One of the last remaining Japantowns is in danger of ‘irreparable harm,’ according to local SF community

sf japantown protest Kimpton Buchanan Hotel permanent housing

Residents in San Francisco’s Japantown are calling for help in their protest against the city’s plan to buy a landmark hotel and turn it into a permanent facility for the homeless.

The plan: San Francisco is seeking to purchase the Kimpton Buchanan Hotel, a 131-room tourist hotel located on the corner of Sutter and Buchanan street. This is part of Mayor London Breed’s plan to create 4,500 permanent supportive housing units — 1,500 of which would be new — within two years.

  • Buchanan is one of four properties the city aims to buy by the end of 2021 to create 368 permanent supportive housing units, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The other three locations are in SoMa, the Mission and the Excelsior.
  • KHP Capital Partners, a private equity firm that invests in boutique and independent hotels, has owned Buchanan since 2014. In June 2020, KHP entered into an agreement with the city to lease the hotel as an emergency facility for the homeless.
  • With COVID-19 taking lives and crippling businesses, the local community initially welcomed the agreement. However, it did not take long before the new neighbors allegedly started causing problems.
  • “Initially, I thought that’s a great idea. The problem was that in reality, when it happened, there was an immediate change in the physical environment,” Cathay Inamasu, who runs a preschool next to the hotel, told the Nichi Bei Weekly. “Our staff constantly have to deal with the people sitting or laying in our walkways … Sometimes they’ll move politely, others will be aggressive and confrontational.”
  • Inamasu said there’s been “more garbage and trash, needles, feces, so we end up having to clean up all this stuff.” Ricky and Bobby Okamura, who own a confectionery across the street, reportedly complained about hearing loud music and people coming and going at two in the morning.

“Irreparable harm”: Community member Zee Tanaka launched a change.org petition calling to stop the sale of the Buchanan Hotel. In it, they claimed that the city’s plan will cause “irreparable harm” to the neighborhood, which happens to be one of the only three remaining Japantowns in the country, as per NBC News. The petition has received over 6,500 signatures as of this writing.

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  • Tanaka said the city was deliberately silencing critics on the matter. They said they received a letter from the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH) on Aug. 20, which gave them less than a week to prepare for a meeting on Aug. 26 — the only time they would be given a chance to speak up.
  • “We were told this would be the ONE and ONLY meeting where Japantown and surrounding neighborhood residents, small businesses, churches and the public could ask questions and air our concerns,” Tanaka wrote. “ONE week’s notice and ONE meeting are attempts to minimize our voices, ram this through and push us to the sidelines. Who is dictating to us that there shall only be one meeting? … Who is marginalizing us?”
  • Tanaka stressed that the permanent housing will impact Japantown forever. The neighborhood, they said, was built by their ancestors who were returning “from their unjust incarceration” during World War II.
  • The hotel reportedly generates more than $2.7 million for the local economy. Paul Osaki, executive director of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California — and a Japantown resident for 60 years — said they are concerned about the housing’s impact on local businesses.
  • “When you start taking away those economic resources, it will choke the community,” Osaki told the SF Chronicle. He also said supervisors “can’t sacrifice and break their promise to one community to serve another.”

Emily Cohen, interim director of strategy and external affairs for HSH, told the Nichi Bei Weekly that the Aug. 26 meeting was the “first step” toward long-term community engagement. A second meeting has been scheduled for Sept. 8.

Featured Image via Zee Tanaka (change.org)

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