Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

The History of the Committee Against Nihonmachi Evictions (CANE)

Published: Asian American Movement EZine, March 1, 2004. http://apimboston.org/history-committee-against-nihonmachi-evictions-cane.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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API Intro: Based on the thesis of Dave Okita with some additonal notes from interviews.  Edited by Mike Liu

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Seeing a need that wasn’t being met by San Francisco’s Redevelopment Agency or the Nihonmachi Community Development Corporation (NCDC), an organization called the Committee Against Nihonmachi Evictions (CANE) was formed in February of 1973 around concerns about tenant rights. CANE developed out of the housing committee of the J-town Collective (JTC), an Asian American Movement group. During this time period, redevelopment was at a high level in Nihonmachi. NCDC was actively redeveloping its four-block area, and the Redevelopment Agency initiated demolition of many other sites in Nihonmachi. Residents and small businesses were finding it hard to relocate in Nihonmachi and were forced out of the community. Promises of Redevelopment Agency relocation assistance were not being fulfilled.

It was under this kind of environment that CANE was founded. A community dinner in January of 1973 drew approximately 300 people to hear about redevelopment and tenant rights. The first CANE meeting was held in February of 1973 with about 30 people attending. Subsequent meetings in February and March drew up to 100 people as word got out about CANE. Basic questions were brought up around how the Redevelopment Agency works and the rights and responsibilities tenants have. The need for an organization to advocate for tenant education and rights became apparent. With this mandate, CANE became active in the redevelopment struggle in Nihonmachi. It operated out of a four-story gray Victorian house. Its two principles were:

1. Stop the destruction and dispersal of the Japanese community and keep Nihonmachi a residential and small business area.
2. Uphold the rights of residents and small businesses.

One of CANE’s first project was support for the Japanese American Religious Fellowship (JARF) housing project. Of major concern was to speed up Redevelopment Agency commitment to support the project and to get federal funds secured for the project. Also of importance was the relocation of residents and small businesses who occupied the proposed site. CANE met with JARF and the Redevelopment Agency several times during the middle of 1973 to discuss the project.

Since the Redevelopment Agency was virtually unchallenged in the past about its relocation policies, the Agency was somewhat lax in its procedures for evictions and relocation services. During the Summer of 1973, CANE took matters in its own hands and found sites within Nihonmachi for several tenants about to be evicted from the JARF site. CANE also won an extension of an eviction notice in court when the Redevelopment Agency did not follow proper procedures.

CANE’s second major struggle was to oppose the construction of a Kintetsu owned high-rise motel on the corner of Sutter and Buchanan Streets. Since this project was within NCDC jurisdiction, it resulted in CANE’s first major confrontation with NCDC. CANE tried to appeal the demolition permit for the site, but lost and the motel was built.

As a grassroots, community lased organization, CANE suffered from the usual problems that plague these types of groups. Relative inexperience about dealing with a well-established governmental body such as the Redevelopment Agency and the huge task of educating and organizing a community hindered CANE’s efforts to counter the Redevelopment Agency and NCDC. However, CANE’s membership grew in numbers and they became a force that the Redevelopment Agency and NCDC had to recognize. By mid 1974 CANE’s membership was over 200 individuals, and by 1975 membership was over 300. CANE was portrayed by the Redevelopment Agency, NCDC, and the local press as “young, misguided, radicals,” but CANE reports that in 1975, two-thirds of its 300 members are over the age of 36. Also the CANE coordinating committee at that time consisted of about half ”older” and half “younger” members. However, it is true that young community activists played a leading role in CANE.

In mid 1974 CANE suffered from internal problems about the direction of their past work. This was building within CANE since earlier in the year and caused CANE to focus its energy inwards, rather than out to the community. CANE suffered from lack of direction and their community work declined. Towards the end of the year, CANE reassessed their past work and reorganized. Their new direction was broader than their past scope of work. The new focus was the “master plan” for Nihonmachi, and Kinetsu and the Redevelopment Agency were just a part of the “master plan”. With the internal problem addressed, CANE was able to continue their work in the community.

In July of 1974 CANE went to the biennial convention of the Japanese American Citizen League (JACL) in Portland, Oregon to get support for their efforts in Nihonmachi. JACL has a membership of about 25,000 nationwide. Some NCDC members, local Japanese press, and the San Francisco Chapter of the JACL were skeptical that CANE would even be heard at the convention, but the delegates upheld, by a 68 to 3 vote, CANE’s two principles of unity and pledged resources to aide CANE’s work. This victory raised CANE’s confidence, but the victory turned out to be a paper one when the JACL National Headquarters which is based in Nihonmachi refused to allow CANE use of the resources promised at the Portland convention. It appears that it was not politically popular for JACL to be supportive of CANE in San Francisco.

