3-D map depicting the proposed 4th Avenue Shallow and Midtown station with the closure and detail routes.

OPINION | From the Other Side of I-5: Little Saigon Weighs In on Sound Transit’s Light Rail Expansion in the CID

by Friends of Little Sài Gòn Board of Directors

Sound Transit has the power to shape equitable development in neighborhoods south of Seattle’s downtown for generations. The political discourse over where to site a station essential for light rail expansion and potentially other non-car modes of transportation has become another existential battleground, falsely pitting our community’s fears of displacement, gentrification, and desire for transit equity in a city experiencing hyper wealth inequality against the simultaneous and very urgent need for connected, reliable, efficient transportation options that also support climate resilience. 

Based on the limited information we have about the newly proposed North and/or South of Chinatown/International District options introduced less than three months ago, we urge Sound Transit to select the 4th Avenue Station option with up-front mitigation commitments informed by small businesses, residents, and community members throughout the construction phase. Our review indicated that the North/South options have similar risks of displacement and disruption as the 4th Avenue alternative, with few of the potential improvements, such as expanded accessibility, ease of use, and residential and commercial reinvestment. 

We believe the 4th Avenue alternative will deliver the greatest long-term benefit to our communities, including our families and neighbors who come from the South End or west side via transit. And it will shift our transit system toward more accessibility and climate responsibility. 

To hold public officials accountable, we must commit to ongoing multiyear organizing in order to advocate for legislation that will codify mitigation commitments to increase cultural place-keeping and affordable housing in the CID. This includes securing necessary budget allocations that resource efforts like the Little Saigon Landmark Project, which will include affordable housing, including family-sized units, and micro retail spaces. 

The ongoing attention to racial justice in climate justice is, coincidentally, a reminder about the legacy of the decision to build the I-5 freeway. The consequences of this are still felt today, in a cordoned-off Little Saigon bisected from the rest of the CID. 

Regardless of the alignment Sound Transit chooses, without proactive mitigation commitments for the CID, we foresee further destabilization and displacement, isolation, and loss of culture and identity that has already occurred in this historic neighborhood for multiple generations. We must organize together to ensure this does not happen. Before Little Saigon was home to the Vietnamese community, it was considered “Indian country” and it was also home to Black Seattleites. We reject the idea that we must choose between a connected neighborhood that will bring new developments at the risk of displacing those who currently call the CID home — or a splintered neighborhood resistant to change. It is not either/or. Nor are our communities a monolith. 

When Friends of Little Sài Gòn (FLS) was established in 2011, our mission was centered in preserving and enhancing Little Saigon’s cultural, economic, and historic vitality. We envisioned Seattle’s Little Saigon as the hub of our Vietnamese American community, where families and businesses are thriving. Twelve years later, that mission has not changed. When the pandemic struck and Little Saigon was hit especially hard by public health measures and anti-Asian bias, many businesses shut their doors, not knowing when or if they would reopen. We worked with small businesses to connect them to resources and to translate information essential to staying safe while staying open. 

Friends of Little Sài Gòn is comprised of small business owners, artists and culture workers, educators, and advocates, most of us first-generation Americans with the shared commonality that we all love this neighborhood and what it means to us and our city. Many of us have worked here day in and day out, some of us for decades, and watched the neighborhood change, while others sought work in Seattle specifically because of its concentration of Asian Americans and their ethnic enclaves. 

And in service to this community, we remember the half-measures taken by the local government. The First Hill Streetcar — a project that was supposed to connect the CID to downtown and SLU — was scrapped after years of construction and disruption to the neighborhood, leaving a disconnected line with limited range. Just as connection and infrastructure have failed to materialize, so, too, have the benefits that it was supposed to bring. As our neighborhood is still recovering from three years of pandemic impacts and decades of uncoordinated transportation planning without us, we are seeing higher residential rental and commercial vacancy rates at a time when culturally relevant small businesses are essential in keeping our neighborhood vibrant, accessible, and safe.

We stand by the recent productive discourse between Sound Transit, elected officials, and the community members toward finding the most beneficial ways to implement a 4th Avenue option that will meaningfully connect the CID to other neighborhoods, to connect our elders, aunties, uncles, and cousins who live elsewhere but still consider the neighborhood “home” and rely on transit to get here. Taking away an option that Sound Transit arrived at that is endorsed by thousands of community members and many anchoring nonprofit and business groups in the eleventh hour will erode trust and goodwill, and be a tremendous waste of taxpayer resources. We urge Sound Transit, King County, and the City of Seattle to make the right decision in this once-in-a-century opportunity.


Friends of Little Sài Gòn Board of Directors

Tam Dinh — Board President
Josh Brevoort
Hong Chhuor 
Vy Nguyen
Mytoan Nguyen-Akbar
Huy Pham
Steve Scheele 
Leeching Tran

The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

📸 Featured Image: Map of Refined 4th Avenue Shallow + Midtown Station, with full closure and detour routes, via report on “CID Further Studies – Workshop 4: Summary.” (Source: Sound Transit)

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