San Jose moves one step closer to its own Barack Obama Boulevard
President Barack Obama is pictured at Carnegie Mellon University. File photo by Anirudh Koul.

After nearly three years of petitioning, San Jose leaders have finally selected a location for Barack Obama Boulevard.

In an application filed with the Planning Department, a group of residents and organizers called the Barack Obama Boulevard Committee proposed renaming Bird Avenue, Autumn Street and Montgomery Street between Highway 280 and West Saint John Street after the 44th president.

A map by the President Barack Obama Boulevard Committee shows the streets proposed for renaming.

The effort to rename a San Jose street after Obama started in 2017 with an online petition by community leader Alex Shoor.

But the plan hit many roadblocks, including a stringent approval process for major street renamings that required half the affected property owners to sign off on the name change in writing. Other cities, including Milpitas and Los Angeles, started their petitions after San Jose and approved their name changes before it.

But because the project now involves a minor street renaming, it does not require half the property owners to provide written approval.

Shoor said he launched the campaign after being inspired by the former president while campaigning for him in 2008.

“At the end of the day, this is for young people,” Shoor said. “It’s for the young Vietnamese girl who grew up in San Jose, whose family were refugees, or the third-generation African-American whose family has lived in San Jose for generations. They deserve to live in a city that shows them that anyone can be president by honoring the first person of color to become president.”

The initiative has gained more than 2,800 signatures, received 40 community letters of support and raised more than $9,000 for application fees and implementation.

Committee project manager Bill Melson said his group looked at several San Jose streets before settling on this particular location, with the key criteria being that it must be “worthy of a president and touch the core of the city”.

“We feel it fitting to honor him here,” Melson said. “We feel that it would raise San Jose’s prestige as a city that takes on national interests and shows pride in those national interests. With the development of the new transit hub, it could be the gateway to the new transit center and the SAP Center from I-280.”

Melson added the committee also wanted to minimize the impact to historical sites and property owners.

Shoor said having an Obama Boulevard in San Jose would help build culture and civic pride in the community.

“San Jose and Silicon Valley is an extremely diverse place. We want to continue to be welcoming to the full diversity of our community and naming a street for him helps send that message,” Shoor said.

The proposal has garnered bipartisan support from local legislators, advocacy groups and community organizers.

“I have been a strong supporter of the project. I’d like to see a street and freeway signs up as soon as possible in San Jose,” Sen. Jim Beall told San José Spotlight. “Commemorating Obama’s presidency will be a reminder to our community that no matter who you are, anything is possible.”

Shane Patrick Connolly, chair of the Santa Clara County Republican Party, said he has no objections with honoring the Democratic president.

“He visited San Jose several times and was quite popular with a large share of the local electorate,” Connolly said.

However, Connolly said the local GOP would object to the street including his title, such as “President Barack Obama Boulevard.”

“It’s not only cumbersome, it’s inaccurate in that the United States only has one president at a time,” Connolly said. “The other caveats: As required by city policy — the property owners along (a major) street must agree to it, and changing out the street signage should be privately funded, in the same way other commemorations for former presidents are privately funded. Proponents of changing the names of streets should not be asking taxpayers to foot the bill.”

The proposal will be brought before the City Council for approval at a date to be determined.

Contact Devin Collins at [email protected] or follow @dev_collins2 on Twitter.

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