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Thursday, May 21, 2009

SF Japantown Crisis: City Proposes Teardown of Malls while Building Owner Suggests Refurbishing

I want to share this letter I just received from Paul Osaki, Executive Director of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California:


Hi Everyone,

I’m not sure how up to date you are on the Better Neighborhoods Plan for Japantown, but in my opinion it’s a complete disaster with regards to preserving our community. You can take a look at it for yourself at www.japantown.sfplanning.org

The plan is being fast tracked by the Planning Dept. First hearing is May 28, Second hearing is June 4 and the final is June 25. We just got the plan in the mail this weekend and are expected to respond to a very complex and difficult planning document next week.

For example it endorses the demolition of the Japan Center with new building heights of up to 250 feet. By the City’s own financial analysis all the businesses would be displaced for 2 to 3 years. If they wanted to come back their rents would increase by 100%. The new condos would cost upwards to a $1 million dollars. I fail to see how displacing all the small businesses is good for Japantown. Most of them would either have to close their doors or could never afford to return to Japantown. Ninety percent of those businesses would be gone.

What I don’t get is that 3D pulled out of any development of the malls, because it’s too costly, rather they have offered to help with renovations of the mall, so why are we trying to get the City to endorse a tear down of the Japan Center . Makes no sense.

The plan also calls for increasing the building height of the properties on the Buchanan Mall and the North side of Post Street to 55 feet. This more than doubles the current height of the existing buildings. What this means is that once the Nisei/Sansei property owners pass on or leave the property to their kids, once they sell it, a new developer will tear down the property so that they can build up to 55 feet. We would entirely lose the character and feeling of Japantown, because any building over 3 stories would have to be steel and concrete similar to the new J-POP building and the condos where the bowling alley once stood. How does this maintain the cultural character of the community?

The original intent of this plan was to preserve Japantown. If this plan passes, we all will be responsible for the lost of not just one building this time but an entire community.

Unfortunately, the usual folks in the community are in favor of plan. (I have attached their comments) I noticed the comments on the SFGATE website regarding the article on Japantown.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/05/12/MNMI17CUHQ.DTL&hw=japantown&sn=001&sc=1000 read the comments below the article.

It’s interesting that more people outside the community value what we have then we do at times. I hope that you will help those of us who still believe that our Japantown is a cultural treasure and is worth saving.

We got it once by the Federal government 67 years ago, by the State Redevelopment Plan 40 years ago, NOW by the City? It’s amazing how we started out, with the good intention of developing a plan to preserve our community and instead came up with a plan and I quote, “that is a road map for developers”.

Some San Francisco neighborhoods have had 7 or more years to develop their plans; Japantown is only being given 2 years. I believe that our community deserves more time to develop a better plan and will be asking the Planning Commission too not go forward with endorsing the plan, but rather to let the community fine tune the plan. There is no downside to waiting a year or two, there is no pressing development being planned given the economy, why the rush? I hope that you will come out speak up and support our efforts to preserve our community.

Let me know your thoughts.

Hope all is well.


  • Thursday, May 28 (Information Only)
  • Thursday, June 4 (Information Only)
  • Thursday, June 25 (Anticipated Endorsement of Plan)

The hearings begin at 1:30 p.m. in the Commission Chambers - Room 400, San Francisco City Hall , 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place . Check the Planning Commission calendar at sfplanning.org (under “Calendars”) as the dates get closer; calendars are subject to change.

The Japantown Historic Resource Survey Findings and the Context Statement to the Historic Preservation Commission on June 3, 2009 at 12:30am City Hall Room 400


Paul makes a good point here, why is the city fast tracking this proposal to tear-down Japantown's two major malls (Kintetsu and Miyako), and 3D Investments (the current property owner) admits that it would be too costly to rebuild, and instead can afford to refurbish?

Didn't the city learn a lesson from redevelopment 40 years ago? They learned that tearing down homes and rebuilding structures costs MUCH MORE than simply refurbishing the many Victorian homes. For more information about this, watch the PBS/KQED program "The Fillmore."

Paul also makes a good point about our local businesses. The mall tear-down will cause the businesses to relocate, or possibly decide to retire their business. There is no guarantee if they will even plan to return, and this means that our community may experience the next Chevy's or 7-11 evolution.

There are a bunch of people who think Japantown is dead, but when you come into the neighborhood for an evening dinner, you may not see a huge wad of people lingering around the main pathways in the mall; instead, nearly every seat is OCCUPIED in the restaurants.

In March 2006, I handed 16,235 signatures to Gavin Newsom's office concerning the sale of the key properties in our community. It's time to STAND-UP AGAIN AND FIGHT.

1 comment:

annie said...

As you know, I live across the street to the mall. I stare at it every day from my window.

And I like it.

It is dated, sure, but it has its own charm. All it needs is a fresh paint job, and perhaps some affordable food options (because, seriously, the cheapest I could find dinner there - for teriyaki chicken - was 11.50$, and it was a small thigh-sized serving), and it would be fantastic to me.

I don't go over there often, but when I do, the mall is crowded with teenagers going to the picture place, and older folks going to dinner. The karaoke bar booms until the wee hours (I know because I can hear it in my place).

I have read many parts of the plan, and the one thing I like is the creation of the park down Webster Street, as long as I can still access my garage. I think that will go far in enhancing the character of the neighborhood. But high-rise condos - which, I should add, are NOT SELLING right across Geary -- are not the answer. I know everyone seems to hate on my building, but I like it there, and I like my community and would hate to ruin something just for the sake of ruining it.

I have these meetings on my calendar and plan to attend and voice my dissent as a homeowner in the community.