Alameda, CA

Alameda City Council Approves New Naming Policy to Reflect Current Values

Karin K Jensen

At its October 19th meeting, City Council voted to update its City Facilities and Street Naming Policy to include a new public process and broaden the naming criteria to represent the community better.

Background

Amy Wooldridge, Recreation and Parks Department Director, said that the City considers naming public spaces powerful. This impact was evident during 2020 in the discussion of removing monuments of people with histories of racism and through the City’s renaming of Jackson Park to Chochenyo Park.

During the park renaming process, the Recreation and Parks Commission and community-led Park Renaming Committee discussed the need to update the naming policy to reflect current values. The existing policy, focusing on historical themes, dates to the 1990s and was last updated in 2016 to include naming streets after business entities. It has no requirement for public input.

What Is and Is Not Changing

The updated policy:

  1. Intends that facility and street names value inclusivity and diversity and focus on Alameda significance.
  2. Requires research on names and consultation of any affected group.
  3. Revises the Historical Advisory Board’s (HAB) role from the keeper of a pre-approved name list to recommending names for historic properties.
  4. Creates an application process for renaming facilities and streets, including a mandatory petition with at least 500 Alameda resident signatories.
  5. Requires public participation for naming and renaming facilities with final approval by City Council.

The public process includes broad marketing of each meeting and its purpose through print, social media, and email to encourage residents to attend and comment.

What is not changing is that:

  1. The Planning Board will continue to review new street names from developers, with City Council having final approval.
  2. A person must be deceased at least three years to be considered for a facility or street name.
  3. Criteria for naming streets after a corporation remains unchanged.
  4. Alameda Point streets will reflect World War II naval themes consistent with the area’s historic designation.

Public Comment

Council Member Herrera-Spencer and several public commenters brought up the issue of costs to residents if the City renames their street. For instance, there is currently a petition to rename Calhoun Street, named after John C. Calhoun, seventh Vice President of the U.S. and an adamant defender of slavery.

If successful, residents would have to change their legal address in various documents such as on wills, driver’s licenses, bills, legal documents, etc. This change would be time-consuming, potentially costly, and especially difficult for elderly residents and those without internet service.

Public speakers had a range of opinions on how to resolve this issue. One said that the City should subsidize the social and legal costs, saying that the City renamed Jackson Park not because it was inexpensive but because it was the right thing to do and a moral imperative.

Another complained that progressives shouldn’t be entitled to impose their sense of moral imperatives on everybody else and that proposed name changes should be put on the ballot.

Council Debate

Vice Mayor Vella said she was comfortable with the new naming process. There was significant input into it, including by the Historical Advisory Board, Recreation and Parks Commission, and the Planning Board. She said she hears the concerns about expenses but considers that is why the City needs a public process to allow input.

Council Member Knox-White added that the City was not creating a new opportunity to rename streets; there has always been the possibility of renaming streets. Instead, the City is deciding how to ensure a process that includes the public in the decision.

Council Member Herrera-Spencer said she would like to see residents reimbursed for changing legal documents, which could be expensive. She also recommended collecting funds from corporations to pay for the future renaming of streets named after them if they moved away.

Council Member Daysog said that he appreciated that this process would prevent ideologues from either the left or the right from hijacking the process for their ends.

Final Vote

Council Member Knox-White motioned to pass the revised naming policy. He requested adding a fee for the future renaming of corporate named streets (when the corporations move away) and starting work with applicants who have submitted petitions to rename Godrey Park and Calhoun Street.

Mayor Ashcraft, Vice Mayor Vella, Council Members Knox-White, and Daysog voted in favor. Council Member Herrera-Spencer voted against it. The revised policy passed with a 4-1 vote.

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Proud Alamedan writing about our arts, business, politics, and events. I also write about local Asian American history. On Instagram @karinkjensen.

Alameda, CA
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