Update: Here's what it takes to change a street name. See end.
Last week, Supervisor David Campos told SF Weekly that he'd be open to starting a dialogue about whether to strip Lech Walesa's name off a city street.
Supervisor Jane Kim is ready to move past all that. She wants Walesa gone. Step one, however, is figuring out who to call. Kim aide Ivy Lee says that her office has left plenty of messages for folks in the Municipal Transportation Authority and the Department of Public Works. Eventually, Lee says, someone will call back. And then we'll all know what it takes to wipe Lech Walesa off the map.
Walesa, the former Polish president who toppled his nation's oppressive communist regime, earlier this month rendered himself the world's most notorious homophobe. During a March 1 television interview, he pilloried homosexuals for supposedly attempting to strip rights away from the majority population, and suggested gay representatives in Poland's parliament should sit in the rear of the room -- or perhaps "behind a wall."
That kind of speechifying was not in effect on Oct. 5, 1986, when the city officially changed the name of Ivy Street to Lech Walesa Street. "I am very grateful to San Francisco for supporting the idealism of Solidarity," Walesa told the crowd of Poles, labor leaders, and Joan Baez (yes, really) via a taped message.
See Also: Lech Walesa Street Houses Transgender Clinic
In the rare example of irony not involving diabetics racing to the pharmacy being run down by insulin trucks, a transgender clinic is situated on Lech Walesa Street. "We don't have the luxury of choosing the names of the streets," says Department of Public Health spokeswoman Eileen Shields.
Lee says Kim has received plenty of suggestions for a new street name from constituents and hasn't winnowed them down yet. When asked why the name couldn't simply revert to Ivy Street -- which still appears on city signage and stationary and was the thoroughfare's name for well over a century -- Lee said Kim wanted the name "to be meaningful."
Changing a street name, however, requires more than a whim, a few phone calls, and a plebiscite. Renaming Rowland Alley Dirk Dirksen Place in 2008 was a lengthy and maddening process requiring action by the Board of Supervisors.
In that case, no one in city government was able to identify just who Rowland was. So, he or she didn't make profoundly homophobic statements, sparking an international furor. That may expedite things. But he or she also didn't rise from humble origins to bring democracy to one of Eastern Europe's most downtrodden nations.
And that may not.
Update, 4:40 p.m. As you'd expect, there is city policy with regards to changing a street name -- and it's only two single-spaced pages long!
Here are some fun highlights:
Streets and their names are generally established during the development / subdivision of land. Usually, the proposed names reflect the personal desires of the subdivider. However, the proposed names must be approved by DPW per Sections 422 & 423 of the Public Works Code and must not conflict with existing names. In this process DPW will request comments from the Fire Department and the Police Department. Since the Planning Department determines General Plan conformity for subdivisions, the Planning Commission may recommend names relevant to San Francisco history (Planning Code Section 1011(d)). Approved names are placed on final Parcel or Subdivision Maps, which are then approved by the Board of Supervisors. The streets on these final maps may be "private" or "dedicated public" streets. Street addresses on these new streets are then assigned by the Central Permit Bureau of the Department of Building Inspection.
Street name changes can be initiated by members of the public or by the Board of Supervisors. However, the Board of Supervisors must effect any name change formally by resolution. (Government codes 34091.1 & Street and Highways Code Sections 970.5 and 5026). Section 5026 further provides that these name changes be forwarded to the County Clerk and County Surveyor. Within the City and County of San Francisco, these name changes are forwarded to the Chief Surveyor for inclusion within the Official Map of the City. This map is updated on a somewhat irregular basis depending upon the changes that have occurred.
If a member of the public initiates the request, they should present their petition to DPW. The petition should contain sufficient signatures of the property owners that front the street, which is affected by the proposed name change, to indicate a very strong majority in favor of the change. If the proposed name change affects a "private" street, any controlling "Home Owner's Association" may require approval per their By-Laws prior to submittal to DPW. Upon receipt of the petition, DPW will review and investigate the proposal. This may include mailing an inquiry to all owners of record on the street for an official response to the proposed name change. DPW will also solicit comments from the Police and Fire Departments. If all indicators are very positive, then DPW will prepare a resolution to be submitted to the Board of Supervisors, together with the results of their investigation.