SAN FRANCISCO – Assembly Budget Chair Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) announced Sept. 20 that the state will provide an additional $6 million in state funding to help keep a Japantown project on track.
Unexpected costs threaten to impact the renovation and redesign of Peace Plaza as envisioned.
“We must see this project through to completion,” said Ting. “This isn’t just about modernizing a public space. It’s also about making amends to Japanese Americans who were forced out of Japantown not once, but twice. The state should be a partner in these efforts to make things right, and I was determined to fight for this funding.”
“The Peace Plaza has been the cultural center of Japantown for decades,” said Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-San Francisco). “The plaza’s renovation is vital to the Japanese American community — it’s where they host festivals and celebrations and it has huge cultural and community significance to the Japanese American community in our city. The renovation of the plaza is desperately needed and overdue. I’m grateful to Assembly Budget Chair Phil Ting for his work on securing this funding, and I am proud to support it.”
“In the late 1960s, my family became victims of the mass redevelopment of Japantown,” said Richard Hashimoto, Peace Plaza Committee co-chair and manager of the Japan Center Garage. “The city exercised eminent domain powers to force us out. All of the families we grew up with moved to other parts of the city or left San Francisco, and Japantown would never again be the friendly, family-oriented community I grew up in.”
After decades of neglect, the Peace Plaza will finally see improvements, which will also help revitalize Japantown by attracting visitors to support small businesses and fostering cultural relations. The work includes waterproofing and paving, as well as beautifying the space with plants, lighting and seating so that it can serve as an essential location for festivals, celebrations and historic commemorations.
The renovation will mostly be funded by San Francisco’s 2020 Health and Recovery Bond approved by voters and supplemented with state funds. Community members see this investment as restitution and a long-overdue chance to heal.
Because San Francisco was the first port of entry for Japanese coming to America, many settled in the city, leading to the creation of the first Japantown in the U.S. But during World War II, Japanese Americans were removed from their homes against their will and sent to concentration camps. While many came back after the war to rebuild their shattered lives, the city evicted residents and businesses during the mid-1960s and 1970s — this time in the name of urban renewal. Japantown’s Peace Plaza was built during that redevelopment period.
“The redesign and renovation of Japantown’s Peace Plaza represents long-overdue restitution for the harm inflicted on this community,” said Jon Osaki, Peace Plaza Committee co-chair and executive director of Japanese Community Youth Council. “The homes and businesses forcibly acquired and demolished will never be restored, but thanks to Assemblymember Ting, the Recreation and Parks Department and the voters of San Francisco, Japantown will finally have an open space that represents the character and culture of the community.”
“Funding secured by Assemblymember Ting will allow us to revitalize the cultural heart of one of the last three remaining historic Japantowns in the country, ensuring it remains a beautiful space for future generations to celebrate, socialize, and connect with Japanese culture,” said Phil Ginsburg, general manager of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department. “We are grateful for his support of this project, which is vitally important to the Japanese American community, small businesses, and all San Franciscans.”
Design work is expected to be completed by the end of next year with construction starting in early 2024. Last year, Ting secured $5 million to update the adjacent Buchanan Mall near Torii Gate, which is also in dire need of renovations that will include the repair of the iconic Ruth Asawa fountains.