Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Chinatown Partnership bypasses the Chinatown planning process

Chinatown Partnership presented its Chinatown Business Improvement District (BID) proposal to CB3 Tuesday night without going first to the Chinatown Working Group (CWG), the community-wide planning process for Chinatown's future.

Setting aside whether the BID is a good or bad idea -- like most planning ideas, it is a mix of both, and judgment depends on perspective and interests -- going to the CB without going to the community seems a premature and unwise choice for three reasons:
1. it by-passes and ignores the ongoing community process in Chinatown
2. it undermines the viability and effectiveness of that community process
3. it risks dividing the community by promoting the BID without full discussion within the community.

Chinatown Partnership has been promoting a Chinatown BID to clean Chinatown streets and promote tourism and economic development. But the small businesses, who will pay for the BID, are not all in favor. Some small businesses don't see why they should have to pay for services that the city ought to supply. They also worry that a BID will create a quasi-governmental bureaucracy that will formulate policy that will not serve small businesses, but may serve big capital or power-brokers in Chinatown. Increased taxes from the BID will be passed onto small landlords who would be compelled to pass these increases to small businesses whose profit margins are already narrow. Yet these small businesses have historically been providing low prices that have benefited the local community. The increased push for tourist dollars over the small business economy that has long dominated Chinatown is not without controversy. And once a BID is created, it is almost impossible to dismantle, even if the BID turns out to be harmful to small businesses.

Tuesday night at the CB3 meeting, Margaret Chin repeated several times that the BID should be an issue of self-rule. I agree. CB3 should follow the will of the Chinatown community on this, including the local small business community and the Chinatown Working Group.

The Chinatown Working Group represents a moment of great potential for Chinatown. Members are drawn from businesses, residents, labor, social services, arts organizations, parks organizations, parents of school children -- you name it, CWG includes it. CWG is also completely open to any organization in the community. Even Chinatown Partnership is a member.

At this critical moment of great hope and expectation, Chinatown Partnership's choice to take an end run around CWG would be ill-considered. The right and fair place for the discussion and planning of a Chinatown BID should be in the CWG, where all of Chinatown interested parties can speak equally and freely to hash out the issues.

In addition, CB3 or CWG or some independent source should try to discover which kinds of businesses (large, small, restaurant, produce, boutiques, pharmacies, hair salons, wholesale supply, lumber, sidestreet, avenue, neighborhood location, etc.) support the BID and which oppose. The same should be evaluated for residents (owners, renters, neighborhood location, income, immigrant, native, working within Chinatown, working outside, salaried, temporary). A study of the consequences for all those sectors should be drawn up as well. Without full information, the BID is a shot in the dark, and many could get hurt.

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