It's not often that physics, the Board of Supervisors, and worms come together in a saga of political rivalries, but that's what happened at a June 11 press conference during which Supervisor Julie Christensen called the Stockton Street Tunnel a “wormhole” connecting Union Square and Chinatown.
Christensen, whose District 3 includes Chinatown and Union Square, told reporters about the $100,000 she had secured to study potential pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements to the Stockton Street Tunnel.
“Union Square is known all over the world. Chinatown is known all over the world,” Christensen said. “This is the wormhole that connects the two of them, and we've sort of left it as a transit afterthought.”
In a July 6 story in the World Journal — the largest Chinese-language newspaper in the U.S. — Christensen was lambasted for using “wormhole” to describe the tunnel. Rose Pak, a consultant for the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, told the newspaper that Christensen's comment showed the supervisor “putting down the Chinese community's position.” And Henry Der, former executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, deemed the supervisor's statement “very inappropriate.”
Der and Pak weren't alone in their criticism. On July 10, protesters picketed a Christensen press conference at Portsmouth Square with signs that translated as “Wanted: Julie Christensen, discrimination against ethnic Chinese, insults Chinatown.”
Der told SF Weekly that while he doesn't consider the supervisor's comment racist, it does indicate that “her interaction with the community has been limited.” Der added, “A wormhole is a hole into the dirty ground — is that what she wants people to think about Chinatown?”
When World Journal asked Christensen to clarify her statement, she responded that a “wormhole is a theoretical passage through space-time that could create shortcuts for long journeys across the universe.” No further explanation was given.
“Maybe she's a big science fiction fan,” Der mused. “Maybe she's quoting something dear to her heart. I'm not into Star Trek or Star Wars and couldn't say.”
In fact, Christensen is a sci-fi fan. As she told SF Weekly, for “those of us who love sci-fi, the wormhole is an intriguing topic.” Christensen said improvements to the tunnel are overdue and her description was an attempt “to portray the magic of the potential of that connection between the two neighborhoods.”
Christensen also suggested that her political opponents are distorting the comment. “I think Rose Pak is intentionally misrepresenting me,” Christensen said. “I respect Rose Pak. I admire the things she has done for Chinatown. I think her anger has gotten the best of her.”
(Pak has publicly endorsed Aaron Peskin, who is opposing Christensen in the 2016 District 3 race.)
At least some in the Chinese community side with Christensen. Two letters — one signed by former candidate for Board of Supervisors Leon Chow — were delivered to the Millbrae offices of World Journal on July 9 to protest the newspaper's coverage.
Der's advice to Christensen? It would be “wiser to say, 'I apologize — this was not a sensitive way to say what I was trying to say.' People do understand when you make a mistake and admit that.”