By Ruth Bayang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
On the heels of Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell’s One Seattle Day of Service—in which 4,000 volunteers signed up to clean up the city—business owners and community leaders in the Chinatown-International District (CID) say more needs to be done.
“Simple vandalism is a nuisance,” said retired Lt. Col. Michael Yaguchi of the Air Force and current commander of the Nisei Veterans Committee (NVC).
“The paramount issue is the overt use of drugs in our neighborhood, and the discarding of needles and other materials used to prepare those drugs amongst public areas or private property.”
Over the past two years, the area around NVC Memorial Hall at 12th Avenue South and South King Street has seen an increase in vandalism, garbage, human waste, and people hanging out or camping in the parking lot area.
Yaguchi said, “It’s the large crowd gathering on the sidewalks to sell ‘product’ and other less desirable activities that makes access to the NVC complex uninviting and dangerous. It’s the blatant and unrelenting disposal of trash on our private property, but everywhere else too.
“That’s just good PR,” said Teizi Mersai of the city’s recent efforts to clean up Little Saigon—particularly the intersection of 12th Avenue South and South Jackson Street.
Mersai, the manager of Lam’s Seafood Market—which is across the street from NVC Memorial Hall—said the problem has merely moved one block over—to King Street.
“Should I get a fence to build around Lam’s Seafood?” wondered Mersai. He’s resistant to that idea as it “makes the whole area uninviting. It looks like a prison.”
Already, two big strip malls on South Jackson are fenced, on both sides, he said.
When asked if he has contacted the Seattle Police Department (SPD, he said he has and added, “It’s useless. They came to look around and didn’t see anything, they left. But the problem is still there.”
A phone call to SPD Chief Adrian Diaz yielded no response. However, Northwest Asian Weekly staff noted an SPD cruiser on May 24 outside Lam’s—and officers dispersing 12 people sitting outside.
The mayor’s office also told the Northwest Asian Weekly in a statement, “SPD is aware of ongoing criminal activity in the vicinity of King Street and is engaged in addressing the area.”
Little Saigon used to be a vibrant business district.
Now, at least two businesses are in the process of leaving the area or relocating, and three businesses have closed, according to Quynh Pham, the executive director of the Friends of Little Saigon.
Pham also told the Northwest Asian Weekly, “Other businesses are considering hiring private security, but it is very costly and they don’t think they can afford it.”
Mersai echoed that sentiment.
“It‘s over $100 an hour. It’s very expensive. The best rate is still $75 an hour. So I am leaning towards the fence.”
Yaguchi shared with the Northwest Asian Weekly photos showing the after effects of a fire—started by an unauthorized camper who was caught on surveillance footage. The flames scorched the southeast portion of the NVC Memorial Hall building.
“This isn’t the Emerald City anymore,” Yaguchi said. “We’ve had to divert funds from educating the public about the legacy of the Nisei soldier during World War II to expensive security perimeter fencing to help ensure our members, volunteers, and guests feel safe and secure and to deny access to areas that are not in full view from the streets because those areas are exploited.”
He added, “It’s the repugnant stench associated with human waste eliminated in the areas of the property ‘hidden’ from street view is at times overwhelming—summer time is the worst.”
Yaguchi said it’s exhausting to deal with these issues on a daily basis.
The mayor’s office said Harrell is “working to implement a comprehensive approach to public safety—integrating social services, community engagement, economic development, and more. In practice, this has included close collaboration with small businesses and community-based organizations, including hundreds of thousands of dollars in support; millions to support anti-displacement and affordable housing efforts; and regular investments to clean the neighborhood, pick up litter, and beautify the area.”
It added, “The City’s Unified Care Team has also worked to close multiple encampments in the CID and Little Saigon, including making at least 85 referrals to shelter from those neighborhoods.”
Ruth can be reached at email@example.com.