Statement from former CANE members on the sale of the Buchanan Hotel in S.F. Japantown

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The Committee Against Nihonmachi Eviction (CANE) 50th Anniversary Committee formed ten months ago to commemorate CANE’s fight to preserve San Francisco’s Japantown and to share this history with future generations. Coincidentally our committee’s work is taking place during intense community discussions about the future of the Buchanan Hotel site and Japantown as a whole.

Even though it has been almost 50 years since CANE organized, the lack of community self-determination continues to expose the underlying issues that still remain, in particular the critical need for affordable housing for families and others, and the lack of space for community-oriented small businesses and institutional space.

As former CANE members, especially those of us who reside in San Francisco and the Bay Area, we call for the termination of the sale of the Buchanan Hotel. We propose that sites such as the Majestic Hotel (or any of the over 80 hotels that expressed interest in being purchased by the City), be explored as possible alternatives. We believe that community self-determination means that members of the Japantown community who live, work, worship, participate in cultural and social events and activities, and provide and receive services, should decide its future.

When the City proposed using the Buchanan Hotel as temporary housing for the unhoused 16 months ago, the Japantown community was supportive, understanding that homelessness is a social crisis that is only getting worse each day. However, over time serious problems arose. Hostile, sometimes threatening, and anti-Asian confrontations between some persons associated with the shelter and workers at the childcare center/after school program immediately next door occurred. The childcare program has had to deal with feces, drug injection needles and trash on its property. Concerns have been raised about how the childcare center and community center two doors down that houses senior and other programs will be affected by permanent supportive housing. It is because of these negative experiences that we join almost all Japantown organizations, leaders, and residents in demanding that the housing project for the unhoused at Hotel Buchanan be terminated. Alternate sites, such as the Majestic Hotel only five blocks away from the Buchanan, should be explored.

Let’s be clear who the real culprit is historically and today — the City and County of San Francisco. Not the unhoused. The City has taken no steps to correct any of these problems and concerns regarding the Buchanan unhoused shelter, and cannot be trusted to remediate the situation.

The rushed process of the sale of the Buchanan Hotel immediately reminded us of how the City’s callous disregard for our community destroyed Japantown under the guise of “urban renewal.” Without community self-determination, the residents and small business owners had no voice in the matter. Through the power of eminent domain, the City bulldozed the Western Addition including the Fillmore and Japantown. CANE organized and fought against the destruction of affordable housing and the eviction of tenants, residents and small business owners but our community went from 40 square blocks pre-WWII to four square blocks by the early 1970s.

The City of San Francisco “apologized” for redevelopment, but still has not provided restitution in the form of affordable housing, small business and institutional space. After nearly 50 years, many of these former Japantown residents have since passed away or moved out of the City. The “Certificates of Preference” issued by the City to evicted residents with a promise that they could move back to Japantown proved to be useless scraps of paper.

Today the decades-long impact of redevelopment on the City’s historic communities is clearer than ever. We strongly believe that the City owes the Black and Japanese American communities for perpetrating the racist policies that deliberately and intentionally caused the destruction of the Western Addition, including the Fillmore and Japantown. We support the African American Reparations Committee created by the Board of Supervisors, and the demands of the Black community to expand housing opportunities and other remedies. We repeat that the focus must remain on the real culprit — the City.

CANE stood up for the working people and small shopkeepers who were the majority of the community and who wished to retain its residential and community-oriented small business character. We understood how precious Japantown was — a place where Japanese American history and culture were passed on to younger generations and from where the community could assert its civil and political rights, including the right to determine its own future and work in coalition with other communities.

We still believe this after 50 years. The Japantown community must decide its own future. It is not too late to work towards reversing the trend that is diminishing and erasing the Japanese American community.

Signed & Dated 10/11/21*
Kim Geron, former CANE member;
Carole Hayashino, former CANE member;
June Hibino, member of Nikkei Progressives (Los Angeles) and former CANE member;
Mickey Imura, resident of Japantown and former CANE member;
Boku Kodama, San Francisco native and former CANE member;
Donna Kotake, former CANE member;
Lucien Kubo, member of AAWAA and former CANE member;
Kitty Kitagawa Mah, former CANE member;
Joyce Nakamura, former CANE member;
Glenn Omatsu, former CANE member;
Glenn Omi, former CANE member;
Lin Ono, former CANE member;
John Ota, former CANE member;
Hiko Shimamoto, former resident of Japantown and owner, Shima Transfer; former CANE VP;
Cyndy Sugawara, San Francisco native and former CANE member
*Organizational affiliation for identification purposes only.

The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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