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J-TOWN BEAT: What’s Good for Little Tokyo

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By GWEN MURANAKA

Published Feb. 15, 2020

What’s good for Little Tokyo? That was the theme of a forum last Thursday for the five candidates vying to represent Council District 14 on the L.A. City Council at the JANM Democracy Forum.

My role for the evening was to serve as moderator and keep the evening going: explain the rules, ask questions and, when necessary, cut off the speakers when they were going over their allotted time. The Rafu Shimpo has been reporting on developments in J-Town for more than 100 years and it was appropriate that we were involved in this important discussion.

Behind the scenes a dedicated committee from the Little Tokyo Community Council organized, reached out to the candidates and set the parameters for the forum. This group included Kristin Fukushima, Jan Fukuhara, Mark Masaoka, Scott Oshima, Joy Yamaguchi, Evelyn Yoshimura, Clement Hanami and Eric Chu.

But it was Chris Komai who truly set the tone — commanding the attention of Kevin de Leon, Monica Garcia, John Jimenez, Cyndi Otteson and Raquel Zamora with his passionate plea for these politicians to address the issues facing this historic Japantown neighborhood.

Chris stated this could be the most consequential election for Little Tokyo, given the stakes and the projects that will come into play over the next four years. Even if you are not a voter, resident or business owner here, if you have an interest in the future of Little Tokyo, then this election on March 3 matters.

Who will be the best steward for Little Tokyo as the Regional Connector winds towards completion and Mangrove, the large parcel at First and Alameda, is developed? Who will be the best to handle the complex issues of homelessness in a humane way that also recognizes the real toll it has had on Little Tokyo?

What I found most heartening was the very fact that all the candidates came and listened to the concerns and answered questions on issues such as homelessness, access to affordable housing, small businesses and holding regular meetings with Little Tokyo stakeholders.

If anything, they’ve all been put on notice as to some of the issues and expectations of Little Tokyo.

The tone of the evening was extremely cordial, unlike a debate for district attorney at the Aratani Theatre the week before, which got raucous and had some audience members being asked to leave.

The only real moment of discord was on the issue of serving the entirety of their term. Every candidate answered in the affirmative, with the exception of de Leon, who did a bit of a dodge to the question, pointing to his considerable experience in the State Assembly and Senate and his effectiveness in getting funding for the Budokan. Outsider candidates such as Jimenez, Otteson and Zamora said there is a need for new voices in City Hall.

The person whose name was not mentioned, but who casts a shadow on this election, is incumbent Jose Huizar, unable to run again due to term limits and with uncertainty surrounding his office since the FBI conducted a raid back in November 2018. It must be noted that no charges have been filed and Huizar continues to advocate for CD 14, most recently on the issue of safe storage bins for homeless and what is perhaps his signature achievement, the revitalization of the Broadway corridor.

But his ability to work for Little Tokyo has no doubt been hampered by his loss of committee assignments, particularly the Planning and Land Use Management chair.

Whoever follows Huizar will have to restore the trust and full powers of that office to represent CD 14 and fight for city resources and serve this community.

As Chris Komai says, to fight for what is good for Little Tokyo.

CD 14 candidates and organizers of the forum at JANM. (MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

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There was one question I regret we didn’t have time to ask and perhaps I can just leave it here for consideration by Rafu readers: “Help! Electric scooters have taken over our sidewalks! They are causing people to trip over them, causing serious harm to seniors, clogging and littering our sidewalks. Will you rise up and deliver us from this menace, or at least severely regulate this nuisance?”

If you’re not in an area such as Santa Monica or Downtown, the whole issue of scooters may not strike you, but it has been a huge problem in J-Town. For our elderly community, they are indeed a nuisance, particularly when they are dumped on sidewalks or the riders don’t follow basic safety guidelines.

Can someone say stop to the scooters? Or at least slow down and follow the rules of the road, for the safety of everyone.

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Gwen Muranaka, senior editor of The Rafu Shimpo, can be contacted at [email protected] Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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