S.F. Leaders Back Renaming Justin Herman Plaza

Stripping Justin Herman's name from the plaza would symbolically distance the city from an ugly past.

People walk though Justin Herman Plaza in San Francisco, Calif. on Tuesday, September 19th, 2017. (Mira Laing/Special)

Justin Herman, a symbol of “urban renewal” that displaced Black neighborhoods, may soon lose a bit of glory with the yanking of his name from a popular plaza. 

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors Tuesday unanimously back a resolution to rename Justin Herman Plaza, which is across from the Ferry Building at the Embarcadero and comes with the Vaillancourt Fountain.  This move — brought forth by Supe. Aaron Peskin — addresses past racist policies in a largely symbolic way.

Herman led the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency in the 1960s, which pursued projects that displaced about 4,000 residents.

The impact of bulldozed homes and business was concentrated in the Western Addition, which had a strong Black and Japanese American community.  The “renewal” also impacted Bayview-Hunters Point.

Board President London Breed grew up in the Western Addition and said she knew too well what it was like to live in a community “that was  literally destroyed by the San Francisco redevelopment agency.”

“[Herman’s] name was a really negative one in the community,” Breed said.

Herman was not the only city official behind the destruction but is the one alleged to have once said “This land is too valuable to permit poor people to park on it,” the resolution reads.

“This was not just about Justin Herman, this was about a national a misguided policy that we commonly referred to then as urban renewal, which resulted in the decimation of communities here and in urban America,” Peskin said.

The cost estimate by the budget analyst’s office to change the plaza’s signs is $5,400, Bay City News reports. The Recreation and Parks Commission is expected to take the next step of hearing the issue in October.

Until a new name is agreed on, the resolution proposes to call the area “Embarcadero Plaza.”

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