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Not Too Late to Influence the Rezone Process

In Cộng Đồng, LittleSaigon - Seattle on 2008/06/09 at 17:03

Not Too Late to Influence the South Downtown Rezone Process

Hân Ngọc Trần

June 9, 2008 – Little Saigon, Seattle: The Dearborn mall would unquestionably affect Little Saigon, its surrounding neighborhoods and the whole community at large. The proposed project would include almost 700,000 square feet of retail, and 45,000 of administrative offices along with 21-acres of parking, most of it underground – enough for over 2300 cars. There is also supposed to be housing, but the developer is unclear about how many units and when they would be built.

With the resulting property value and rent escalating, many local small businesses and low-income families nearby would be displaced. In fact, the majority of Southeast Asians would experience displacement again as they did after the aftermath of Vietnam War. The mall requires an estimated 25,000 automobile trips per day and would create much more traffic congestion, further impacting small businesses and the health of the area. The cultural integrity of Little Saigon is also at stake. This vibrant ethnic community would loose its uniqueness if it turns into another mall center.

Now, there are several questions we need to consider. What can the community do to mitigate the impacts and to preserve the cultural distinctiveness of Little Saigon? Is it too late for action?

The answer is NO, it is not too late. And YES, there are powerful ways we can influence the process. The developer and his proponents would like the community to think the project is a done deal, so as to wane our spirit and determination. But nothing is set in stone. It has been more than three years and a great deal of effort and the developer has yet to pass his two biggest hurdles, City Council’s approval for a rezone and a street vacation, both of which are scheduled for hearings [1] in the coming months.

The developer’s very clever strategy is to sign a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) with the Dearborn Street Coalition for Livable Neighborhoods (DSCLN), composed of 40 member organizations. Having this CBA, the developer will have a better chance at getting necessary approvals for the rezone and street vacation. And so Ravenhurst Development/TRF Pacific has been putting innumerable resources to ensure a CBA with the Coalition. However, there have been contentions, even within the Coalition, as to whether the current CBA really benefits the community and whether our rights as a community should be given up just at the time when we can speak to the City Council decision makers about the problems that will result if this project is approved.

What is most troubling is the lack of transparency throughout this process. As the main group at the negotiation table with the developer, the Coalition is supposed to represent the community at large. Yet its meetings are not accessible. The content of the CBA is not made public or shared to a community at large. The common sense questions are: How can the community provide input when things are hush-hush? How do we ensure that the benefits of the agreement are provided fairly? With the direction regarding the CBA, we cannot help but to question the representation of the Coalition. The DSCLN was formed by the broader community to address the issues of the size of the project, the big box character and the traffic. These issues are no longer of importance and the Coalition now will accept the mall as the developer wished.


Thus, we cannot at this point depend on the Coalition to represent our best interests with regard to the Dearborn development. The community can and should participate in the process through grassroots organizing. We now hold the Coalition accountable for the high bar it initially set, and the developer and City Council for development that respects local businesses, community residents, and cultural integrity. Development such as this that will change the character of our community and cause displacement should be unacceptable.

The next few months is a critical time. Even if the Coalition decides to vote in favor of the CBA this week, we can still influence the process by collectively opposing the current project and asking City Council for reconsideration of a more community-oriented development and with appropriate community benefits. We invite concerned individuals to join us at the Little Saigon Street Theatre on June 13th, 2008 at the Asian Plaza, a grassroots effort to encourage participatory planning and decision-making. Power comes from two things, money and people. We have a collective voice with power and need to show it.

[1] The examiner hearing is scheduled on June 24th, 2008 at 9:00 am, Seattle Municipal Tower, 700 5th Ave., room 4009.

NOTES:

(1) After the news on (a) the effects of inequitable urban development process and (b) the hidden agenda of the Washington State Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce (WaVA) made with developer Darrell Vange of Ravenhurst as well as the City were disclosed at the Street Theater events on June 13, 2008, this examiner hearing was delayed until September 22, 2008. Together with many witnesses and experts, we did participate and testify at this hearing.

(2) This article and our essay “Tiếng Trống Mê Linh” were published on the Northwest Vietnamese Weekly News of Mr. Kim Pham due to the encouragement from Mr. Bao Quoc Pham of Nguoi Viet Daily News in California on June 10, 2008. This article was the last being printed on Northwest Vietnamese Weekly News.


Vietnamese Version

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