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Inside the Chabad House Controversy: The Attorney for Chabad

Benjamin Reznik gets angry with Patch and hangs up.

“My duty is to the client,” said Benjamin Reznik, attorney for Chabad, last year in an interview with The Los Angeles Business Journal.

“If a client is a homeowner group that believes a project is out of scale with its surroundings or otherwise flawed and I review the case and come to a similar conclusion, I have no problem representing that homeowner group.”

Indeed, in the 1990s, Mr. Reznik represented the Encino Homeowners Association in their fight against billboards exceeding the 45-foot height limitation by 20 feet.

People are sometimes surprised he would take that case, knowing of his years of successful lawyering on the part of organizations such as Chabad of North Hollywood, currently building a new synagogue on Chandler Blvd. in the heart of residential Sherman Oaks that has strongly divided the community, as reflected in the outpouring of passion on both sides of this issue .  

Mr. Reznik, 61, has long been considered one of the most powerful lobbyists in all of L.A., a master of land use lawyering.  

A member of the Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell law firm, he’s obtained project approvals for several million square feet of commercial and several thousand units of residential valued in excess of $20 billion, according to his personal bio.

He argued before the California Supreme Court as the lead attorney in Landgate, Inc. v. California Coastal Commission, a landmark decision impacting rights of property owners to sue governmental agencies for damages incurred by delays in the permitting process.

In Hollywood, he represented The Clarett Group in obtaining entitlements for a one million-square-feet mixed-use project adjacent to the Pantages Theater.

He also represented Hudson News and Magic Johnson Enterprises in obtaining retail concession at LAX in 2010.

He is the son of Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Israel after World War II and eventually settled in Los Angeles.

His wife founded and runs Jewish World Watch, which helps genocide victims in Africa’s Darfur region and rape victims in the Congo.

In 2010, he was selected to join the prestigious ranks of California’s “Top 100” lawyers by the Daily Journal.

Mr. Reznik spoke to Patch over the phone from New York City on Wednesday, to answer our questions concerning issues brought up by the neighbors in the immediate neighborhood who opposed the Chabad development at 13079 Chandler Blvd. in Sherman Oaks,  

Although Mr. Reznik had previously agreed to answer all questions, he quickly concluded that our line of questioning was biased against Chabad, and ended the call.

We’ve since attempted to reach him, so as to have a fresh opportunity to explore, specifically,

Our calls have gone unanswered.

What follows is a transcript of our original conversation with Benjamin Reznik.

Patch: We ran a piece today about neighbors who have joined together to oppose this project.

Benjamin Reznik: Okay.

They feel the issue has to do with intensity of use for that area. They said their main problem is that they’re concerned about how many people this development is going to bring into their neighborhood, and they reject the argument that congregants will never drive.

That is a fact, so I’m never gonna convince you differently. I mean, all these religious Orthodox synagogues around town do that.

The interesting thing is that the city sent out a staff investigator who went out unannounced, before the zoning administrator hearing was held, and he confirmed and verified that people were all walking on Sabbath.

What I quoted in my story is the neighbors’ contention that congregants drive their cars and park them in the area prior to sundown on Sabbath, leave them overnight, the cars often have car alarms which go off. They walk to temple the next day and drive home after service Saturday—

Well, they can’t do that. They would have to wait till Saturday night. They can’t do it after service on Saturday. They would have to walk back home. So they walk back home again.

Are you confirming that they do leave their cars?

No, I’m not confirming. What I’m saying is that what you just said, they can’t do. After Saturday moring services they cannot go back to their cars.

But they leave their cars parked there overnight on Sabbath?

I don’t know. I don’t know.

If that is true, can you then understand the opposition to this project? That although Chabad says there is no need for a parking lot, in reality, many people will park in their neighborhood.

That is not the history with various Chabads, and that is not the history with this one.

If it’s true, can you understand the opposition?

Why do I have to understand it? Why are you being so hostile?

I don’t mean to be hostile at all, I’m simply trying to get clarity—

Well, you sure are, you are not a reporter! You are not looking for facts. You’re trying to convince me of something. This is not a… You’ve got your mind made up. You want to run what you what you want to write in Patch, you go ahead.

That is not the case at all—

I’m gonna end this right here. You’re gonna write whatever you want to write. I’ve got nothing to say to you.

Sir, I simply am trying to get clarity. I intend to quote you directly –

No, I don’t trust you quoting me correctly.

Let’s just deal with the facts. I am taping this, and I will quote you perfectly.

You know what, I don’t have interest right now in conducting this interview. Maybe we can do it in a day or two, but I think you’ve just made up your mind…

Could you just answer some simple questions, please?

No. I don’t need to.

I am simply trying to get clarity on this issue, sir.

You’re being hostile, and you’re taking the neighbor’s position.

I am not taking their position, I am simply asking you to comment on what they told me. If you told me it’s false, I will quote you saying it’s false.

We’re done, Paul. Find somebody else. [Hangs up phone].

Cat West June 23, 2012 at 09:42 PM
They MUST have a parking lot for that HUGE center. Although their worshipers will be walking during the days of services, they will surely come in cars from elsewhere and need a place to park. Not including a parking facility for that enormous structure is unthinkable.
Richard Barron June 23, 2012 at 10:00 PM
What about functions and holidays that don't coincide with the Sabbath? Surely a facility of this magnitude will want to serve its community on weekdays.
Christopher_W June 25, 2012 at 03:23 PM
Excellent point Richard. If you look at the churches in the valley, many of them also function as day care centers, senior centers and meeting halls for Alcoholics Anonymous groups. These are all important community services but they do generate a lot of traffic and required many parking spaces.
John June 25, 2012 at 05:27 PM
This weekend was the same as every other weekend - there were cars taking every single spot that a car could legally park on Saturday and then on Sunday, they were all gone. Coincidence? Of course not. I don't know how people keep turning this into a religious issue.
Seth Shapiro March 22, 2013 at 01:35 PM
We have a huge Chabad in Albany, one of the oldest in the country in fact, and about 200 people show up for services Friday and Saturday. There are 5 parking spots, and no more than two are ever taken.

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