Yesterday I enjoyed a Sunday breakfast with friends at Wat Mongkolratanaram, a Buddhist Thai Temple in Berkeley. The Temple has been serving food in their courtyard as a community event and fund raising mechanism every Sunday for years. This is the Thai version of Lutheran church basement hot dish. (I recommend the green papaya salad as well as the mango sticky rice.) People make a donation and receive tokens that can be exchanged for food. There’s a thin line between a profitable business and a tax exempt religious institution. It’s kind of like bingo and lottery tickets. Gambling is a sin and illegal – unless the church and state get a cut. But I digress.
The food is prepared in temporary open air mobile kiosks and tents and eaten on portable folding tables and chairs. Somehow this all meets the endless health and safety standards as well as the fire marshal’s requirements and zoning code. A decade ago some local residents objected to the weekly crush of patrons, but the city council voted in favor of allowing the Temple to continue. I suspect there’s some kind of event permit that can be perpetually renewed to satisfy the appropriate authorities. It’s a bit like a recurring pop up food truck convergence.
The temple complex itself is cobbled together from a Victorian era building, a 1920s bungalow, and a vacant lot. Paint, gold appliqué, and sculpture convey the appropriate theme.
The surrounding neighborhood dates back to the late 1800s and has the usual mixture of single family homes, duplexes, small apartment buildings, gas stations, civic institutions, parks, and commercial establishments all cheek by jowl in no particular order. High end renovations coexist with buildings suffering from long deferred maintenance.
My friends live a few blocks away in a home they bought in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. The house was built in 1900 and had been used and abused for decades as the local economy rose and fell. They got it in 2009 at the then semi-reasonable price of $410,000. It’s now worth $1,400,000 if real estate algorithms are to be believed. My friends are as incredulous about the stunning rise in property values in the area as I am. They’re also equally prepared for a market “correction” sooner or later. It’s actually a legal duplex, but they live entirely upstairs and don’t bother renting the lower level two bedroom apartment.
They had tenants in the early years, but when they moved out they made a conscious decision to leave the space vacant. The downstairs has devolved into a storage catchall and occasional guest quarters. In a part of the world that’s desperately in need of more housing units with ever increasing rents, these particular property owners are opting to leave the place unoccupied. Being a landlord is just too toxic in the current environment.
A couple of blocks away a notice announcing a proposed apartment building on an old parking lot was abused by locals anxious to express their displeasure with the concept. Ultimately, failure fixes itself.