Friday, August 8, 2008

SAVE OUR JAPANTOWN COMMUNITY FESTIVALS

I'm posting a mass e-mail sent from Paul Osaki, Executive Director of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California (JCCCNC) in Japantown regarding a complaint and response sent to the planners of the Nihonmachi Street Fair from the real estate developer and President of the Homeowner's Association of 1600 Webster Street (Across the street from the Japan Center Mall). The actual text of the complaint and the Nihonmachi Street Fair committee's response is also included below:

Dear Japantown Community Supporters,

Our Japantown community festivals are being threatened. Please show your support of our festivals and celebrations by helping to gather signatures this Saturday and Sunday during the Nihonmachi Street Fair to help SAVE OUR JAPANTOWN COMMUNITY FESTIVALS.

24 Clipboards of the petition are available at the JCCCNC lobby for your pick-up and return during the hours between 10:00am - 5:00pm. If you can spare an hour or two on either day to collect signatures during the Nihonmachi Street Fair, it would be greatly appreciated.

There are no assigned shifts on either day, please just help out whenever you are available. Let the person in the front office know that you are there to help gather signatures; they in turn will assign you a clipboard for you to collect signatures. Please return the clipboard back to the JCCCNC when you are done.

The purpose of the petition is to help educate the community and participants of our festivals about how important it is to preserve our community and that we can never take things for granted. First it was us, then our homes and businesses, our property, next our festivals? It's time for everyone to get involved! Thank you for showing your support of our Japantown Community Festivals.

Paul Osaki
(Please forward this e-mail)


Here's the text of the complaint and response:

Below are excerpts from e-mails from the President and the Developer of the 1600 Webster Sreet 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

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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


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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 are soiled and are an eye sore we do go out there and physically scrub the area.

Nihonmachi Street Fair Response


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Did reading this make you angry? That's certainly how I felt immediately after reading this. This demonstrates pretty clearly how this particular real estate developer in Japantown does not have any regard for the community that exists in the neighborhood. I personally have never noticed the area looking any worse following any of the community festivals, as the community volunteers and planning committees, as well as the SF Dept. of Public Works generally do an adequate job cleaning up. The disparaging remarks directed toward the community festivals are completely unneccesary and disrespectful to our entire community. The most telling remark was from the developer himself:

"If your event doesn't make money, you should rethink it's usefulness."

That's not really what these celebrations are actually about, are they?

In any case, this incident demonstrates the need for our community to be watchful of who these real estate developers are, and how their development plans affect the community. There's been enough bad history in Japantown with the developer of 1600 Webster Street, John McInerney III. The modern lofts/condominiums that stand today at 1600 Webster Street are what replaced the Japantown Bowl following the sale of the property by Kintetsu Enterprises Co. of America back in 2001 (here's an old article from AsianWeek covering the sale). The adverse economic and social effects of tearing down the bowling alley and replacing it with condos are documented by the Japantown Task Force in this report. I think the community is particularly wary of this whole situation because John McInerney is also a former member of the San Francisco Board of Appeals and may still be able to exert enough influence through his connections to prevent festivals in Japantown from happening in the future.

So where does that leave us? For now, we can come to the Nihonmachi Street Fair and help get these petitions put out by the JCCCNC signed by everyone who participates in the event and enjoys the opportunity for the community to gather in a public space. We can be mindful of the neighborhood and do what we can to not make a mess. What's most important is that by coming out to our community events, we demonstrate that supporting these events and the community behind them actually enriches the city and serves the social and economic interests (including property values) of those who reside and work in the neighborhood.

Anyone else have a reaction or something to say on the issue? Comments are welcome! Hopefully we'll see you this weekend at the Nihonmachi Street Fair (Nakayoshi will be volunteering on Saturday in the children's area)!

3 comments:

Haruka said...

I'm sure this will make these people even happier, but it seems like the city Dept. of Public Works is reducing the number of street cleanings to twice a month. http://www.ktvu.com/news/17117080/detail.html

Anonymous said...

Hey Haruka, you've got my support.

--Aaron Kitashima

My opinion is on my blog:
http://www.akit.org/2008/08/japantown-festivals-threatened.html

And reaction from Yelpers:
http://www.yelp.com/topic/san-francisco-japantowns-nihonmachi-streetfair---community-threatened-by-a-tenants-association

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