$1.9 Million Chinatown relief measure passes Board of Supervisors

$1.9 Million Chinatown relief measure passes Board of SupervisorsPhoto: @partyroxy via Unsplash
Joe Kukura
Published on January 19, 2021

San Francisco’s Chinatown took a brutal punch in the gut when the 100-year-old Far East Cafe announced it would close in late December. Add the further injury that this year’s Chinese New Year Parade is cancelled, which was inevitable under current COVID-19 restrictions, but that event represented 30% of most Chinatown business’ revenue, all of it usually coming in a one-week period. In the last month, several local media publications have published what seemed like obituaries about Chinatown

Those obituaries were hopefully premature, and the Far East Cafe may still remain open. At Tuesday afternoon’s meeting, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a $1.9 million relief package that aims to pay Chinatown restaurants to prepare meals for the neighborhood’s seniors and SRO residents.

The bill’s author, District 3 supervisor Aaron Peskin, worried aloud before the vote about “the very real threat of losing not only one of the last Chinatowns in the United States, but I would argue, the greatest Chinatown outside of China in the world. The statistics are startling. Before the pandemic, 97% of the families were working and gainfully employed. After shelter-in-place, half of them, 45% have lost all of their income.”

The aid package may keep the Far East Cafe open, among as many as 80 participating Chinatown restaurants and food businesses. The feeding of SRO residents is particularly important, as many of those facilities have shared kitchens with higher risks of transmission.

"San Francisco’s iconic Chinatown neighborhood has suffered from the triple threat of Central Subway construction delays, early xenophobic attacks and an extended shutdown that has made already struggling immigrants even poorer," Sup. Peskin's office said in a statement to Hoodline shortly after the vote. "Our seniors & families in crowded SROs are at higher risk of COVID exposure and going hungry, and our legacy restaurants are at risk of shuttering for good. The cancellation of the nation’s largest Lunar New Year parade is especially dramatic, with most small businesses typically making 30% of their income in that one week alone.

"Today’s unanimous Board of Supervisors vote to approve our $1.9m Chinatown Restaurant Relief & Food Security package is a testament to how seriously the City is taking this crisis. We need to feed our most vulnerable and fuel a strong recovery for Chinatown’s vibrant tourism industry. We’re ready to fight to preserve this iconic neighborhood and this is one small step toward that end.”

While the measure passed unanimously on Tuesday’s first reading, it will need to pass a second reading next week. It also needs Mayor London Breed’s signature, but Breed has indicated she’s very supportive of the bill.