During 1974 and 1975 CANE continued its attack on redevelopment. CANE found that the Redevelopment Agency and City Hall could not be beat with the limited resources of CANE. Small victories such as extensions of eviction notices and concessions from the Redevelopment Agency to temporarily repair buildings occurred, but redevelopment continued on other sites in Nihonmachi. CANE’s tactics of attending Redevelopment Agency Commission meetings and protests at Redevelopment Agency offices brought attention to the problems in Nihonmachi and were successful to the extent that the Agency was sometimes forced to make some small concessions.

During 1975 internal problems again arose in CANE about the direction of the organization. One of the forces involved was an organization called the Japantown Collective. The Japantown Collective was a progressive community based group that was concerned with a broad range of issues, including redevelopment. Being one of the founding groups of CANE, many Japantown Collective members were also members of CANE, some serving in high leadership postions including the office of president. CANE records do not detail the conflicts that occurred during that time, but the main differences were about how CANE should carry out its anti-redevelopment work.

Towards the end of 1975 Japantown Collective members withdrew from CANE. This occurred quite abruptly and followed five months without a CANE general meeting and slippage in CANE’s work in the community. The withdrawal of these active members further hampered CANE and hurt its reputation in the community. The once close relationship between CANE and the Japantown Collective became one of mistrust.

CANE reorganized in the beginning of 1976 to continue their work in Nihonmachi. Elections were held and the CANE constituion was amended to resturcture CANE and make the organization better able to carry out its work. The main focus of the work was designated to be helping tenants around Sutter and Laguna Streets.

After this reorganization, CANE’s work continued essentially as before, being involved in struggles about individual sites and making appearances before the Redevelopment Authority and the courts, continuing to win small, but individually important concessions from the Redevelopment Agency. In ensuing years CANE’s membership declined as the Nihonmachi community grew smaller. The very force CANE was fighting had the power to whittle away at CANE’s membership.

During the November of 1977, CANE was able to arrange a meeting with Mayor Moscone to discuss redevelopment in Nihonmachi and specifically about problems with tenants in the Sutter and Laguna Street area. While approximately 250 people demonstrated outside City Hall, twelve representatives, including some Sutter/Laguna tenants met with the mayor. Mayor Moscone was supposed to have a plan to deal with the Sutter/Laguna problem, however he avoided the issue by saying that because it was in a designated redevelopment area, he could not do anything about it. The representatives presented the mayor with some demands about the Sutter/Laguna issue. When Mayor Moscone refused to discuss the matter, eight of the representatives refused to leave, resulting in their arrest. The charges were subsequently dropped and the Sutter/Laguna issue has still not been totally resolved to this date.

Through 1976 and 1977 CANE became increasingly involved in other issues in addition to redevelopment in Nihonmachi such as the Bakke decision, education about China, and the International Hotel Struggle. This eventually lead to a change in CANE’s principles in 1978 to:

1. Stop the destruction and dispersal of the Japanese Community. 
2. Fight in the interests of Japanese people against inequality and discrimination. 
3. Support the struggles of third world and working people.

In March of 1980 CANE changed its name to the Japanese Community Progressive Alliance (JCPA). This change reflected the decline in redevelopment/evictions work as the redevelopment process in Nihonmachi wound down. JCPA became involved in general community organizing and active in English classes for Japanese immigrants, redress/reparations for Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II, and monitering the remaining redevelopment activities in Nihonmachi.

Early in 1980 JCPA initiated the formation of a non-profit community development corporation to develop low-income housing in Nihonmachi. Response from the Japanese community was positive and a board of directors was formed. The board consisted of a broad range of prominent members of the Japanese community in San Francisco, including some JCPA members. The non-profit corporation was named the Japanese Community United for Housing (JCUH).

JCUH began dealing directly with the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency to develop a site in Nihonmachi for their first project. Responses from the Redevelopment Agency were positive, but lack of funding sources became a problem for JCUH. Eventually, the expanding and eventually successful fight for Redress and Reparations in the Japanese American community overtook the energy that supported JCPA and JCUH.

Nevertheless, CANE’s efforts over the decade resulted in an elderly, assisted living site, saving for a number of years many businesses, and a community center. More importantly it created a generation of activists, that powered among other struggles, the local struggle for Redress and Reparations.