Letter to City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development

In Cộng Đồng, LittleSaigon - Seattle on 2008/07/31 at 19:59


Below is our letter regarding the Livable South Downtown Land Use Initiatives. This letter demonstrates one of our many efforts to protest the inequitable land use rezoning process and promote democracy and social justice with all concerned Vietnamese Americans. It happened after we sent our last-minute complaint to the Director Sugimura and her staff (including Gary Johnson) at City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD). In fact, we requested a deadline extension for feedback about rezoning issues of International District.

It was attached with two very important enclosures including a list of active Vietnamese American organizations in Seattle and vicinities of Washington (These signatures were collected through a Vietnamese letter with full explanations). To protect their confidentiality, we decided not to publish their contact information here.

After this particular mobilization effort, the majority of these Vietnamese American organizations decided not to participate in any further calls to prevent gentrification–a new form of segregation (Joe Debro, Bayview, July 9, 2009).

You, as the blog readers, would wonder why, wouldn’t you? We do have some answers for this silent and silencing phenomenon, but will wait for your keen observations. If you would desire to connect and share your understanding with us, we would appreciate your comments here at the bottom section of the page or to our email address at very much. Thank you in advance!

If interested about these enlisted organizations, please read other articles in the section “Little Saigon – Seattle” of this VietSoul:21 blog


Letter to City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development

July 31, 2008


Diane Sugimura,

Alan Justad

Gary Johnson

City of Seattle, Department of Planning and Development

From: All endorsing organizations (See Attached List)

RE: Livable South Downtown Final EIS and Draft Land Use Recommendations

We are writing in regards to the Livable South Downtown Final EIS and Land Use Recommendations as they directly affect the Vietnamese Community. The below comments are drawn from attached comments made by Dr. Jeff Hou (July 2008) based on his works in the International District over the years with various student groups at the University of Washington. We also conducted extensive research, and communicated with many activists, citizens, and scholars regarding the issues of urban planning and democratic participation, as well as utilizing “Notes” of events and contacts to prepare our observations.

We urge the City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development to:

(1) investigate the strategies and recommendations proposed by the “Community Open Space Initiatives” for the Little Saigon and Dearborn area of the University of Washington, Department of Landscape Architecture (2005) and other astounding urban collaboration projects around the country and Canada; and

(2) to examine successful models of public engagement based on “structured deliberation” used in ethnically diverse regions such as Chicago.

Our comments on the Final EIS and draft land use recommendations follow below. It is critical that the City officials consider the below recommendations and take public actions consistent with the missions of the City of Seattle and The Seattle Office for Civil Rights, as well as the most recent established City of Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Initiative.


We are disappointed by the Department of Planning and Development’s (DPD) lack of thorough and inclusive outreach and the City’s inadequate public engagement strategies, particularly as regards marginalized ethnic groups. The Livable South Downtown Land Use Initiative has not been inclusive and empowering due to its business- and technical-oriented approach conducted with largely elite group participation. The elaborate hierarchical representative structures have not created a sense of power or inclusion for less involved residents and ethnic communities. The City of Seattle DPD had even abandoned its own 1992 Comprehensive Plan in which each urban village/community’s residents could control development by establishing neighborhood-specific design guidelines. Significant parcels of urban land are being reclaimed from low-wealth residents by the City through its active encouragement of the urban real estate market, through public/private partnerships rather than through the exercise of its legal governing powers. The City is using its power for reconstructing new urban territories and repopulating them with the wealthier classes. This is the exact opposite of governance for the general public welfare.

Final EIS

In addition to the lack of a comprehensive analysis of the socio-cultural impacts on the marginalized population, the environmental impact study (EIS) does not incorporate a health impact assessment to provide the public and policymakers with a systematic analysis of health consequences from effects on the current residents of such factors as displacement; housing quality; land use density, design, and diversity; public infrastructure; and residential segregation.

Livable South Downtown – Draft Land Use Recommendations

Here are comments on issues that concern us.

Retail character. We support controls on formula retail in Little Saigon and the Dearborn Street Corridor. We recommend a formula retail business ordinance for the whole Little Saigon community, modeled after San Francisco’s formula business ordinance. Formula retail and national franchises would fundamentally change and degrade the nature of this unique area. We would also like the maximum store sizes to be reduced from 25,000 to 10,000 square feet.

Open space and street environment. We appreciate the consideration that requires pedestrian scale commercial development at the street level. We support the recommendation for future strategic planning for parks and open spaces in Little Saigon, and further design of the green street concept. We encourage creation of public and private green open space through the creation of gardens, green roofs, parks and play areas. We would like to see the City engage public artists to create light sculptures to activate and enhance the safety of new open space. The City should find artists to create an art installation that employs light to activate the underpass.

Design Guidelines. Enforceable Design Guidelines for Little Saigon should be developed before the establishment of these zoning changes and adopted by Council so that it would offer guidance to the development. The broader Vietnamese-American community, local businesses and property owners should all be involved in the development of these guidelines.

DMR/DMC zones in Little Saigon. We would like the height at which residential uses only begin to be at 45 feet or lower. This ensures “eyes on the street” and a strong residential and pedestrian character to Little Saigon.

Transfer of Development Rights (TDR). We would like to see further protections afforded the unique business district at 12th and Jackson through the extension of TDRs to this area. We believe that the property owners and the current businesses and economy would benefit from TDRs by protecting the local economy and improving the existing properties. It would provide additional resources for the current businesses to adapt to this significant rezoning of the area.

Residential Uses. We support the establishment of Little Saigon as a mixed residential and commercial community. We would like to see affordable housing be a feature of Little Saigon, including permanently affordable housing options at the 50% median income level and family housing. Family housing should include 3-bedroom housing, family amenities and open space for children to play in.

