The Beginning

Japantown Task Force, Inc. is a new entity that was created in the year 2001 in order to continue the work of the previous 50-member Japantown Planning, Preservation, and Development Task Force organization. There are only three remaining Japantowns left in the U.S., all located in the state of California - San Francisco, San Jose and Los Angeles. San Francisco's Japantown holds a long history dating back to the time Japanese immigrants first set foot onto the mainland in 1860 through redevelopment in the 1960s, and up to the present day. The community has become diverse, yet still holds on to the Japanese culture as seen through the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, the Nihonmachi Street Fair, Bon Odori and Oshogatsu (New Year's) activities. Japantown Task Force, Inc. continues to work on revitalizing and preserving Japantown, a community of culture, tradition, and history. 

Town hall meetings (including two with former Mayor Willie L. Brown, Jr.) began the process in 1997-1998. Once the Task Force was created, Phase I consultants Chinatown Community Development Center and Asian Neighborhood Design conducted community focus groups, individual merchant interviews and worked with Task Force committees. Two community-wide town hall meetings were held in October 1999; approximately 150 community members attended. Working with the Task Force, Phase I consultants produced a community needs assessment and a set of recommendations. Building on this information, Phase II consultants BMS Design Group and Porat Consulting advanced the preparation of the urban design and economic development aspects of the Community Plan to:

· Identify priority action programs and projects that are vital to the future economic,social and physical vitality of Japantown.
· Begin a framework of urban design elements that can guide the long-range improvement of the Japantown neighborhood environment.
· Shape an action plan that addresses a broad range of neighborhood concerns and issues.

Two community-wide town hall meetings were held September 7 and 9, 2000. Approximately 200 community members attended. Two documents have been produced: Community Needs Assessment and Recommendations by Chinatown Community Devleopment Center and Asian Neighborhood Design (October 1999/January 2000) Concepts for the Japantown Community Plan by BMS Design.

Building Community

The Task Force continues to provide information and solicit input on all plans and activities; establish priorities of issues, goals and objectives. It expands the community information network, acting as a resource, conduit and pivotal point of information critical to the future of the entities (both commercial and non-profit), residents and projects of the community. Since January 2001, Task Force members and staff have made presentations on current activities to community organizations including: Kintetsu Mall Tenants Association; S.F. Buddhist Church; Kimochi, Inc.; Nihonmachi Merchants Association; Japantown Parking Garage Corporation; Japanese Community and Cultural Center of Northern California. Presentations have also been made to: S.F. Board of Supervisors Housing, Land Use and Transportation Committee; University of California at Berkeley School of Environmental Design; and San Francisco Planning and Urban Research (SPUR). City departments that have disseminated information to the greater Japantown community through the Task Force include: the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency; Police Department; Department of Parking and Traffic; Department of Public Works; Recreation and Parks Department; Planning Department; Airport Commission; Arts Commission; Mayors Office of Community Development and Mayors Office of Economic Development. Other entities that have disseminated information to the greater Japantown community through the Task Force include: the Western Addition Crime Abatement Coalition; San Francisco Planning and Urban Research; Stuart Hall High School; Chinatown Community Development Corporation; Manilatown Heritage Corporation; and the Presidio Trust. The Task Force has offered public support on behalf of community-based organizations including: Kokoro Assisted Living, Inc.; Namiki Apartments Tenants Association/Chinatown Community Development Center; Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center; S.F. Unified School District Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program; Friends of the Buchanan Mall; Nihonmachi Little Friends; Japantown Parking Garage Corporation; and Peace Plaza Task Force.

Long Range Community Plan

The Japantown Community Plan vision, goals, objectives and immediate priority programs as presented to the community were approved by the Task Force on September 20, 2000 and submitted to the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency in October 2000 as “Concepts for the Japantown Community Plan”. Additional funding for the concepts was provided by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission “Transportation for Liveable Communities” Program.

In 2000, the Task Force entered into a contract with Porat Consulting Services to study the economic impact of three major destination sites -- the Japantown Bowl (scheduled for closure), the AMC Kabuki 8 (potential to be sold), and the Kintetsu Mall (potential sale or change of use). The Japantown Bowl study was completed in 2000; the remainder of the study was completed in September 2001. Funding for this work was applied for, and the Task Force received grants from the Mayor’s Office of Community Development ($26,125) and the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development ($26,125), for a total of $52,250.

