Rec and Park Commission votes 4-2 to rename Justin Herman Plaza

The San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission voted 4-2 Nov. 16 to drop the name of former Redevelopment Agency head Justin Herman from a prominent city plaza at the foot of Market Street, but the question of who it will be named for instead remains unresolved.

The commission’s vote Nov. 16 was its second take on the name change, after a 4-3 vote last month was found to be invalid because the vote of a commissioner who left the meeting was counted.

Herman, who led the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency in the 1960s, has become linked in the city’s history with “urban renewal” and “slum clearance” projects that displaced thousands of residents and small businesses in the Western Addition.

The projects are credited with seriously damaging established African American and Japanese American communities in the Fillmore area.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in September for a resolution introduced by Supervisor Aaron Peskin calling for the name change.

It met more resistance in the Recreation and Park Commission, where commissioner Mark Buell once actually worked directly with Herman as his personal assistant.

Buell and Gloria Bonilla voted against the name change this time around, with Bonilla saying she did not want to be involved in singling out one individual for blame out of an entire era. She also said there had been very little public input on the name change.

“I don’t think we really have deliberated on this matter sufficiently,” she said.

Commissioner Kat Anderson switched from a no vote to a yes, saying she had spoken with many people about the subject over the past month.

“I look forward to hearing more public comment about choosing a new name for this vital space,” Anderson said.

Commissioner Larry Mazzola Jr. was absent from the Nov. 16 vote.

The plaza will be renamed Embarcadero Plaza for now, while the city considers who it should be named for.

While the name of poet Maya Angelou, who was San Francisco’s first African American female streetcar conductor, has been put forward, others have called for the city to name the plaza for David Johnson, a pioneering photographer and community activist who documented the African American community of the Fillmore District in the 1940s and 1950s.

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