SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) Neighbors on Cottage Row in San Francisco’s Japantown are digging in their heels, protesting a proposed rock garden.
The Zen garden would take up about 25 feet on the Sutter Street side of Cottage Row.
What organizers thought would be a simple gift to honor their Japanese-American ancestors turned into a heated neighborhood fight.
Paul Osaki, the executive Director of Japanese Cultural and Community Center, who is spearheading a project to honor the first generation of Japanese-Americans who founded San Francisco’s Japantown, said he is shocked the debate has gotten so heated.
The project: build a small Zen garden on Cottage Row.
Osaki said, “There’s a lot of history there, which made [it] an ideal site to have this garden to honor the first generation Japanese-Americans who established Japantown.
Osaki says after World War II and redevelopment, the Japanese-Americans were forced out of the Western Addition, and their homes and businesses were leveled to the ground.
He said the only open green space in Japantown is Cottage Row’s mini-park.
But some neighbors question claims that Cottage Row had any affiliation with historic Japantown.
Osaki said, “There are some that feel that it’s not part of Japantown and so put your garden over in your community.”
One neighbor said the proposed garden has caused tension in the neighborhood.
One woman who didn’t want to go on camera said she liked the idea of honoring the first San Francisco Japanese-Americans and thinks it’s important to honor all of the people who have come to make San Francisco so great, but said she was concerned about the maintenance and garden’s final design.
She told KPIX 5 that other neighbors opposing the project said there is perception that it’s catering to, or providing, a portion of public land to a specific entity and it may be considered favoritism.
One neighbor published a website with studies debunking historian accounts that Cottage Row was once called “Japan Street” and proposed a garden to honor all cultures that contributed to the neighborhood.
The criticism, opened old wounds for Osaki, who said, “The opposition or the criticism hurt because I know what…the earlier generations must have felt.”
Well-known landscape designers have already offered to donate their time to design the garden and Osaki says if it is approved it will be maintained by the city.
The proposed Zen garden was supposed to be part of Japantown’s 110th anniversary celebration, but there will be more neighborhood meetings before a final decision is made.