Japantown Establishes City's Newest Community Benefit District

After nearly a decade of planning, Japantown residents and merchants have established a Community Benefit District (CBD) in the Western Addition neighborhood.

The designation creates a partnership between the city and neighborhood to fund “environmental and economic enhancements” for the historic area, which has been a stronghold of Japanese culture for more than 100 years.

According to an announcement from District 5 Supervisor London Breed, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, and the Japantown CBD Steering Committee, the CBD's goal is to “ensure the historic preservation, physical maintenance, beauty, cleanliness, safety and economic vibrancy of Japantown.”

“The culture and history of Japantown are an important part of what makes San Francisco a great and diverse city,” said Breed in a statement. “Today’s establishment of the Japantown Community Benefit District was a community-driven process and will help strengthen the cultural heritage and economic sustainability of Japantown.”

Photo: Nicole Abalde/Flickr

The Japantown CBD will raise approximately $393,750 in assessments for services including sidewalk cleanliness, litter removal, beautification improvements, business liaison services for local merchants, and marketing efforts to promote the area as a regional destination.

The District covers roughly seven blocks, with boundaries along Geary Boulevard, Fillmore Street, Post Street, Laguna Street, Webster Street, Buchanan Street, and Sutter Street.

In addition to the historic businesses centered around Post and Buchanan Streets, the district includes the Japan Center Malls, the Kinokuniya Building, and Hotel Kabuki.

Boundaries of the Japantown Community Benefit District. | Image: Office of Economic and Workforce Development

Because the CBD requires a levy from property owners in the district based on their square footage and street frontage, the formation of the district had to be supported by a majority of property owners in a city ballot initiative.

In the final ballot results released July 25th, the CBD was approved with a 55% weighted majority vote.

Photo: Selena N.B.H./Flickr

The creation of the Community Benefit District was first brought up in 2006—two years after the passing of the Community Benefit District Ordinance in 2004—by a stakeholder committee concerned about the future of the community.

In a letter sent to Japantown business and property owners in 2006, the committee expressed concerns that “the security and cleanliness within Japantown has deteriorated and merchants and businesses as a whole have not had an adequately-funded collective program to promote the district.”

San Francisco’s Japantown is one of only three remaining in the country. Although the community once spanned 30 blocks, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War 2 and urban renewal programs helped reduce it to the four blocks surrounding Post and Buchanan Streets.

Japantown hosts many annual events including the Cherry Blossom Festival, Nihonmachi Street Fair, and Day of Remembrance. A handful of historic businesses in the area—such as Benkyo-do and Paper Tree—have been family-owned for generations.

The Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival was first held in Japantown in 1967. | Photo courtesy of SFPL

In 2013, the establishment of a Community Benefit District was recommended in the Japantown Cultural Heritage and Economic Sustainability Strategy (JCHESS), the first document in San Francisco to focus specifically on how to preserve and promote a neighborhood’s cultural heritage.

The Japantown CBD Steering Committee—set up by the Japantown Task Force—drove the project. Now, with the approval of the CBD by property owners in 2017, a decade after the project was first put forth, the vision of the committee has been made a reality. 

“San Francisco Japantown continues to share its rich history and culture to all that have made this community their home," said Alice Kawahatsu, president of the Japantown Task Force, "as well as all who come to visit from near and far.”

“Our community must always remember that we would not be here today," she continued, "if it were not for the support, hard work, and efforts by the many past organizations and individuals who were committed to working together for the betterment of all.”

Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, 2013. | Photo: Nikki Collister/Hoodline

This will be the 15th Community Benefit District formed in San Francisco since 2004. According to the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, who oversees each district, the goal of a CBD is “to improve the overall quality of life in targeted commercial districts and mixed-use neighborhoods through a partnership between the city and local communities.”

Among the 14 other CBDs in San Francisco are neighborhoods in the Castro, Tenderloin, and Noe Valley.

Map of existing Community Benefit Districts in San Francisco. | Image: Office of Economic and Workforce Development

In a statement, Mayor Ed Lee commended the Japantown community for its efforts in establishing the district.

“The Japantown Community Benefit District is an important milestone for the preservation and celebration of the Japanese American community in this City,” said Lee. “The community deserves significant recognition for working to sustain their rich cultural heritage for generations to come.”

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Japantown establishes city s newest community benefit district