Corrupt Politics Pushed Through Controversial Subway Station Name

August 28, 2019 Updated: August 28, 2019


The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) board narrowly passed a resolution on Aug. 20 to name the city’s new Chinatown subway station “Chinatown-Rose Pak Station.”

The decision saddened many in the Chinatown community who had been protesting the proposed name. They feel that political forces won over the voice of the people. Some have already vowed to take this fight to the ballot box in November.

Protesters held a rally in front of City Hall from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. prior to the MTA board meeting in the afternoon. People holding signs big and small filled the steps leading up to the City Hall entrance.

The protesters object to using the late Rose Pak’s name because of her corruption and because she supported the Chinese communist regime’s persecution of people for their beliefs.

More than a dozen people rose to speak out about why they objected to naming the station after Pak. They were resolute and hopeful.

Indeed, the reasons they laid out seemed ample. It should have been a slam dunk to reject the idea of naming a public facility after such an unscrupulous person.

Eva Lee, advisor to the Chinatown Merchants Association, whose family has been in Chinatown for over 100 years, feels strongly about the tradition and image of Chinatown. She said Rose Pak perjured herself in order to acquire a Below-Market-Rate (BMR) unit in San Francisco while owning a house in Oakland (which was just sold last year for $1.2 million). Clearly, Pak committed fraud, an illegal act.

Betty Stanley is also an advisor to the Chinatown Merchants Association. She said Chinatown is an international destination. It is a community built up by countless volunteers, including herself. A community effort got the Chinatown station and hospital built, nonprofit supported.

The Chinese Historical Society and the Chinese Community Development Center are built on the backs of volunteers. The station symbolizes the community coming together. Stanley believes the community is a village of people who are strong and who do not want Pak’s name on the Chinatown station.

The Six Companies is the original San Francisco Chinese association dating back to the time of Sun Yat-sen, the father of the democracy revolution that established China as a democratic republic in 1912. That government retreated to Taiwan in 1949 after it was defeated by Chinese communists in mainland China.

Steve Ball is the current president of the Six Companies. Ballsaid he “absolutely and definitely [does] not want Rose Pak’s name associated with the Chinatown Station.”

He said: “Rose Pak was a cheater, a liar, a gangster-type person. She has a court judgement against her. Her name in Chinatown is like garbage; nobody wants it.”

Cathy Zhang is from the Coalition for Chinatown Station Only. She reported that an organization claiming to be a public service group posted online on the Chinese social media app WeChat a “Chinese community event” and offered to pay $25 per hour plus food and drink for people to attend a meeting in City Hall to support Pak.

It notified them that the working hours were from 12:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., and that they should check in and out so that they could be paid by the hour.

Ellen Lee Zhou is running for mayor of San Francisco. She said she has lived in San Francisco for 33 years and has been a public servant since 2004.

“We have received so many complaints involving government interference with people,” she said. “The politics in San Francisco [have] been corrupt for more than 10 years.”

“For elected officials to go to non-profit organizations, which then solicit seniors, give them free lunch or buffet, to pay them to put on uniform[s] to do what they want, it is called extortion, bribery. It’s not acceptable. Government should not force their agenda on the Chinese people. It is no justice to have Rose Pak’s name on the Chinatown station. Chinatown means Chinatown,” Zhou said.

Laurie Gorham read some passages from a letter addressed to the SFMTA from 14 China scholars and experts at the Human Rights Law Foundation. In their letter, they listed the close ties between Pak and numerous Chinese communist front organizations, such as the United Front Work Department, the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, the Chinese Overseas Exchange Association, the People’s Consultative Conferences, and the Peaceful Reunification Councils.

They advised that naming a subway stop after Pak would serve to reinforce certain perceptions of San Francisco as “a quaint little Beijing-by-the-Bay, with clean air, cable cars, and walk-away crab cocktails for the pleasure of corrupt Chinese Communist Party Officials.”

Alicia Zhofrom the Coalition for Chinatown Station Only said that she has received solid evidence that Pak was investigated by the FBI for being a lobbyist for the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and for the fraud she committed in the purchase of a BMR condominium.

Pak was serving as an advisor to the builder when she obtained a two-bedroom condo at a below-market rate. Even if she qualified for BMR, as a single person, she would only qualify for a one-bedroom condo. She also hid the fact that she already owned a home in Oakland. She committed fraud at the expense of someone else who truly qualified as low-income in San Francisco.

