LITTLE TOKYO INC.: Regime Change in Torrance and the Virtues of ‘Rock-Sitting’

0

jon kajiBy JONATHAN KAJI

The June 3 California primary election had a few interesting outcomes that are of interest to Rafu readers and the Japanese American community.

In the City of Torrance, Patrick Furey came out on top of a field of three mayoral candidates. While it’s still too early to fully analyze the voter turnout, the Furey campaign got a boost from both the powerful local fire and police unions as well as the Asian American community.

Three of the four endorsements of LTI won their respective City Council seats, including Heidi Ashcraft, Kurt Weiderman, Tim Goodrich and Geoff Rizzo.

Given the very low voter turnout, it’s my own belief that the Asian Pacific Islander vote played a significant role in the outcome of the election. While there’s been no analysis or breakdown on how key constituencies actually votes, we’ll see in the months to come.

The local speculation now turns to who will fill Furey’s unexpired seat on the City Council. The fifth- and sixth-place finishers, both Asian Americans, provide potential appointments for the City Council. There is a distinct opportunity for the council to make an enlightened pick and select a qualified Asian American council member to represent nearly 40 percent of Torrance constituents. Stay tuned.

One key election issue was Toyota Motor Sales USA’s announcement of the company’s relocation to Plano, Texas.

A reality facing both Toyota Motor Sales and the City of Torrance will be the future disposition of the company’s 101-acre campus located off the San Diego/405 Freeway at Western Avenue.

Since the announcement, there has been tremendous speculation on what might happen next. Will the property be taken over by one of the Korean or Chinese auto companies? Will Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla (manufacturing stylish electric vehicles at Toyota Motor Manufacturing’s former NUMMI plant in Fremont, Calif.), consider moving its own sales and marketing to the Toyota Motor Sales site?

While a sale of the property is always a possibility, there are some good reasons why Toyota Motors might have some good reasons for maintaining its control of the site.

There’s a Japanese proverb or kotowaza that comes to mind. 石の上にも三年 (“ishi no ue ni mo sannen”), or, roughly translated, “sitting on top of a rock for three years.” Famed French sculptor Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker” comes to mind as a visual expression of this kotowaza — a man, deep in thought, sitting on a rock.

The idea is that it may take a while before any significant plan or results come about, especially for the Toyota Motor Sales campus. A company such as Toyota, Japan’s largest corporation, has the both the ability and the means to plan and engineer major infrastructure projects, as exemplified by the creation of the massive, 460-acre Aichi World Exposition in 2005 or the $7.3 billion Chubu Centrair International Airport in Nagoya.

Is it possible to create a new development that will leverage the site’s South Bay location, access to Los Angeles International Airport, the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, connectivity to the Los Angeles freeway network, academic and knowledge infrastructure (USC, UCLA, CalTech, CSU, UCI, Art Center, community colleges, etc.) and the high concentration of Japanese companies and the Japanese American community?

Should there be a new focus on technology and “big data,” such a telemetrics, or the data generated by the millions of vehicles on the road today, or industrial-focused technology (e.g. SpaceEx in Hawthorne) versus Internet-based firms, such as Google and others located in the new “Silicon Beach” of Santa Monica and the Westside?

The challenge for both Toyota and the City of Torrance will require a new and improved working relationship, one that should engage the policymakers at Torrance City Hall, in Sacramento and the County of Los Angeles as well as the Toyota senior executives both in the United States and Japan, as well as the government of Japan.

The new mayor and council members will be sworn in on July 15 at Torrance City Hall. Those of us in the South Bay Japanese American business community, the Japan Business Association of Southern California and the Japan America Society of Southern California should encourage thoughtful and creative dialogue that will enhance the South Bay and Southern California’s business role in the U.S.-Japan relationship.

Jonathan Kaji is president of Kaji & Associates, a real estate firm based in Torrance. He served as the director of the State of California Office of Trade and Investment in Tokyo (1993-1999) and serves as a member of the Board of Governors for the Japanese American National Museum and the Little Tokyo Service Center. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

 

Tags

Share.

Leave A Reply