Height limits. We support maximum height limits of 85 feet. We would like to see a scale of development that would not overwhelm the existing neighborhoods and that can be accommodated by the existing transportation infrastructure.

If the City does allow added heights through incentives, conditions should include impact fees to be reinvested in the immediate community for open space, street and infrastructure improvements, and transit infrastructure such as a street car. Every incentive for added height must include some permanently affordable housing options at a minimum of the 50-80% median income level within the project.

Bulk Controls. We support an upper level setback at 25 feet along Jackson Street so that the corridor retains an open neighborhood feel. Little Saigon area bulk controls should begin at 65 feet.

Parking. We support the parking recommendations for Little Saigon and prefer that parking departures not be allowed.

Key intersections: The Rainier & Boren Avenue intersection at Jackson and 14th Streets is troublesome for pedestrians and is a major connection point between Little Saigon and residential neighborhoods to the east. Jackson and 12th Street is highly congested and accident prone.We would like to see more specific recommendations for the key intersections that address these problems.

We recommend parking and bicycle lanes as a buffer between vehicle traffic and pedestrians on Dearborn for improving walkability and safety of pedestrians and bicylists.

Thanks for considering our comments.

CC:Susan McLain & Gordon Clowers

City of Seattle, Department of Planning and Development


1. Comments regarding “Seattle Little Saigon Landscape & Urban Design Study by Atelier Dreiseitl” (July 2008) by Dr. Jeff Hou (Associate Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Washington).

2. Endorsement list of all organizations.


Comments regarding “Seattle Little Saigon Landscape & Urban Design Study by Atelier Dreiseitl” (July 2008)

Jeff Hou, Associate Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Washington.


1. It was unclear how the firm’s expertise matches the needs of the Little Saigon community, particularly in the cultural and economic dimensions.

2. Who attended the workshops? Do the results accurately reflect the needs and visions of the community? Have other methods for collecting community opinions been attempted beyond the workshops?

3. The study assumes the proposed Goodwill development as a given without considering other alternatives.

4. There is little analysis of the patterns of existing business activities and cultural life in the area. Also, in this study, the community’s culture seems to be reduced to symbolic representation, such as the gateway and detailing, rather than the everyday practice of individuals and community.

5. The concept of inserting colonial European street/building patterns into the existing, block structure in Little Saigon is an interesting one. However, the approach does not take into account that the traditional, non-grid patterns are results of long-term, organic processes. It also did not go far beyond creating building footprints in different angles. It’s unclear how the new patterns support activities on streets and open spaces in ways different from regular gridded patterns. Furthermore, there is a mismatch between the concept and the actual design. The scale of the sites in Little Saigon is different from those of non-American cities shown in the study. For example, the non-grid pattern in Vietnam and European cities is at the scale of large urban blocks, while the proposed design is at the scale of individual buildings. If implemented, the angular buildings could result in spaces in which businesses would find it difficult to function.

6. The cross-block connections would be an important improvement to create a better pedestrian environment with potential physical, economic, and health benefits. However, from the photomontage vignettes with mostly park spaces and blank building walls, there seems to be a lost opportunity to connect these spaces to storefronts and commercial activities. The proposed approach could result in the lack of “eyes on the street” and hence safety concerns.

7. The study does not show how the design addresses the specific needs of small businesses and large grocery stores (with customers coming from different parts of the city and the region) that make up the core of the business activities and identity in the area. The plans show mostly buildings with large footprints. How would this benefit or impact the existing small businesses?


Endorsement for the Public Comment Report of

The Livable South Downtown Land Use Initiative, July 31st, 2008

List of Vietnamese American Organizations

City of Seattle & Washington State

Organization Name

Contact Name/Email


Vietnamese Cultural Center/Tran Hung Dao Foundation (Tổ Đình Việt Nam)


Mr. Ly Duc Bui


Alliance for Democracy in Vietnam Association, Washington State (Hội Thân hữu Liên Minh Dân Chủ Việt Nam/WA)


Ms. Anh-Tuyet Tran


Vietnamese-American Community of Washington State


Mr. Trong Tang


Vietnamese-American Cultural & Educational Development Association (VACEDA)


Dr. Dung Xuan Nguyen


Vietnamese Community Association of Tacoma & Pierce County


Mr. Huy-Tuong Nguyen-Vu


Vietnamese Women ‘ s Association of Tacoma / Pierce County


Ms. Phung Thi Vo Nguyen


Disabled Veterans of South Vietnam Association in Washington State


Mr. Thao V. Nguyen


Committee Honoring the Vietnamese Nationalist Flag of Washington State


Mr. Dung Xuan Nguyen, MD


Me Linh Vietnamese Women’s Association (Hội Phụ Nữ Mê Linh/WA)


Ms. Hoa Xuan Tang


Vietnamese Heritage Association


Mr. Denny Diep Dang


Vietnamese-American Heritage Foundation, Olympia, WA


Mr. Tuan Vu


Vietnamese Community Activity Center (VCAC)


Mr. Dat P. Giap, DMD


Candidate for Port of Seattle Commissioner 2007


Mr. The-Anh Nguyen


International Young Ambassadors (IYA)


Ms. Vinsy Szeto


Vietnamese Community Association of Thurston County


Mr. Duc M. Hua


Vietnamese Senior Association


Ms. Nhu-Y Pham & Mr. Khanh Cong Nguyen


Federation of the Republic of Viet Nam Arm Force Associations


Mr. Sanh Huy Pham


Vietnamese American Voters Alliance (Liên Hội Cử Tri Người Mỹ Gốc Việt)


Mr. Ngo Thien Le, Ph.D.  

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