Many people at the rally expressed that they dread the thought of having to see or hear Pak’s name every time they come to Chinatown. For example, Da Fang is a practitioner of Falun Gong, a Chinese meditation practice that is severely persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party. Her sister was persecuted to death in prison for her beliefs.

Falun Gong is a peaceful practice known for its health benefits and is welcomed in countries around the world. So when Da Fang escaped from China and arrived in San Francisco, she was very surprised to find that the Chinese community there seemed to have some misgivings about Falun Gong.

She later found out that Pak had organized “community events” to spread the Chinese Communist Party’s anti-Falun Gong propaganda and had even taken out a newspaper ad to denigrate Falun Gong. Falun Gong practitioners have also been subjected to gangster violence linked to Pak.

Still, the SFMTA board voted 4:3 to name the station in honor of Pak.

The energy and determination of both the proponent and opponent camps of the Rose Pak subway station naming were on full display on Aug. 20.

People lined up before 1 p.m. to get into Room 400 for the 3 p.m. agenda item, which was the naming of the Chinatown station. Due to the large number of people attending, a large overflow room on the first floor was reserved as a waiting area where real-time TV viewing was available.

All seven board members were present. Chairman Hinicke handled the hearing very professionally and was attentive. Newly appointed board member Steve Heminger would be the tiebreaker if the previous 3:3 vote held.

In the end, three members (Amanda Eaken, Cristina Rubke, and Cheryle Brinkman) voted not to support the Rose Pak naming. Four members (Malcolm Heinicke, Gwyneth Borden, Art Torres, and Steve Heminger) voted to support the Rose Pak naming.

Each member of the public was limited to one minute with the microphone. For over seven hours, one person after another spoke to the board.

Many speakers were only allowed in when their names were called, due to the limited size of the room. It is difficult to say whether, if there was a bigger room and people on either side could listen to the views of the other side, some would have changed their own views. At least 150 members of the public spoke.

It is difficult for anyone who is not a skilled public speaker to make a memorable presentation in less than one minute. However, it was not difficult to hear a pattern from either group.

Proponents of Pak

In the proponent group, many expressed admiration toward a hard-hitting Asian woman. Speakers described Pak with words like “role model,” “hard-working,” and “fighter.” They said they wanted to see more women of color, such as Pak, honored for their achievements. They agreed that Pak was a bully, but they said that her heart was in the right place.

One speaker seemed to embody the spirit of many proponents. Ivy Lee, a member of the Rose Pak Democratic Club, delivered a message for Supervisor Norman Yee: “Name the whole [expletive] subway station after Rose.”

Speaking for herself, she said: “I knew Rose. Yes, she was a chain-smoking cigar lady. But she carried candy in her purse for children. I know because she gave candy to my children. She was a woman who wasn’t going to smile more to be nice. We were supposed to be that as women. Rose didn’t listen to it. I don’t listen to it. Because it is [expletive]. You can fight.”

Other proponents praised how Pak gave it all to Chinatown. They said she was a force with neither power nor money; she lived in a 500-square-foot condo and died in her beloved Chinatown; and she was a social justice warrior.

One speaker said, “We now have Harvey Milk Terminal, Willie Brown Elementary; why can’t we have Rose Pak Station?”

An aide to Supervisor Aaron Peskin spoke on his behalf. She said there would be no Chinatown subway station if it were not for Pak.

Supervisor Fewer of San Francisco District One said: “Rose Pak is not responsible for what is happening in China or Hong Kong. Yes, Rose drops a lot of F-bombs. She was not a humble person but always lived humbly. She was fighting a political war where power was with white men. She was in it for a long game. Central Subway is the long game. The city would never invest  $1 billion if not for Rose fighting for it.”

Directors who Voted to Support the Naming

Director Torri said: “I knew Rose Pak. I support Chinatown-Rose Pak Station.”

Director Borden said: “I don’t know Rose Pak. I don’t know about Falun Gong persecution. But other historical figures like Robert Lee, he owned slaves. I am [a] descendent of slaves, but I acknowledge him as a historical figure. It is good that this naming has opened up debate. I am voting yes because I would like to honor more women of color.”

Chairman Heinicke said: “Chinatown-Rose Pak Station is a good compromise. The reason MTA [has a] policy of using geographical locations only is so that MTA is not inundated by name change requests. This is a new station. I found it moving to honor more women of color.”

