By Bettie Luke
Multicultural/Diversity trainer for education and business
In my previous letter regarding Transit plans in the Seattle Chinatown-International District (CID), I made a recommendation which I want to amend. I initially thought Sound Transit’s 4th Avenue option would work, but after much thought and research, I oppose any kind of encroachment to the CID.
The CID is the last remaining ethnic neighborhood in Seattle and the cultural home to the Asian community. Any transit plans in CID would be exceedingly damaging to this historic neighborhood. Past years of intrusive encroachment into the CID have shared a common undercurrent of racial disregard for our people, resulting in loss of land use and increased safety issues.
I am 80 years old and a diversity trainer who has conducted training in 36 different states across the nation. Born and raised in Seattle, I am Chinese American. I have walked along the streets of Chinatowns for eight decades and witnessed repeated destructive changes in both the old Chinatown and the CID.
I can recall memories of playing in a building in the old Chinatown when it was located near the waterfront on 4th Avenue South and South Washington Street. The city of Seattle and transit projects have steadily encroached upon the CID in six major disruptive ways in my memory.
1) The 2nd Avenue Access road was cut through to gain quicker access from downtown to the Train Station. That road helped dismantle the old Chinatown neighborhood. We lost our location. Chinatown then moved southeast about a half mile and built in the current blocks—the CID, now affected by the new transit plans.
2) We lost CID land when construction of I-5 cut through the eastern half of the CID, destroying blocks of businesses and housing and bringing heavy, never-ending car fume pollution. Air quality was intensely impacted for residents, workers, and visitors. This heavy and harmful encroachment currently continues non-stop day and night.
3) We lost CID land when the Kingdome was built. This stadium dismantled a swath of affordable housing for Asian elders and brought constant sport event traffic to the CID. With the additional stadiums built, encroachment of traffic and air pollution enormously increased. These two stadiums do not bring people to eat and shop in the CID. Instead, the CID is used as a parking lot! Additional loss to CID businesses results from folks who are not sports fans, but want to eat or shop in the CID, skipping the trip because they cannot find parking.
4) A few years ago, a rail was installed down 8th Avenue South from Jackson Street to Dearborn Avenue so buses could travel to the bus barn off Dearborn Avenue. The metal rails and the traffic create safety and walking issues. There are elder housing units and health service clinics on both sides of that rail in the street. I walk with a walking stick and every time I cross that section of 8th Avenue, I have to step carefully, so I do not fall. Further loss to the CID was when 8th Avenue South became a one-way street, resulting in the loss of the 8th Avenue South entry street into the CID from Dearborn.
5) The Navigation Center was established in a building on 12th Avenue South and South Weller Street, with no notice, no neighborhood input, and became housing for the homeless who face greater obstacles (mental health, addiction). This risky imposition sounds like institutional racism to me. The Navigation Center brought a new set of people who were not associated nor interested in business and community in the CID. Immediately, safety issues became an increasing and continuing problem to the elders, community organizations, businesses, and visitors wanting to eat and shop in the CID.
6) The 12th Avenue South and South Jackson Street intersection in the northeast corner of CID has a bus stop in each corner. Day and night, buses criss-cross in all directions, bringing constant pollution, gas fumes, safety and walking issues as an unending encroachment. Furthermore, a rail system was installed on Jackson Street down the length of CID, creating traffic density and additional walking and driving dangers. This is another street where I worry about tripping on the rails.
It is interesting to note that in the early days, restrictive covenants, red lining, and discriminatory practices restricted Asians to the CID, as the only place we could live.
After all the years we have embraced the CID as our home base and center of culture, we now are faced with new threats of outside interests wanting to take away our land and impact our community.
Both 4th and 5th Avenue proposals feel like a land grab. These choices would destroy as many as 21 CID businesses, plus loss of buildings, jobs, residents, and patrons. The prolonged 10-year construction would create constant obstacles to restaurants, shops, businesses, events, and organizations.
Not only would many small businesses be lost, but the bigger businesses that stay in the district would have unseen and increasing loss from people avoiding the area because eating, visiting, and shopping would be hampered by 10 years of constant construction noise, vibration, dust and detours, and parking problems. The CID cannot survive and thrive under these conditions.
Extensive reports were prepared by the Wing Luke Museum and Uwajimaya, detailing the great harm to their organizations.
Reflecting upon the earlier six encroachments, I see that each major action contained an element of institutional racism, where decisions were made for mainstream gain and our community getting no gain but paying the price in safety and health. Worse, all combined, past encroachments have created a situation of serious environmental racism, where our neighborhood is subjected to intense and never-ending concentrations of toxic fumes. The CID is literally boxed in on all sides with constant heavy traffic—Jackson Street on the north, I-5 on the east, the two stadiums on the south, and the train station and underground transit system on the west side. The CID cannot escape the unrelenting toxic airways.
These proposed CID encroachments would not be planned in the downtown district or Pioneer Square—that would destroy so many buildings and businesses. These encroachments would not happen to a white neighborhood!
I noticed that a “Race and Equity Tool Kit” was listed in the Sound Transit report. More than any other part of the overall Transit plans, the CID plans needed the application of this Tool Kit. However, I wonder if the Tool Kit is listed in the report as a mere formality and implication that it was considered. I found no evidence that it was actually used.
It is an act of systemic racism if the Tool Kit was not actively, honestly, and realistically applied.
If the Race and Equity Tool Kit was truly used, I believe it would have concluded that the plans would be a catastrophe for the CID. The report cites it “would not impact neighborhood cohesion.” What kind of lame non-benefit is that? In fact, our community has a stronger unity in our opposition to this project.
These plans are the worst encroachment of the CID that I have ever seen in my 80 years. All proposed options should be thrown out. Our neighborhood should be a TRANSIT STOP on the line, not a transit staging center to send people to other parts of the city.
Every encroachment into the CID has NOT been for our benefit. We end up paying the price of safety, health endangerment, and economic loss. Even if it was unintentional or unconscious, every encroachment has contained some form of mainstream racism—systemic racism, institutional racism, economic racism, and/or environmental racism.
ENOUGH! Do not inflict another land-grabbing and exploitive encroachment on our neighborhood! The most sane and humane choice is NO Transit plans in the CID.
Betty Lau says
A good summary of the history, which includes the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, the 1935 Tydings-McDuffie Act changing Filipino entry to the US from “unlimited” to 50 per year (as well as granting independence), and the 1942 Japanese American Incarceration. And let’s not forget the taking of 4th Avenue, part of the Seattle landmark ISRD, for the future Transit Tunnel in the 1980s. The staging area land, slated for community benefit, was sold to Vulcan. While openly discriminatory “laws” wouldn’t pass muster today, they are replaced by “eminent domain” based on “fair market value.” In the case of the National Register Seattle Chinatown Historic District, historic protections can be set aside if the infrastructure project can show the alternative would be so onerous as to make the project impossible. Therefore, it is to Sound Transit’s advantage to emphasize the huge cost and gigantic inconvenience of the 4th Avenue route over 5th Avenue.