Los Angeles just unveiled Barack Obama Boulevard in one of the city’s historic black neighborhoods — nearly two years after San Jose leaders proposed the same idea.
Like San Jose, Los Angeles leaders proposed renaming a street after Obama in 2017 and unveiled it a week ago. But San Jose’s petition is stuck — primarily because of a city policy that requires widespread approval from most affected property owners.
“I can’t speak for other cities, [but] my guess is there are other cities in this country and state that have a more streamlined approach for this,” said Alex Shoor, co-founder of Catalyze SV, who started the petition. “If it was a more straightforward and streamlined process, that would be okay with us and we would work to make that happen.”
More than 2,300 people have signed a petition, posted on Change.org in 2017, to bring the United States’ 44th president’s namesake to a street in San Jose.
But renaming a street in San Jose requires approval from a slew of property owners, which has proven to be a major sticking point. Anyone proposing a street renaming must notify the surrounding residents and property owners in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and any other prominent languages in the area.
A 50-percent-or-greater majority of those affected residents and property owners must approve of the name change in writing — or the project cannot move forward.
“Finding the contact information for property owners is very difficult, and thus it takes time to do this,” Shoor said. If that requirement wasn’t so difficult to fulfill, Shoor added, the street renaming in San Jose “probably would have happened sooner.”
It's taking a while to meet city requirements to name a street in #SanJose after @BarackObama because @CityofSanJose policy is 50% of property owners need to support it. That's a high bar. LA had a much easier time. https://t.co/2DxNz9PtsR
— Alex Shoor (@AlexShoor) May 5, 2019
Other obstacles faced by the petitioners include forming a committee to advocate and plan for the renaming and raising money for San Jose’s own President Barack Obama Boulevard.
Renaming a city street in San Jose costs $10,435 for major streets and $3,768 for minor streets. Shoor said organizers have raised more than $9,000 to cover costs of the process. He added that the project will cost about $7,900, and the committee will donate remaining funds “to support any small businesses who might be impacted by the street change.”
For instance, Shoor said, the money could cover reprinting a company’s business cards with a new address.
Despite the challenges and another major city beating San Jose in the renaming process, Shoor said he’ll continue to push for an Obama street in San Jose.
“The reason it’s so significant is we want to send a message to all Americans, and in this case San Joseans specifically, that no matter who you are, you can achieve your dreams,” Shoor said. “We’re thinking of the next generation. We’re thinking of young Latino or Vietnamese kids growing up in San Jose who want to envision their future.”
The petition has also garnered support from San Jose legislators and advocacy groups.
“I’m totally in support of the project and I’d like to see a street in San Jose named after President Obama,” said San Jose Vice Mayor Chappie Jones. “It’s a very long, labor intensive process but I’m very much supportive of it.”
Jones has dedicated his staff’s time to researching city policies and potential streets to rename. He said he prefers the Obama street to be in downtown San Jose.
“I think he was truly a transformational president,” Jones said.
But some San Jose leaders said they’d rather “wait to honor people once they have left the world.”
“I get uncomfortable when we memorialize people that aren’t dead. We don’t need to remind current generations about a person,” tweeted Christopher Thompson, the Knight Foundation’s San Jose program director. “We also don’t know the good and bad of what lies ahead in their life.”
Hellen Sims, second vice president of the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP and co-chair of the President Barack Obama Boulevard Committee, said that a street has not yet been selected, but that it should be in a “well-used” part of San Jose.
Organizers recommended renaming a street with similar or identical names, such as Almaden Avenue and Almaden Boulevard near downtown.
“This is an opportunity to bring special recognition to San Jose,” Sims said. “Recognizing what [Obama] has accomplished certainly makes him worthy for consideration of a street named after him.”
Contact Kyle Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him @Kyle_Martin35 on Twitter.