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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Japantown Festivals Threatened

I've received word that San Francisco's Japantown was threatened by an angry letter from the President of the Association and Developer of the 1600 Webster Building, former site of the Japantown Bowl.

As many of you have known, the Japantown Bowl was sold to a development company, the old building was abandoned and stayed up for a year, and was eventually torn down and built into very expensive condos and two business spaces. The community did not want condos and even offered their own funds to purchase and preserve the alley. The community was also offended with Starbucks moving into the large business space because it would hurt the local businesses (such as Cafe Hana), and was able to have the company pull out of its quest to open an establishment.

Today, the condo association President and the Developer of the 1600 Webster condo development threatened the Japantown community by arguing that the community festivals (Cherry Blossom and Nihonmachi Street Fair) saying that we have too many festivals that impact them. They claim that we have " schlocky souvenirs, mediocre food stands..." Oh give me a break, yeah we sell souvenirs, but it's just part of our community, and those food stands are NON-PROFIT COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS TRYING TO MAKE SOME MONEY (how can you hate on them?) and it is GREAT FOOD (people come back every year to eat it again).

I need to make myself clear on this: I am only talking about the Cherry Blossom Festival and the Nihonmachi Street Fair, but not the Asian Heritage Festival. If you have a problem with the Asian Heritage Festival, talk to Mayor Newsom and AsianWeek. The Asian Heritage festival is not have any official relation to Japantown's community and its people because this festival is organized around going to different neighborhoods every year and hosting it there.

Then they argue that the food booths create a mess in the neighborhood. To be honest with you, yes, we do make somewhat of a mess, but we clean-up the mess after the event is over. Both Cherry Blossom and Nihonmachi have volunteers that go around the food areas to change garbage bags, and sweep the streets. After cleaning up the booths, a more thorough cleaning is done by the city and the event organizers, especially the grease issues. One thing I wonder about is, why do they (the condo association) feel like they need to pay out of their own pockets to sweep the sidewalks and take care of the trees after the festival? If we use the area for the festival, it is our job to clean-up the mess that people leave.

We have never been threatened or received such a complaint like this EVER in the history of this neighborhood. The people who organize this event has BENT OVER BACKWARDS for the condo people by letting them have access to their underground garage during festival days, even if there is a huge mob of people on the closed street for the food fair, and we have put fencing around the building to keep people from perching or encroaching on their property. We have other people who live directly in the path of our festivals and they have never complained, not once, not even a peep. And all they do is move their car out of their garage and park it somewhere nearby.

If the association president is reading this, please tell us about the vote? How many were absent? How many voted in support of writing this letter to the community, and who voted against it?

And I've been a hard worker at the festival for over ten years, and my father and "uncles" (Hawaiian term for family friends) have done this for OVER 30 YEARS. If the association president and the development manager have the guts, come meet us, talk to us, and explain your concerns to us. We want to see you make your argument in front of the people who make this community the way it is today, the hard working volunteers who get paid nothing to do something to support their community, and its fine organizations.

Don't go on the chicken route of just writing a letter.

All of you readers should come on out and support our community festival. It is this Saturday and Sunday, August 9-10 from 10AM to 6PM with live music, food, and arts & crafts (some of them are handmade by seniors). A petition will be passed around the area and we can use your support by signing it and enjoying our festivities for this 35th year anniversary of the festival.

Below are excerpts from e-mails from the President and the Developer of the 1600 Webster Street Condo’s, the former site of the Japantown Bowl to the Nihonmachi Street Fair Committee

To Nihonmachi Street Fair Committee

As you are aware, this Association (along with other members of this neighborhood) must tolerate what seems to be an endless use of Post and Webster Streets for a series of look-alike street fairs with the same purveyors of schlocky souvenirs, mediocre food stands and exhibitors who have absolutely no relationship to the community. There is no other neighborhood which is asked to put up with these sorts of disruptions, and that, of course, doesn't include the disruption presented by the Fillmore Street Fair which is only one block away.

Thus, we find it astonishing that the Fair organizers would propose an event that would leave the neighborhood in worse condition than you found it and then impose your clean-up costs on this Association and other property owners. The streets and sidewalks of this neighborhood are usually filthy, especially those that surround that appalling mall, and 1600 Webster already devotes part of its yearly budget to the maintenance of its sidewalks and street trees from which this neighborhood receives a direct benefit.

We want to make it very clear to you that if the neighborhood sidewalks are not cleaned in an adequate fashion this year, this Association will file a protest with the City when you seek a permit for next year's street fair.

David H. Zisser

President, 1600 Webster Street Homeowners' Association


This is real simple. You want to put on an event; you take responsibility. In this instance, you make a mess, you clean it up. You don't get the benefits (proceeds), without the liabilities (expenses). If your event doesn't make money, you should rethink it's usefulness. In any event, if we have to clean up afterwards, we will not only oppose the event next year we will look to small claims court to reimburse us for clean up costs. We don't need a bunch of emailing back and forth on this. It is not a negotiation.

John McInerney

Developer 1600 Webster Street


Dear Mr. Zisser,

Thank you for your email regarding the upcoming Nihonmachi Street Fair.

After thoroughly reading your reply I am very troubled by the response you presented.

The Nihonmachi Street Fair (NSF) like the many other community events held in and around Japantown has always worked with our neighbors both residential, community organizations and businesses to make sure that we keep our streets clean and that the event is a successful one especially for the many non profit organizations that participate.

We have never received any negative comments like this and it puts a damper on what we hope will attract many visitors to the area. The Nihonmachi Street Fair has always done our best to keep the streets of Japantown pristine after the event closes each day. Our committee knows how important it is to not only represent the NSF in a positive manner, but that our actions also reflect our organization and more importantly our community.

Due to very limited funds this year we are unable to spend the funds to hire the City to steam clean the sidewalk area directly in front of the 1600 Webster condo. The Food Fest area will be contained on Post Street. Other than having our volunteers sweep the streets during and after the event, as well as the Department of Public Works coming by to sweep the entire Fair areas, we should be fine. Of course if any of the streets that we use is soiled and is an eye sore we do go out there and physically scrub the area.

Nihonmachi Street Fair Response


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Akit said...

Please, no hate or "race card" messages. And I encourage you to please use your name while posting.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Sounds like a couple of self important jerks are on that condo board. That's not a very politic way of trying to get what you want.

I'm a SF resident of Bernal Heights. I love Japantown. Sorry you have to deal with people like this.

Janet Calvin (don't feel like registering but I'll sign my real name...)

Anonymous said...

Why is it that new residents are often so quick to speak for the community they have bought into, when really voicing their own narrow beliefs? If pristine streets and clean sidewalks are so cherished, then there are 100's of newly developed residential communities far from the hassles of city living where tolerance is required due to density.
Mike Templeton

Akit said...

Hi Mike,

Thanks for your comment. I should tell you that the tenant's association president acted alone in writing that hurtful letter. The other tenants did not know, therefore the president abused his powers. And even after all this, the president still has a grudge against us, even making nasty comments in the local Fillmore newspaper.

Anonymous said...

Mr. McInerney is causing similar trouble up here in Nob Hill, including subpoenaing neighbors opposing his project. Please sign this petition to ensure his thug tactics don't compromise our neighborhood like he did and continues to do to Japantown.