On Feb. 16, the Japantown Better Neighborhood Plan (BNP) Organizing Committee held its monthly meeting at the Union Bank Community Room in San Francisco’s Japantown. The meeting, led by Karen Kai, included subcommittee chairs, members of Japantown’s residential and business communities and Paul Lord of the San Francisco Planning Department.
Finalizing community outreach plans
The committee announced plans to hold four public meetings, beginning in April and running through June of this year. Three meetings will address proposed changes to specific chapters of the plan. All four meetings will be held at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California and include refreshments and bilingual interpreters.
The first meeting will review the BNP draft’s Land Use and Built Form chapters, and will take place Wednesday, April 6, from 7 to 9 p.m. The second meeting will tackle the Public Realm and Transportation chapters, and will be held Monday, May 2, from 7 to 9 p.m. And the third will discuss the Cultural Heritage, Community and Economic Development and Japan Center chapters. The details of this meeting are pending. The final meeting will serve as a “wrap-up,” a finale to the previous three.
In addition, the BNP Organizing Committee approved funds to hire professional facilitators for the three chapter-based meetings. Community Outreach Program, a local nonprofit group, will organize, run and record the meetings. The group successfully planned three “town hall” meetings for the Western SoMa Citizens Planning Task Force, whose neighborhood plan Lord is concurrently working on.
The committee plans to encourage attendance through targeted mailings, bilingual posters and informational booths at events such as the annual Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival.
Exploring community ownership strategies
A lengthy and complex document, the Japantown BNP draft includes provisions for everything from commercial zoning and street signage to cultural promotion and the retention of small businesses. But one issue that has been of particular concern has been the fate of Japantown’s malls.
One proposed solution for these and other important neighborhood properties would be the creation of a Community Land Trust (CLT), a body that could potentially own property in the name of the public. The feasibility of this concept is being explored by Burlington Associates, consultants hired through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Burlington will be working with a steering committee comprised of Japantown community, business and professional representatives.
The first CLT steering committee meeting was held on Feb. 9. Karen Kai, Sawako Kubo, Paul Lord, Paul Osaki, Bob Hamaguchi, Tobin Tsuji, Sandy Mori, Ryan Kimura, Ron Kobata, Gary Kitahara, Harry Hayashi, Rich Hashimoto, Richard Matsuno, Stephen Jordan, Tak Matsuba, Steve Murphy, David Fukuda, Robert Sakai and Burlington’s Dev Goetschius and Michael Brown, the lead consultant, were in attendance.
In addition, Burlington Associates will work with Seifel Consulting, another firm studying Japantown properties. Seifel has been contracted by the San Francisco Planning Department to assess the financial and architectural state of the Japan Center, including potential for renovations. The next CLT steering committee meeting is slated for Wednesday, March 16.
The BNP, a joint effort between the San Francisco Planning Department and community leaders, offers guidelines for the development and preservation of the Japantown neighborhood. The committee has been working on proposed edits to the Japantown BNP draft since 2010.
The BNP draft failed to garner community support when it was first released in 2009. A series of community meetings last summer concluded with the formation of subcommittee groups to work on changes to the draft’s various chapters. The aim of the BNP Organizing Committee is to ensure the draft reflects the community’s needs more accurately than before.
For more information on the Japantown BNP and the draft process, visit the San Francisco Planning Department’s Website, www.sf-planning.org. The Community Outreach Program’s Website is http://astdgoldengate.org/03_getinvolved/cop.html. And you can learn more about Burlington Associates and Community Land Trusts at burlingtonassociates.com.
See the Nichi Bei Weekly Calendar for times and locations of various BNP meetings.