When Chinatown Community Development Center activists, led by deputy director Cindy Wu, rallied against the new co-working space 1920C on Grant Avenue a month ago, it wasn’t just the space’s co-founder that was caught off guard. Some neighboring businesses and members of the larger Chinatown community said they were surprised as well.
Across the street from 1920C’s second floor office on April 30, Wu, who’s also vice president of the Planning Commission, claimed the business sits in the 1986 Chinatown Area Plan’s visitor retail zone — and therefore was in violation of the city planning code, in addition to failing to obtain the proper building permits.
On May 27, Chinatown resident Richard Ow, 85, a member of The City’s Aging and Adult Services Commission, brought several dozen seniors to rally in support of 1920C and its co-founder Jenny Chan, 24. On the sidewalk, Ow claimed it was a conflict of interest for Wu, as a planning commissioner, to make accusations about a space he considers a benefit to the community.
Ow, who said he was not speaking in his capacity as an Aging and Adult Services Commission member, said he plans to sunshine Wu’s correspondences with the Planning Commission “to get to the bottom of” whether it was a politically driven move.
“She should listen to people from the community and have a dialogue with the people and listen to all the ideas before having a press conference to accuse someone of doing something,” Ow told The San Francisco Examiner.
“It is the politics,” Ow added, claiming the development center’s “supporting [Aaron] Peskin.”
Peskin, a former San Francisco Supervisor, is in the running for the District 3 seat, which Mayor Ed Lee appointed North Beach activist Julie Christensen to in January. The mayor’s decision was seen as a slight to the development center, which had primed Wu for the position.
The day after the development center’s protest, Chan sought advice from Supervisor Christensen, whose aide, a former city planner, helped her formulate a response to the notice of violation making the case that 1920C is not an administrative service but a professional service, and therefore permissible under the area plan.
Christensen said she supports 1920C in part because it touches on where Chinatown is going and who gets to shape that vision, and that she and the development center “approach things differently, for maybe obvious reasons.” “They kind of come out of the 1960s protest era and I’m more of a negotiator, consensus-builder,” Christensen said. “There are a lot of voices and a lot of people who have ideas about where Chinatown should go, and CCDC is not alone in having an opinion about how things should be.”
Regarding the potential politics behind Wu’s stance against 1920C, Christensen said, “I find when people get involved with Aaron Peskin, they tend to do things that are hard to understand and maybe not in their best interest.”
Wu, however, denied that the development center’s opposition has anything to do with politics or Peskin.
“CCDC did this work because our work has always been about the Chinatown Area Plan,” Wu said. “I know there’s accusations, but it was shaped because of the zoning, because of the area plan. That is that.”
Asked whether the development center conversed with Chinatown residents before protesting against 1920C, Wu said, “Again, it’s not the point.” “It’s not a permitted use and they don’t have a building permit, so why would you ask people how they feel about that?” she said.
Zoning Administrator Scott Sanchez is reviewing 1920C’s legality and is tentatively expected to make a decision by next week (the week of June 8), according to Planning Commission spokeswoman Candace SooHoo. Meanwhile, Chan said has felt stuck in the middle.
“I do think it’s a political fight. I do feel like it’s unfair,” she said, and added that Ow’s rally in support made her “really feel like I need to stay because of how much love I’m getting from the community.”