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Why are San Jose NIMBYs trying to block this beautiful Buddhist temple?

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Some people in Evergreen fret that Cambodian sect will create noise and traffic, but temple members promise meditative peace

An illustration of a Buddhist temple with peaked roof and golden spire on a residential block, surrounded by flowering trees. Courtesy Wat Khmer Kampuchea Krom, San Jose Planning Commission

San Jose’s idyllic Evergreen neighborhood seems peaceful, even serene—and yet some people who live here worry that the interjection of literal enlightenment on their block will spoil the local amity.

The Wat Khmer Kampuchea Krom temple, a self-described traditional Cambodian Buddhist sect, has been based in Evergreen for years. Now they want to build a new temple for themselves, not far away from where they currently worship. However, some neighbors feel less than tranquil about it.

At a recent community meeting about the proposal, San Jose Spotlight reports dozens of residents “heatedly” opposing the temple plans, which would develop 1.86 acres at 2740 Ruby Avenue with vivid yet sedate architecture typical of similar temple houses around the world.

Why would anybody not want a gem like this on their block? The objections will sound familiar to anyone used to endless NIMBY debates in the Bay Area: Opponents fret that the temple is too big for the mostly residential area, that it will create traffic, and that the inclusion of a 100-car underground garage would disrupt the neighborhood.

This isn’t the first time the issue came up; notes from a similar community forum in 2018 relate neighborhood anxiety about noise from the temple grounds (which is minimal, say Wat Kampuchea Krom directors, since on weekdays it’s filled mostly with monks who don’t commute), its maximum capacity, the possibility that the grounds will have to expand later, traffic, parking, traffic, and more traffic—traffic came up a lot.

An illustration of a Buddhist temple with a peaked roof and golden spire.
The main building tops out at 35 feet, but note that the spire will stretch an additional 30.
Wat Khmer Kampuchea Krom

Right now the Khmer Krom members meet at a converted residential home, but they say this is not a good accommodation for a community of their size (estimated at 300 families).

The temple designs, they argue, are in scale with the surrounding area—five mostly one story buildings, with the highest point reaching 35 feet and with lots of open space—and the garage will mitigate its effects on street parking and traffic. Demolition will do away with only one existing single-family home.

The group also frames the possibility of a new, larger temple as a boon to Evergreen, a forum from which they can “open our doors to [...] meet the community’s spiritual and cultural needs.” They’ve already paid $3.6 million for the land.

Some critics suggested that the congregation should move to Watsonville or Morgan Hill, but they counter that the Ruby Avenue location is central to their membership, most of whom live within five miles.

“This temple plan represents a long time dream for the local Khmer Krom community, which has been among the poorest and most traumatized of any refugee group in the nation,” Lyna Lam, director of the Khmer Buddhist Foundation says in a letter to the San Jose Planning Commission submitted in December.

The commission will now consider the foundation’s application and whether the city will issue conditional use permits for the project.