By September 2000 the Task Force had completed Phase II of the Japantown Community Plan, “Concepts for the Japantown Community Plan”, which received an award in 2001 from the American Society of Landscape Architects. The Task Force, along with the consultants, made a presentation of this work at the September 26, 2000 Agency Commission meeting. BMS Design Group and Porat Consulting prepared the Concept Plan in association with The Duffey Company, Sedway Group, and VBN Architects. The Concept Plan is the working paper upon which the Task Force continues its work. Having officially adopted the goals and objectives, the Task Force is refining strategies for community consensus toward ultimate finalization of an implementation plan. The document has been shared with the greater Japantown community, and the various City Departments (City Planning; Department of Parking and Traffic; SF Police Department; Public Works; and Recreation and Parks), the Mayors Office of Community Development, and the Mayors Office of Economic Development. The Task Force has helped facilitate work between the Department of Public Works and the Peace Plaza Task Force on Peace Plaza renovation. Meeting with City Planning Director has initiated introductory participation in public/private plans to modify Geary Boulevard. Pursuing plan objectives, the Task Force is negotiating use of the Buchanan Mall koban with the Police Department. In service of plan concepts, Task Force has been working with the two remaining Japantowns in the U.S. (Los Angeles and San Jose) under the aegis of the California Japanese Leadership Council, to bring statewide/national attention to Japantown’s cultural/historical significance. To support community safety, the Task Force worked with the S.F. Police Department to have a Japanese-speaking patrol officer assigned to Japantown in February 2001; a third was added in June 2001.

Prioritization identified “creation of implementation organization” as top priority (see item 3 following), with “community organizing” as a parallel activity. The Task Force has been working to facilitate the community-based-organizations network for communications and planning, initiating a monthly “CBO-brown bag lunch” in January 2001. This has resulted in a Japantown CBOs listserve. The National Japanese American Historical Society is now creating a community-wide planning calendar for event scheduling.

Implementation Facilitation

A seamless transition from volunteer Task Force to community-based entity will support plan implementation and allow Japantown to become competitive on its own for neighborhood development funds, as well as partner with other communities or community programs toward improving the quality of community life in the Western Addition. The Task Force hopes to maintain its funding relationships with the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, the Mayors Office of Economic Development, the Mayors Office of Community Development, and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, as it creates new relationships with other funders. The San Francisco Foundation has requested a funding proposal, and we are currently in conversation with the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund and the Tides Foundation.

The Implementation Entity Ad Hoc Committee began in November 2000 to identify mechanisms needed to create a community-based plan-implementation entity. To strengthen its resource base, the Task Force joined the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development. The Task Force researched (both on-site and off) structural models including: Main Street Program (California), business improvement districts (Seattle Chinatown International District Business Improvement Association and San Jose Japantown Business Improvement District), Little Tokyo Community Council, and Little Tokyo Service Center Community Development Corporation. East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation, North of Market Community Council and S.F. Chinatown Community Development Center presented advice and information. The Seattle International District Improvement Association (Interim) provided additional information and shared the Seattle Chinatown International District Public Development Area Plan. The committee then made recommendations to the Task Force, including a strategy to design a xxx board of directors, which were adopted in March 2001. 

The Task Force solicited nominations from the community for an initial board of directors for a successor entity. A slate of 13 candidates – some current Task Force members, others from the community at large -- was recommended and unanimously approved by Task Force members. The board will consist of 21 members total, along with an advisory board made up of experienced Task Force members and other members of the community. The new entity, Japantown Task Force, Inc., a Planning, Preservation and Development Organization, filed its articles of incorporation and its by-laws. It also has received 501(c)(3) non-profit status.

The organization's volunteer board members are passionate about building consensus and developing projects around the vital importance of community participation in planning, economic revitalization, historical preservation and cultural development. Members of the public are highly encouraged to attend open board meetings and committee meetings in order to be informed of the works and activities of Japantown Task Force, Inc. as well to address the issues of the public. The office is open Monday through Friday, 10 am to 5 pm with staff who are available to answer questions and to hear comments or concerns. For more inforation, contact Japantown Task Force, Inc. at 415.346.1239 or email at info@japantowntaskforce.org. Our office is located in San Francisco Japantown at 1765 Sutter Street on the third floor.