Director Heminger: “I have heard from a lot of people today. Three basic points: Rose Pak was a divisive figure, still a divisive figure after death, but it is not disqualifying for civic recognition. The Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed. Even though we have some independence, we should honor their request. Therefore, I vote in favor.”

Opponents of Rose Pak

As for the opposing group, many expressed loathing and horror that Pak’s name would be in a public place where they must endure seeing it every time they pass it.

They said she was co-opted by the Chinese Communist Party to do its bidding in San Francisco. She wielded her power in Chinatown and San Francisco politics by offering up access or threatening to close economic access to China.

She played dirty political tricks to amass power, even though she was not an elected official. She perjured herself to obtain low-income housing for herself. She deceived many people, posing as a poor and dedicated activist for Chinatown.

Even former mayor Art Agnos was surprised to find out that she had many hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets after her passing. “I thought I knew her well,” Agnos said.

They said the 30 years of depressed business in Chinatown is partly Pak’s fault for selling out to City Hall on the rebuilding of a freeway after a big earthquake. The Chinatown subway station is a community effort that Pak should not get exclusive credit for.

A speaker said to the Board: “PRC’s influence in San Francisco is obvious to many, though it may not be obvious to you. Rose Pak was investigated by [the] FBI as a lobbyist for China.”

Albert Chang is a store owner on Grant Avenue. He said Rose Pak built a power base for herself, not for Chinatown businesses.

A speaker named Lisa said one of her friends who is a Chinese doctor told her that Nanfang Hospital in China was committing the crime of forced organ harvesting against Falun Gong practitioners. Nanfang Hospital is where Pak went to get a kidney transplant.

Lisa asked whether the city will not be ashamed if this is revealed to be true, given Pak’s history of aiding the Chinese communist regime in oppressing Falun Gong in San Francisco, including banning Falun Gong practitioners from participating in the annual Chinese New Year parade.

A speaker named Cathy said: “We escaped China from religious persecution. So Chinatown is China for us because we cannot go back to China now. Why should we have to endure Rose Pak? She is the face of Chinese communist persecution here.”

A speaker named Yee said: “Her name divides our community. … You have power and ability to stop the fight. God bless you. Just call it Chinatown Station. No one will be hurt.”

A speaker named Yong said: “Some people love Rose Pak. Okay. You can honor her among yourself, at your home or something. But please don’t force it on us who don’t like her. The ones who she injured do not want to have this forced down our throat.”

Directors Who Voted Against the Naming

Director Amanda Eaken said: “Three points. Firstly, we are not starting from scratch. We already have a position. It is noteworthy that we have a policy for naming after geographical location only. You can have a plaque to honor someone with significant contributions; I would support that. Secondly, inclusion is a matter of concern. The naming will make some people happy and others unhappy. This naming would seem this person represents Chinatown. Thirdly, cost and benefit. This naming is not critical in relation to achieving SFMTA’s goal. The cost does not outweigh the benefit.”

Director Rubke said: “Agree with Eaken.”

Director Brinkman said: “Agree with Eaken.”

Is San Francisco Politics Corrupt?

At least 75 people from each camp spoke out. It is obvious that the fight over the Pak naming is about more than Pak the person. It is about what she represents. It is a conflict of political ideals on display.

At least four current city supervisors or their aides spoke at the public hearing. Considering that the city supervisors had already unanimously passed the resolution for the Pak naming, which inspired the outpouring of objections from the opposing camp, their presence appeared coercive.

It is clear that the new board member’s tiebreaking vote in favor was painfully conflicted. His remark about Pak’s divisiveness not disqualifying her for civic recognition seemed tentative in this particular case. He said that he voted in favor to honor the request of the supervisors.

There is a Chinese saying: “What’s in your soul evolves out into your appearance.”

The soul of a city is the will of its people. San Francisco was once a clean and beautiful city, but now it is scarred by crime, drugs, and homelessness. Is it time to do some soul searching?

This fight will likely continue. Maybe a lot of good can be done for all San Franciscans if they look at this debate as if seeing themselves in a mirror. If a ballot initiative occurs, everyone will get an opportunity to do a little soul searching.

What should they choose?

Honoring a woman of color is an admirable idea. Should it be done in a way that dishonors others of the same color?

If a social justice warrior dishes out social injustice, is she still a social justice warrior?

Activism for the oppressed is wonderful. But what if a particular act of activism is oppression?

The will of the people at the hearing was split 50/50. The will of the city supervisors was 100/0. Does this seem normal?

Finally, is San Francisco politics healthy? Or is it really corrupt?