By Patty Fong
For months, perhaps years, I’ve been sounding the alarm over the increasing threats to the Chinatown-International District (CID)/Little Saigon neighborhood/community.
It cannot be overstated: The Seattle Chinatown Historic District is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and sits within the larger International Special Review District, one of eight historic districts established by the City of Seattle. Today, the two districts are commonly referred to as the Seattle Chinatown-International District (CID).
That said, the assaults resulting in accelerated urban blight and decreased safety, livability, and economic viability for the CID and Little Saigon continue unabated.
Drugs, addicts, and retail theft crime
The problems remain at 12th & Jackson. We cannot police or arrest our way out of this serious assault on the identity and viability of the CID/Little Saigon. What started out as a 24/7 low barrier shelter and bridge to stable housing has turned into a ‘harm reduction’ – managed use – facility. The CID/Little Saigon may not have ever been consulted or notified of this more high-risk change. Yet, we are aware daily of the associated consequences. We have no information about how this ‘harm reduction’ policy is monitored or its success rate. We do know that the resulting availability of drugs (confirmed by a source to me) at the Navigation Center is mirrored in the human tragedy at 12th & Jackson. Residents, visitors, businesses, and addicts are all suffering from the dishonesty, lack of transparency, and incompetence of Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) and the City.
The Navigation Center must go.
This former Indian Health Board site should be redeemed from DESC and the City, designated a drug-free zone, and turned into a CID/Little Saigon community center that would provide healthy, safe, and necessary services to community residents.
Mandatory Housing Availability
MHA is now in effect in six urban areas across Seattle — Downtown, South Lake Union, University District, the CID, 23rd Avenue in the Central Area, and Uptown. With all due respect to Bob Santos and family, was Uncle Bob’s Place (MHA) really necessary at the size and scale to which it was designed and constructed? Did any environmental impact statement take into consideration the size and scale of the surrounding buildings and other factors such as the consequences of parking, noise, light, and sound pollution? What’s next for the CID? Probably more if we don’t speak up and demand an end to yet another racist environmental assault on a vulnerable, fragile neighborhood.
Property neglect — a public hygiene concern
The proliferation of property-defiling graffiti has not been addressed adequately. I almost miss the days of the COVID pandemic when colorful artists’ murals sprung up on boarded-up shops. I documented most of these, all gone now, sadly. In addition to graffiti, trash disposal is careless, unsightly, and unsanitary. Why shouldn’t business owners be held accountable for ensuring their properties are clean and properly maintained? Public rights demand private responsibility and accountability.
Loss of print English language community newspaper
The unfortunate demise of Northwest Asian Weekly as a print community newspaper is a stunning loss for the CID and the City, and is now a national phenomenon. Until internet/broadband literacy and access are universal—and in a non-English-speaking community with probably a very low-income status—that isn’t necessarily realistic, an online-only presence of the Asian Weekly will limit community news to the privileged few who have computer access. What a blow to local democracy and a vital voice and source of information for this community! Another way this community continues to cease to matter and endure, though I do not blame the paper. This is a national trend.
Sound Transit and the CID
No one knows how Sound Transit’s proposed stations will affect the CID. Can this historic landmark neighborhood survive yet another assault on businesses, residents, visitors, and the overall viability of the CID? What mitigations have been proposed, and will they be adequate and appropriate?
Homelessness, mental illness, poverty, violent crime
We all know this is a city-wide problem for all involved and concerned. Being unsheltered, mentally ill, and in poverty are tragedies, but so are the consequences of unsheltered people for those who live and earn a living in the CID. Everyone is now a potential victim of the crimes that come with these social problems. Community volunteer patrols and outreach are not the answer and could pose a danger—recall Danny Woo’s unfortunate demise.
The CID and Little Saigon are neither a dump nor a politically convenient site for the City’s and the County’s incompetent and mismanaged social experiments! Enough is enough!
CID community oversight board, CID/Little Saigon Neighborhood Plan
I’d like to recommend the establishment of a community oversight board composed of residents, business owners, and citizens at large that would represent the CID/Little Saigon, speak as a unified voice to such entities as the City, the County, and others such as Sound Transit, and be legally and officially recognized as such in dealings with these entities.
Urban blight – drug use, addicts, retail theft, property degradation including public sanitation, environmentally unsound upzoning, the loss of a print community newspaper, homelessness, mental illness, poverty, violent crime—these certainly do not make the CID and Little Saigon. But they certainly can break this unique community should we fail in our insight, wisdom, compassion, resourcefulness and the will to act.