June 10, 2015

Protecting Chinatown is no partisan agenda

By Rev. Norman Fong

In recent weeks, through stories in The San Francisco Examiner and the other daily paper, pundits and politicians have accused Chinatown Community Development Center of taking sides in the race for District 3 Supervisor and “supporting” former Supervisor Aaron Peskin.

These allegations are based upon claims that CCDC, at the behest of Mr. Peskin, is “politicizing” an issue regarding the violation of zoning laws by a tech co-work space.

All those allegations are false.

Chinatown CDC as an organization cannot and will not support any candidate campaigns — period. The media stories offer nothing except unfounded accusations. At best, our accusers can only claim that because a particular candidate has chosen to align his position with ours, then we must be actually supporting that candidate. But the logic of this claim fails when tested by the facts.

A month ago, in response to a media inquiry from an S.F. Examiner reporter, CCDC’s staff conducted a press briefing about a self-labelled co-work tech office opening in the heart of Chinatown without a valid permit and in apparent violation of the Chinatown plan. The violation was not a mere CCDC theory. Two days before, the San Francisco Planning Department issued a notice charging that the business was violating the law.

Until CCDC’s press briefing, no candidate in the District 3 race had taken any position on the issue of co-work or tech offices in Chinatown. Only after CCDC brought the violation to the attention of the media did candidates start taking positions on the issue. The most vocal candidate has been the sitting District 3 Supervisor.

Therefore, it is both illogical and unfounded to accuse CCDC of playing politics. The CCDC did not politicize the issue, politicians chose to make it “political.”

And unfortunately, what gets lost in charges of “politics” are the real underlying issues.

The real issue is the danger of an unconstrained booming real estate market and the threat it poses to San Francisco’s neighborhoods including but not limited to Chinatown.

For 30 years, the community-generated Chinatown plan has protected this neighborhood from the kind of displacement and gentrification that has destroyed other similar historic districts across the country and The City. Key elements of the Chinatown plan are controls on conversions of retail space to offices, preservation of housing, and requirements that space be reserved for small retail businesses. But these protections are not meaningful unless they are consistently enforced.

Initially neither the building owners or the operators of the co-work office space at 950 Grant Ave. bothered to apply for new permits to open or operate the tech office in question. For example, the existing permits states the floor be divided into two separate retail spaces, each no more than 2,500 square feet, the tech office is occupying the entire floor: More than 4,000 square feet. Now it appears owners are at least making efforts to comply with the law and the existing permit. Whether they ultimately satisfy the requirements or not, standing in the wings are more outside players seeking more spaces for tech offices. If unregulated conversions are allowed either because of a lack of enforcement or the erosion of existing rules this will create the precedent for a flood of office and other displacing development.

Hence we make no apologies for our role as a neighborhood watchdog. CCDC has done this work for years regardless of political season. We plan to continue to do so. We also look forward to working with everyone and anyone to protect and strengthen Chinatown as an immigrant gateway and cultural destination and center.


Rev. Norman Fong is executive director of the Chinatown Community Development Center.

The article is in response to the San Francisco Chronicle article on May 6, 2015 and the San Francisco Examiner article on June 3, 2015.

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