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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Lech Walesa Street Finally Curbed by San Francisco

Posted By on Wed, Jul 30, 2014 at 10:31 AM

click to enlarge Going, going, gone. In five years. - JIM HERD
  • Jim Herd
  • Going, going, gone. In five years.
Last year, when former Polish president Lech Walesa quickly shifted from a symbol of democracy to the world's most illustrious homophobe, SF Weekly pondered which would take longer: Lech Walesa's struggle to bring freedom to Poland or San Francisco's effort to depose Lech Walesa's name from a city street

Well, it turns out the latter was a far quicker — and less violent — affair. After getting the ball rolling in March of last year, the Board of Supervisors yesterday unanimously voted to alter the name of Lech Walesa Street — a gritty little alley near City Hall that, somewhat ironically, houses a transgender clinic — to Dr. Tom Waddell Place. 

In addition to being the namesake for the transgender clinic on what is soon to be his street, Waddell was the founder of the Gay Olympics — who was personally and financially devastated by a U.S. Olympic Committee lawsuit for his use of the term "Olympic." The prosecuting attorney in that case was none other than Vaughn Walker — who, as a federal judge, later struck down California Proposition 8, the state's same-sex marriage ban.

The world can be an amazing place.  

Getting to this point was an arduous municipal process

click to enlarge lech_walesa_time_mag_thumb_300x395.jpg
City policy on street name changes calls for input from up to five departments - Department of Public Works, Planning Department, Police Department, Fire Department, and Department of Building Inspection - and multiple actions from the Board of Supervisors (additional bodies would be involved if Lech Walesa Street were on port land, park land, Presidio land, state highway land, or a university campus, which, fortunately, it isn't). In a 10-paragraph policy, eight sections of four city and state codes are cited.

And, per Section 701 of the Public Works Code, "Once the street name has been officially changed, the street signs must contain both names for a 5-year period."

Once Mayor Ed Lee signs the legislation, it will sit for 30 days. Following that interregnum, the new signs — featuring both names — can go up. This will be the responsibility of the Municipal Transportation Agency. 

Changing the names of city streets, it turns out, comes up more often than you'd think. In 1986, Ivy Street was changed to Lech Walesa Street in a gala ceremony featuring Polish American locals and Joan Baez.

Back in 2012, the city altered  the name of "Edinburgh" Street — from "Edinburg." This wasn't as controversial as the aforementioned Lech Walesa spiel — as, inexplicably, the city had been spelling the name of that great Scottish city incorrectly for many years. 

Perhaps this explains why Excelsior denizens still pronounce it "Edin-burg." 

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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