Kathy Chin Leong
Supervisor, Representing District 3
How is Chinatown doing since the coronavirus hit? Chinatown was way ahead of everyone else. People were wearing masks early on. People’s connections to China and early outreach on Feb. 1, meant they had a month and a half to prepare before the mayor issued the state of emergency. We had press conferences to make the community aware of hand washing and social distancing. The Stockton Street corridor is active with shoppers while Grant Avenue is dead. Chinatown folks were experiencing loss of tourism at the outset. People are hanging in there. How are you staying connected with Chinatown? I go to Chinatown all the time. Today is the food pantry day at Gordon J. Lau Elementary, and I’ll be there. Everyone is rallying for the community, and the food distribution is amazing. It is amazing not a single Covid-19 case has broken out given that the SROs are so crowded. I’m talking to Malcolm (executive director of Chinatown Community Development Center) all the time, and I go to Chinatown multiple times a week. I brought cleaning supplies to the CCDC. I talk to people at Chinese Six Companies and attend activities in person, socially distancing. I maintain contact with the Chinatown Chinese Chamber of Commerce.
Are you seeing any good things happening?
Yes! Landlords are dropping rents voluntarily. A donor gave a million dollars so the Chinese Hospital could open up a new floor with 23 beds. A Chinese woman who runs a little dry cleaning service calls me and said they got 20,000 masks from China and wanted to donate them to Chinatown. I drove there and stuffed them in my car, so I could give out these thousands of masks. Captain Yick (who oversees Chinatown) tells me crime has been down although there have been some robberies. It is grim everywhere, but I am hearing heartening stories.
What will it take for Chinatown to rebound?
Right now, the CCDC and Chinese Hospital are working on launching an ambitious testing regimen. We plan to test as many as 13,000 who live in Chinatown and working with UCSF and the department of public health. Dr. Zhang (CEO of Chinese Hospital) is trying to get as many testing kits as she can. We want to do it in a culturally-sensitive way. If we pull it off, it may help with earlier reopening of Chinatown. We would need to prove to everyone that Chinatown is Covid –free. That would be a part of economic recovery. Action is being taken in a big way. And it is all being driven by community.
So you are hopeful?
The world will come back slowly. So many family associations and benevolent associations are landlords, and they are not in business to make huge amounts of money, and they are not going to kick people out. Chinatown is pretty resilient. It survived the 1906 earthquake, the Great Recession, the recent recession. Nobody is going anywhere. The old pressures are not going to go away, but the community of Chinatown is not going the way of New York Chinatown anytime soon. The community will not let itself become gentrified.