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Union Square wants Stockton closure, Chinatown power player says no

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Rose Pak threatens to blockade City Hall with hundreds of delivery trucks

If you’ve driven down Stockton Street lately—well, you didn’t get very far, did you? The two blocks north of Market have of course been closed to traffic for years now, thanks to the ongoing Central Subway project.

To make up for the burden on nearby merchants (who pay sky-high rents for retail space right next to Union Square), the city converts Stockton Street into a pedestrian park around the Christmas shopping season.

The Winter Walk provides a carpet of astro turf, easy access to SPCA kittens in the windows of the nearby Macy’s, and lots of pickings from Off The Grid food trucks. Perhaps it was inevitable that someone would float the idea of making the Winter Walk a permanent resident once subway construction wraps up in 2018.

But no sooner did it float than the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce and formidable Chinatown activist Rose Pak emerged to sink it.

The Central Subway will be a huge boon for the neighborhood, giving Chinatown the direct rail connection it hasn’t had since the days of the original F Stockton streetcar. But ratcheting shut the mouth of one of the neighborhood’s major ingress points for car traffic would be giving with one hand and taking away with the other, say the Chinatown merchants.

According to the San Francisco Examiner, Pak emailed SFMTA director Ed Reiskin putting her foot down on the matter. In case anybody thought there might be room to negotiate, Pak this week told CBS that she would blockade City Hall with hundreds of trucks and "See how they like it" if anybody presses the proposal again.

On one hand, Union Square merchants have put up with the street closure for the sake of a transit project that probably won’t drive very many new customers to them, centrally located as they already are. The pedestrian corridor would provide a little sugar to make up for their losses, and Union Square’s business interests are arguably just as important as Chinatown’s.

On the other hand, the subway dig is a temporary headache, while the proposed Stockton closure would be a permanent one for Chinatown businesses that rely on Stockton for deliveries. And although Pak speaks for a relatively small group of business owners, her political clout is the stuff of legend.

Well, the city has roughly two years to resolve the standoff, and in the meantime the holiday walk will go on as usual. Maybe its popularity will outweigh community activism; or maybe, like the holiday season, it’s destined to always be a matter of temporary cheer.