August 21, 2002
Arts and Entertainment
By Corbett Miller
The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency has paved the way for local developer John McInerney III to bulldoze the old Japantown Bowl building and replace it with 49 market-rate condos.
By voting 5-2 Aug. 13 to allow the construction of what critics call luxury condos at Webster and Post Streets, the agency has chosen to ignore its own community planning committee (the Japantown Task Force), as well as neighbors who showed up to voice their opposition to the plan. The construction will also include 3,000 square feet of commercial space. Though two apartments will be set aside as affordable housing, critics say that does little to address the city's housing crisis.
"This plan is a slap in the face. It's insulting," said Chris Hirano of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California.
As a member of the San Francisco Board of Appeals, McInerney has been no stranger to conflict, particularly conflict-of-interest accusations. In January 1998 former state senator Quentin Kopp filed a lawsuit to have McInerney removed from his post, claiming he was lobbying local officials on behalf of his private clients (see "Back on the Grill," 1/14/98). The lawsuit was eventually dropped.
Now, faced with opposition from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, even Mayor Willie Brown has pulled McInerney's nomination to the appeals board. McInerney could not be reached for comment by press time.
The Japantown Task Force, created by the redevelopment agency in 1998, came to the hearing hoping the agency would delay the vote so the community could continue talks with McInerney. Specifically, the task force wanted to see how the developer could consider luxury condos as a community benefit. "[McInerney] considers the building itself will act as a benefit; he will be removing a blight," the task force's Linda Jofuku noted before the hearing.
The building has been vacant for 18 months after Kintetsu Enterprises Co. shut down the bowling alley because of sagging revenues. Since obtaining the site in December 2000, McInerney has flirted with several plans. The current one has only been around since July.
The redevelopment agency has a questionable reputation in Japantown that dates back to the 1970s, when it pulled the imminent-domain card and displaced thousands of people in the name of redevelopment. "This is the same old agency that demolished buildings 25 years ago," said Gen Fujioka of the Asian Law Caucus. "This is a process that has been invalidated."
At the hearing McInerney surprised the public when he offered to donate 23 percent of stock shares in an adjacent parking garage to Kimochi, a Japantown senior service provider.
The gift, touted by McInerney as worth several million dollars, was viewed by some as a smoke screen to create community support. "The shares are all held by merchants of Japantown, and without support from all shareholders the lot cannot be developed," Fujioka said. "They have absolutely no market value."
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