By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
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By Rachel Swan
By Joe Eskenazi
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By Erin Sherbert
And contrary to Liu's assertion, alcoholics and drug abusers are not protected under the OMI moratorium because drug and alcohol addictions no longer qualify as disabilities under federal and state aid guidelines.
But the misinformation spread by Liu and the Neighbors' Association put fear in the hearts of many newcomers, whose primary source of information about OMI was the group's radio show. The message was clear. Either fight, or lose your rights.
On a wet weekday evening in February, no fewer than 100 people packed the hallway and the chambers of the Permit Appeals Board meeting at the temporary City Hall.
They came to support Bhazubhai Patel, the owner of the Beach Motel, who was fighting the city's assessment that he has been illegally operating a tourist hotel in a residentially zoned area.
But this was not your typical City Hall crowd. Instead of dark tailored suits and polished wingtips, they wore ill-fitting coats and flat-bottomed shoes. They were mostly first-generation Chinese-Americans, mostly middle-aged and older. Most of them had arrived by bus, bringing with them the faint odor of mothballs and cooked rice.
They had come because of what they heard on the radio: that the city was robbing Patel of his property rights -- and that housing advocate Randy Shaw wanted to turn the Beach Motel into a homeless shelter. Most of the group's supporters didn't know that Randy Shaw, or anyone else for that matter, can't simply seize another person's property and turn it into a shelter. After all, many of them had vivid memories of life under Communism.
Inside the chambers several dozen more Neighbors' Association supporters stood three deep along the walls, wearing yellow "Save Our Neighborhood" stickers. Randy Shaw's seated contingent, a dozen or so shaggy unfortunates, was greatly outnumbered.
Tsai surveyed the room. The expression on her fair, round face was serious. She was determined to be the first to speak. Meanwhile Lee, the shorter and rounder of the two, circulated among the crowd greeting supporters smilingly with waves and pats on the arm.
"Now this," said Lee approvingly. "This is what they call 'people power.' "
Not everyone approves of the SFNA's particular brand of people power. Some in city government criticize the group. Supervisor Michael Yaki -- one of Mayor Brown's "lap dogs," according to the SFNA -- says the group represents only a very small segment of the Chinese-American community.
"They oversimplify the issues and they're a very focused interest group," says Yaki. "The SFNA can only hold people's attention for so long."
Longtime Chinatown activist the Rev. Norman Fong says that while he supports the SFNA's efforts at getting more Chinese-Americans involved in the political process, he fears the group wants more involvement only for people who share its beliefs.
"They would like to present a point of view that because Chinese-Americans are a large part of San Francisco, they should be included in big issues," says Fong, program director for the Chinatown Community Development Center. "And that part's OK. But they're not saying they want alternatives. They're saying they want to be the voice for the community."
One of the loudest voices in the Chinese community doesn't like Tsai and Lee much either. Ask Rose Pak about the SFNA and be prepared to get an earful.
And a lungful too. The room is already thick with cigarette smoke when Pak, a gruff, diminutive woman in a brown faux fur vest, tersely apologizes for her habit and lights up yet again. On the back of her office door at the Chinese Chamber of Commerce is a dart board with a photo of Chronicle columnists Matier and Ross -- a gift from the two writers last year. A half-inch stack of pink telephone message slips awaits Pak's attention on a corner of the desk. In this tiny office, deals and careers are made.
Pak and Rose Tsai are not even on speaking terms. Tsai and the Neighbors' Association dislike Pak because of her proximity to the mayor, and her role as a "gatekeeper" to Chinatown.
"She's a force that's trying to undermine political empowerment, because the more people who learn about the political process don't need to depend on her to get political access," Tsai claims.
"They're jealous because they think I have a lot of influence," Pak retorts, lighting yet another cigarette.
She accuses Julie Lee of being two-faced. "She says these bad things about me being the mayor's lap dog, then she comes up to me like this." Pak affects a grotesque grimace, scrunching up her eyes and grinning like a jack-o'-lantern. "And she calls me dai jeh ['big sister'] Rose."
Just then, Pak's secretary knocks at the door. Senate leader John Burton's office is on the phone. Pak picks up the line: "Hi -- so where is Johnny? I have to talk to him personally."
The most powerful Democrat in the state of California -- "Johnny" -- will call her back late at night, at home.
She continues. "They say they empower people." A contemptuous snort. "They empower themselves."
Pak is one of at least a dozen of the Neighbors' Association's sworn enemies. Randy Shaw, who first crossed swords with the group over the OMI issue, is another. Compared to what Shaw wrote about the SFNA in a recent issue of the Frontlines newspaper, Rose Pak's comments seem positively polite.