News & Opinion » Letters & Guest Essays

Letters for the week of October 28-Nov. 3

Readers sound off on Oakland's changing Chinatown, unscrupulous banks, and downtown parking.


"Saving Chinatown," Feature, 10/28

Chinatowns Deserve Protection

Congratulations, Luke Tsai, for an extremely thorough and thought-provoking look at Chinatowns, many of which have already disappeared in the United States. The saving of San Francisco's Chinatown, before and after 1906, when politicians and business interests tried to relocate all Chinese to the Bay View, was both an economic and civil rights battle. Unlike later displacements — by redevelopment — of Japanese-Americans from Nihonmachi and African-Americans from the Western Addition/Lower Fillmore, an intact Chinatown incubated an evolution of a strong Chinese-American culture. San Francisco's Chinatown deserves public investments and legal protections to strengthen its economic ripple benefits, to preserve its unique architecture and character, and to honor it as the birthplace of Chinese culture in America.

Thanks again for this great article.

Howard Wong, American Institute of Architects, San Francisco

A Labyrinth of Distractions

I'm generally quite fond of Luke Tsai's work for the Express; I love his restaurant reviews and highly respect his intelligence. However, as with his coverage of "Afrika Town," this piece relies far too much on the standard Oakland rap about "displacement," the ostensible antidote to which is the entrenchment of "traditional" ghetto cultures in traditional ghettos.

The story of new life in Chinatown gets short shrift here and is treated as an afterthought in a short paragraph near the end that begins with, "There's also no question that plenty of good things are already happening in Chinatown ..." Most of that story is missing. Instead, we're led through a labyrinth of distractions. Not a word about the (relatively) new Guilin Noodle Shop or the booming Malaysian restaurant, Chili Padi. Luke knows about them — he's written wonderful reviews — but here, they don't fit the narrative. (Meanwhile, I'll have to try the new Fortune some late night, now that New Gold Medal is no longer open past midnight — perhaps the most obvious change in Chinatown this past year — another item missing from this story.)

Examples of other Chinatowns? Why mention only DC? Why is there not a word here about Flushing, or Sunset Park — or Houston's new Chinatown, which thrives in the suburbs while its old "traditional" Chinatown has been displaced? (For that matter, Manhattan's old Chinatown has expanded to "displace" much of Little Italy.) Times change, and so, too, does the world's mix of occupations and cities' interplay of ethnicities. For that matter, so do the fluid, ever-porous boundaries of neighborhoods.

The techies resented by so-called community activists (aka professional agitators) are, in reality, tomorrow's working class — and many of them are Asian. They (along with UC students commuting from Berkeley) patronize the slew of new bubble tea joints in and out of Chinatown, and if they buy their fish and vegetables at Whole Foods, the reason is increased concern with the wholesomeness and quality of the goods, evidently by (among others) Asians themselves. In Oakland, some who claim to celebrate diversity are often the quickest to rail against "intruders." The contradiction — and the bitter irony — is all too obvious.

Mitchell Halberstadt, Oakland

"Oakland Struggles to Hold Banks Accountable," News, 10/28

Wrong Title

Why isn't this article titled "Oakland Struggles to hold City Hall accountable?" Although the city council is ultimately responsible for lapses in contract language (as they have the final approval), they have so much on their plate that they must rely on staff to implement their policies correctly. How many people were fired due to the failure to follow the council's instructions regarding the contract? I would wager that not only did no one get fired, but that the responsible staff got a cushy annual raise, as usual. Oakland, how about getting your own house in order?

Jim Mellander, El Sobrante

Let's Ban the Bad Banks

I think it is time the City of Oakland should stop "struggling to hold banks accountable" and simple accept the fact that Wall Street banks cannot be trusted. As the Express has explained, the banks have a long history of redlining East Oakland (refusing to make loans in low-income neighbors), and more recently, offering predatory mortgages which led to "more than 10,000 foreclosures" in Oakland.  Further, while it may be "frustrating" to Councilmember Larry Reid that JP Morgan Chase bank closed its only branch in his district, it's hardly surprising given the bank's felony status. Yes, that is correct; JP Morgan Chase & Co. is a convicted felon.

You may not have heard about it in the mainstream media, but on May 20, 2015, the US Department of Justice announced that four major banks — JP Morgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc., Barclays Bank PLC, and the Royal Bank of Scotland — agreed to plead guilty to felony charges of conspiring to manipulate the price of US dollars and Euros exchanged in the foreign currency exchange spot market. The banks have agreed to pay criminal fines totaling more than $2.5 billion. Each bank agreed to pay a criminal fine in proportion to their involvement in the conspiracy as follows: Citigroup at $925 million; Barclays at $650 million; JP Morgan at $550 million; and Royal Bank of Scotland at $395 million.      

Also, on May 20, 2015, the Federal Reserve announced that it also was imposing separate fines totaling more than $1.8 billion against six banks for their unsafe and unsound practices in the foreign exchange markets. JP Morgan Chase was one of the six banks fined by the Federal Reserve. The fines are among the largest ever assessed by the Federal Reserve, including $342 million each for UBS, Barclays, Citigroup, and JP Morgan Chase; $274 million for Royal Bank of Scotland, and $205 million for Bank of America Corporation.