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Chinatown to net $450,000 in aid after Central Subway delay, but some say it’s not enough

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The aid from The City is currently intended for businesses along Stockton Street that have been impacted by the Central Subway’s construction delays. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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Chinatown merchants are on the cusp of netting nearly $450,000 in support from The City after suffering business losses from the Central Subway’s construction delays, but one influential community organizer feels it’s not enough.

The Central Subway extends from Chinatown through Union Square and South of Market, and was set to see Muni trains debut on its tracks Dec. 26, 2018. But as the San Francisco Examiner first reported, its debut has been delayed a year. That construction delay is centered in Chinatown, to the dismay of local businesses.

When asked for comment on the subway’s delay, Supervisor Aaron Peskin, whose district includes Chinatown, said he’s “frustrated.”

But Peskin was optimistic for merchants after a deal he struck with the Office of Economic of Workforce Development. It pledged to match funding from the finance committee and give, what Peskin called, “direct mitigation” in the form of grants to businesses hurt by construction and in-kind services.

Some local shops have already closed after their foot traffic tanked.

“I feel their pain,” Peskin said.

A man walks through a narrow corridor, past a construction site along Stockton Street in San Francisco’s Chinatown neighborhood Tuesday, November 28, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

The Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee is set to vote Thursday on releasing $225,000 from the finance committee reserve, initially held by Peskin from The City’s budget, to fund Mayor Ed Lee’s program to aid those Chinatown businesses.

But in anticipation of the vote, Pius Lee, chair of the Chinatown Neighborhood Association, sent an email to the mayor, which was obtained by the Examiner, calling on him to give money to more businesses than the program has pledged to aid.

Aid is currently slated for businesses along Stockton Street closest to the Central Subway, based on analyses of sales receipts by The City.

But, Pius Lee said, “It’s no secret the most affected area is Clay to Jackson [streets], it affects the other areas too.” He wants to see businesses close to the Broadway Tunnel reimbursed as well.

Pius Lee recently scored political wins after advocating the mayor for recreational cannabis ads to be removed from Muni buses, shortly before The City announced it would do so this month. In September, he held a banquet in honor of Mayor Lee at the Far East Cafe in Chinatown, where the mayor pledged to fulfill Pius Lee’s request to beautify the street near the Central Subway.

The Mayor’s Office did not directly address the funding, but said in a statement, “We have made sure that the construction mitigation program includes other services that will benefit the entire corridor.” The services include marketing strategies, additional street cleaning and free graffiti removal among others.

The Transamerica Pyramid can be seen over a Central Subway construction site at Washington Street near Stockton Street in San Francisco’s Chinatown neighborhood Tuesday, November 28, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Though it is unclear whether the mayor will respond to Pius Lee’s request, political consultant Jim Ross said Pius Lee may be trying to bolster his reputation in the neighborhood.

“If Pius is asking him for things, money, city services, and then Ed Lee is delivering, it makes Pius seem powerful in that community,” Ross said.

He added, “I think just because Pius Lee is asking him for money, isn’t necessarily the reason he’s going to do it.” But, “now that there’s a power vacuum there, [the mayor] gets to decide who’s seen as the leader in the Chinese community.”

Meanwhile, there is some “positive” news according to the most recent independent report of the Central Subway, which states the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency “and the contractor demonstrated effective collaboration” to stop further delays to the project.

Though the SFMTA has apparently stopped delays from building, the author of that Project Management Oversight Committee report warned a “worst case scenario” may see the project complete in April 2020 — one year and four months late.

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