By Ruth Bayang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
“How do we allow people who’ve lived here [in the International District] for generations to continue to live here and not worry about displacement? That’s the point InterIm CDA Director Pradeepta Upadhyay wants to get across.
InterIm approached the Northwest Asian Weekly last month, wanting to set the record straight — that it is against displacement, not progress or new development, and that its ultimate goal is to protect the community.
“If there is development, what’s the benefit to the community? Economic benefit? Public safety benefits?” asked Upadhyay. “The bottom line is, how do we protect this neighborhood?”
Upadhyay pointed to the recently passed Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) legislation, which allows developers to build 170-foot tall buildings in some areas of the Chinatown-International District (CID), an increase of 20 feet from the previous 150-foot limit and upzone the neighborhood by two stories.
The final approval of the MHA was delayed due to objections from the community.
“We felt the community was not well informed,” said InterIm Deputy Director Tom Im.
“The City communicated with only two people and they got the OK from those two people to move ahead (with MHA). We felt that was inadequate.” Im also said the legislation, in its original form, did not do enough to address the development pressures and associated displacement fears that the neighborhood is facing.
Upadhyay said Interim put up a fight against displacement and — among other things — it is trying to secure stabilization money for families and businesses that could be displaced by the approval of the MHA.
“Tom [Im] and Leslie [Morishita, InterIm’s Real Estate Development director] worked with the city council and city council member staff and told them what needed to change in order for their resolution to be passed.” Upadhyay said that everything InterIm recommended to be changed was changed in the amended MHA resolution.
InterIm and the CID Coalition (also known as Humbows Not Hotels) also took issue with a commentary that the Northwest Asian Weekly published on Sept. 9, authored by International District (ID) property and business owner, Nora Chan, in which Chan said both organizations “provoked unfounded fear” that seniors living in the ID would be displaced (by MHA and other developments).
Chan’s commentary pointed to posters and flyers that InterIm posted around the ID and on community message boards, specifically targeting the elderly. It had the same look and font as Executive Order 9066, which authorized the displacement of over 17,000 people of Japanese descent to relocation camps.
Upadhyay said the flyer came out of a group of partners sitting together and coming up with the content, not just InterIm. “Nobody reached out to the committee that developed the content, nobody checked to see if there were families and friends of families that had been interned and wanted that message to resonate.”
The president of Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) was on that committee, as well as people who had just returned from a pilgrimage to Minedoka, where their grandparents were interned. The committee members, Upadhyay said, wanted the comparison made. “That [Executive Order 9066] was forced displacement. This [MHA] is displacement happening in a different way.”
“To say that the flyers are scary, and it’s not what InterIm should not have done that — it’s almost minimizing the sentiments of the Japanese American community for whom (displacement) is history and saying, ‘Your feelings don’t count,’” said Upadhyay. “Who are we to stamp on their feelings?” Upadhyay asked.
Cynthia Brothers of CID Coalition wanted to clarify that on July 18, CID Coalition never tricked seniors into signing a petition opposing the upzone and/or plans to develop the 14-story SpringHill Suites hotel on 8th and Lane, as Chan stated in her commentary.
“That petition doesn’t exist,” Brothers said unequivocally. She said the seniors may have filled out a sign-in sheet to indicate they were present, but it was not a petition.
Brothers also said, “We’ve heard this perception that InterIm and CID Coalition are connected. Or we were birthed out of InterIm, and that’s not true at all. We got involved in a steering committee with a lot of other different organizations to talk about how to educate the community, the upzone, etc. Beyond that, we are different organizations.”
How about the hotel?
Unlike InterIm, which has taken no public stance on the SpringHill hotel development, CID Coalition opposes it.
“We are against it unless we see that it’s not going to hurt the community and that there’s a benefit to the community,” said Brothers. “I don’t want my grandma’s (who resides at Legacy House) health to be impeded when the ambulance can’t get through to her because you have all these hotel tenants, condo and market rate tenants, using the same narrow street.”
Both CID Coalition and InterIm wanted details on what economic and public security benefits the hotel will provide.
“How many people (from the ID) will you employ?” asked Upadhyay. She wonders what’s to stop a developer and business owner, after they get InterIm’s blessing to build, from hiring employees outside of the ID and say the reason is because ID residents don’t speak the language or have the skills. “How are you going to demonstrate that crime will be reduced and that public safety will be important as a result of this development?” Upadhyay continued, “Will you have security guards?”
Brothers questioned who the hotel security guards are for. “Is it to act as a barrier between the community outside and the wealthier tenants and hotel guests? Will security have cultural and language competency with our community, with seniors, and with people walking on the street?”
Upadhyay said these are questions that are asked of all developers. She reiterated,
“InterIm is not anti-development. We are anti-displacement.”
Upadhyay says InterIm and other organizations are looking out for low-income communities, vulnerable seniors, the effect of gentrification and displacement, and losing small businesses. “We don’t want this neighborhood to be another Central [District], so we’ve been proactive — all of us (nonprofits) — to take charge. Their message to the City, “Community engagement has to happen. You cannot just come and throw things at this community (ID) anymore. There has to be transparency and we hold you all accountable.”
Ruth can be reached at email@example.com.