Safdie: Deciding not to decide - for now

t its scheduled meeting last Tuesday, the National Council for Planning and Construction decided to postpone its decision regarding the fate of the Safdie Plan for construction of over 20,000 housing units and development in Jerusalem's western hills. The Council convened to receive the report by Special Investigator Attorney Gideon Vitkon, appointed by the Council to assess the more than 16,000 objections to the proposed plan presented by the public. After the conclusion of the meeting, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, who requested anonymity, told In Jerusalem, "The Council has decided to postpone its decision. Another meeting has been set for January, but it is unclear that the Council will be able to decide then, either. This is a tremendously important decision, with fateful implications for the future of the city of Jerusalem. We're not really sure how to proceed." Naomi Tzur, coordinator for the Sustainable Jerusalem Coalition and director of the Jerusalem branch of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), praised the decision. "The National Council must delay its decision until an in-depth public discussion of the Vitkon Report takes place. Any decision must take into account the report prepared by the Coalition for a Sustainable Jerusalem which proves that there are adequate reserves for residential building within the existing boundaries of the city. The Safdie Plan will destroy the western hills and will abandon the center of the city." Furthermore, she noted, "There is also no choice other than to perform a comprehensive impact study regarding the effect on the environment." Issues regarding the extent of reserves available for housing and of the lack of an impact study were critical to the objections presented by the Coalition and other public and private parties. (See In Jerusalem, "The fight for the hills," December 2). The meeting began shortly after 9 a.m., but by 8 a.m., nearly 100 demonstrators had already gathered at the entrance to the Interior Ministry. The Coalition has repeatedly asked to appear before the Council, but its requests have been rejected. The public and the press were barred from Tuesday's meeting and Oscar Aburazek, director-general of the Interior Ministry and Council chairman, specifically demanded that IJ's reporter leave the room. Notably present at the demonstration, in addition to Tzur, were Carmi Gilon, head of the Mevaseret Yerushalayim local council; Elihu Richter of Hadassah's School of Public Health, who demanded an impact study for the Safdie Plan with reference to health issues; Yossi Kimchi, past recipient of an award of recognition from the environment minister; members of Megama Yeruka, a Hebrew University student group, whose members taped their mouths to protest the silencing of citizens; and poet laureate Haim Guri. Said Guri, "In this case of the Jerusalem Hills, there can be no question at all that the environmentalists are right." Said Tzur, "We sense that council members grasp this issue is too big for them to determine just on a single investigator's stand."