Wed, Jul 25, 2012 - Page 12 News List

Dodgy dealings

Taipei’s Shida district has long been the center of a vibrant commercial life, but recent expansion has riled residents, and the government has stepped in to curb, or kill, one of the city’s most diverse recreational areas

By David Frazier  /  Contributing reporter

Liu is a retired executive for the Swedish truck manufacturer, Scania. His work has taken him around the world, including the suburbs of Chicago, where he was posted for a number of years, but his family has lived in Shida for decades. He speaks English fluently and has a deep understanding of the law. In conversation, he is charming, though when he speaks of the moral decay of his neighborhood, he sometimes gets angry and begins to quiver.

If nothing else, Liu is a highly efficient organizer and lobbyist. His association’s blog details violations to look for — including kitchen exhaust, excessive stink, pollution, noise, fire code violations and illegal signage — and how to make reports to government agencies. Association members can frequently be seen patrolling the neighborhood with digital cameras. The restaurant 1885 Burger received around 600 complaints about its kitchen exhaust over a six-month period, an average of more than three complaints per day.

Generally, the Shidahood blog has anticipated which streets and lanes will see heavy inspections weeks before they happen and named hit-lists of undesirable businesses. Notably, these have included Toasteria, Rabbit Rabbit (兔子兔子) and 1885 Burger, all of which closed down.

Not long after the Shidahood Association formed, Taipei City formed a Special Shida Taskforce (師大專案小組) headed by deputy mayor Sherman Chen (陳雄文) and involving a wide array of government departments. So far, the city has put a moratorium on the phrase “Shida Night Market” and stopped recommending Shida as a tourist destination (along with Yongkang St., an area loved by foodies that includes Taiwan’s most famous restaurant, Ding Tai Fung.)

Then in April, the city began its first wave of inspections and fines. It first targeted Pucheng Street, Alley 13, otherwise known as “International Food Street” (異國美食街), a lane that had been filled with restaurants for at least 15 years. Now only one restaurant remains, Singh’s Out of India.

Singh believes this first campaign went beyond regulation and into what he calls “gangster tactics.”

“One morning, a group of TV cameras showed up outside my shop. They were led by City Councilor Lee Hsin (李新), who was charging that I had illegally built an exhaust pipe a few days before without my second floor neighbor’s permission. The pipe had been there for six months, but they wanted me to put the exhaust into the alley, so they could complain to the EPA,” said Singh.

“My second floor neighbor did not file the complaint,” he continued. “It was some third party, and we never found out who it was. When we went to the police station later that day to make a challenge, we found the complaint had been cancelled.”

Singh has filed a lawsuit for intimidation against the councilman. His shop, Out of India, has received a NT$60,000 fine for illegal operation.

As in much of Taipei, there is a huge gray area between what is legal and what is enforced. At present, Shida only contains three city blocks that are zoned for commercial use, though food stalls have sprawled over an area three times as large for at least 20 years.

“The problem is that every business in Taipei is illegal. If you strictly enforced the law, maybe you’d have to shut down 3,000 restaurants in Taipei, but they’re only enforcing it in Shida,” says Peng Yang-kae (彭揚凱), secretary general of OURs, an NGO specializing in urban planning.

This story has been viewed 9679 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top