder and advisor for establishing temples in Berkeley, Los Angeles, San Diego, St. Louis, Tampa, FL and Park City, Hawaii.
The service was attended by over 50 monks from across the United States from Thai Temples in Washington DC, Florida, Utah, Arizona and California. The floral kindling placed during the ceremony was taken to Thailand for Phra Mongkol Thep Moleeâ€™s cremation which took place at Wat Sutasanathepwararam in Bangkok from March 13-15, 2009.
Following prayers, food offerings and funeral rites, the Thai Cultural Center of Berkeley performed an excerpt from the Hindu epic, Ramayana, or Ramakien as it is called in Thai culture. Scenes from the tale are performed in a classical dance style known as khon, one of the highest art forms in Thai culture. The scene performed in honor of Phra Mongkol was Ramaâ€™s Pursuit of the Golden Deer and the Kidnapping of Sida by the Demon Totsakan.
Luang Pahw Mongkol, as he was commonly known, was born Poonsup Chutirath on December 4, 1927 in Bangkok, Thailand. He ordained as a novice monk when he was fourteen years old in 1942. He excelled in his studies of Buddhism, and since then, has steadily risen within the monkhood as a teacher and theologian of Buddhist practice and has served as vice abbot of Wat Suthasanathepwararam in Phra Nakorn, Bangkok. Most notably, in 1978, Luang Pahw was bestowed with the title of Phra Mongkol Thep Molee, by His Royal Highness the King, a title which he held for the remainder of his life.
For Thai and Southeast Asian communities across the United States, Phra Mongkol Thep Molee is regarded as a pioneering spiritual leader for Theravada Buddhist practitioners in this country. On May 4, 1972, he arrived in Los Angeles with a council of over 40 Buddhist missionary monks to preserve and promote Theravada Buddhist practice in the United States.
The council first established Wat Los Angeles in 1975 where Luang Pahw Mongkol served as abbot before he and three additional monks relocated to the Bay Area in 1978 to establish Wat Mongkolratanaram in its original location in a home in South San Francisco, and subsequently, at its current Berkeley site in 1983.
The 1970â€™s were a time of political unrest in Southeast Asian countries and led to the relocation of many Thai, Lao and Cambodian immigrants and refugees to the United States. His leadership was integral to the cohesion and preservation of religious and cultural traditions of our communities as we established roots in the U.S.
In his own words, Luang Pahw has emphasized that, â€œReligion, education and culture have worked hand in hand since ancient times. Once there is a temple, there must be a school. Once there is a school that teaches Thai language, Thai children must also learn arts and culture â€“ so they will never forget [their roots]. This is at the heart of our Buddhist missionary work.â€
Luang Paw Mongkol resided at Wat Mongkolratanaram in Berkeley until the year 2000. Since then, his declining health forced him to spend the majority of his time in Thailand, returning to the United States for special events. Phra Mongkol Thep Molee passed away on December 3, 2008 at the age of 81 at Chulalongkorn Hospital in Bangkok.
His leadership and dedication will be remembered through the temples he established their ongoing service to their communities.
On FebruaryÂ 12, 2009 the Zoning Adjustment Board voted in favor of the Thai temple 8 yes to 1 no.Â Though the board has given the temple its approval for the project, it is NOT the final approval. The final approval will come after the conditions recommended from the city to the ZAB have clarified. The major points of contention that temple had was in part due to the vagueness of the language. The language is being revised under the direction of the ZAB with recommendations, modifications, and removal of some conditions. At the next hearing, the board will vote to give the project final approval based upon the revisions to the conditions.
The first part of this journey is almost at an end.
The complainants will have the right to appeal, however, that appeal process cannot begin until after the ZAB gives its final approval. Once that approval is final, the complainants will have 2 weeks from the time everything is processed. That normally takes 2 to 3 days after the vote. If the complainants appeal, the case will be heard in front of the Berkeley City Council.
From the entire team, we want to thank each and every one of you for your heart felt support. It was your belief in our cause and our team that gave us the energy to work hard over the course of the past 10 months.
Please continue to visit this site for future updates on the status of the final approval.
On February 10th, 2009 the Wall Street Journal newspaper published an article with video coverage about the Berkeley Thai Temple. You can click the link below to read the article on the Wall Street Journal website.
Float building in its infancy - watch the parade for the finished product!
Kinnaree dancers in the 2008 parade
The Thai Cultural Center of Wat Mongkolratanaram will be making its second appearance in San Francisco’s Annual Chinese New Year Parade on Saturday, February 7th! Show your support by coming out to watch the parade in downtown San Francisco or enjoy the show live on KTVU Channel 2 or KTSF Channel 26 from 6-8pm.
This year, the Thai Cultural Center will be featuring the four regions of Thailand in their procession along with the first US-based Northeastern Pohng Lahng folk ensemble!
You might ask, “Isn’t Thai New Year’s in April?” Though its a little too early for the water fights of Songkran, the cultural center loves supporting the Bay Area Asian community in this wonderful celebration and San Francisco tradition as well as the opportunity to showcase Thai performing arts to such a large audience.