Plans to add 5,348 square feet to the residence of the consul general of China were thwarted Thursday as some neighbors pushed to halt the proposal and the U.S. Department of State lobbied for approval.
Stuck in the cross hairs, the Planning Commission voted 3-2 to continue the matter until next week following hours of testimony from neighbors and a raging debate over diplomatic immunity. The panel previously voted to continue the matter at a meeting in May amid complaints from neighbors.
"China has millennia of patience," said Debra Stein, the attorney representing the People’s Republic of China following the commission’s decision.
Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, who represents the upscale Monterey Heights area, said he never expected his elected position to require him to interpret international law governing diplomats and their homes. Diplomatic immunity allows for consulates and consul residences many exemptions from local rules and regulations, which concerns some neighbors.
The 8,385-sqaure-foot mansion isn’t large enough to accommodate guests and staff, the consul argues. Adding the 5,348 square feet to the 0.9 acre property on St. Elmo Way allows for the creation of guest rooms and living quarters for staff. The plan calls for 35-foot-tall, seven-bedroom add-on connected by a walkway to Consul General Peng Keyu’s home.
"It does not meet the needs now. There are only two bedrooms and only one staff room," Stein said. "There are no guest bedrooms. They’re dealing with very high-level dignitaries."
The commission voted to return to the matter after new plans — to reduce the addition by 402 square feet — were presented to the commission for the first time Thursday.
"We got the plans today. We need the chance to review them," commission member Hisashi Sugaya said.
Some neighbors said they had safety concerns, given that PG&E was previously not allowed onto the 0.9 acre wooded lot amid downed power lines and trees and electrical outages.
"In November of 2001 there was almost a fire," neighbor Kendall Patton said. "PG&E was not given access. It’s the continuing problem of not giving access" in the event of an emergency.
Stein said the consul has provided PG&E with several names and phone numbers that can be reached 24 hours a day in the event of an emergency.
Steven Candy, the acting regional director of the State Department’s Office of Foreign Missions, said that it is important to approve the plan for the sake of diplomatic reciprocity.
"We could be making the same requests" in China, Candy said. "We feel it’s reasonable and we support it."