Petition Afoot to Change South Van Ness Avenue to Dolores Huerta Boulevard

Dolores Huerta speaks at the podium, circa 1970s.  (Courtesy of Walter P. Reuther Library Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs Wayne State University)

A group of San Francisco residents is campaigning to change the name of a major city street to honor a famous California labor leader and civil rights activist.

An online petition to rename South Van Ness Avenue to Dolores Huerta Boulevard has so far attracted over 1,100 signatures.

Local resident Sean Scullion is behind the petition. He says it’s high time the city honored Huerta, who co-founded the National Farmworkers Association (now United Farm Workers) with Cesar Chavez and fought tirelessly for decades on behalf of workers rights, in the same way it’s honored Chavez.

"I was around San Francisco when Cesar Chavez Street was named," Scullion says of the thoroughfare formerly known as Army Street. "And I always thought it was strange that Dolores didn't get a street as well."

Scullion, a resident of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, says he's known of Chavez and Huerta since he was a child, and that his parents participated in the Delano Grape Strike of 1965. Huerta led the fight against table grape growers in Delano, California to stop the exploitation of farm workers.

"Over the years, I’ve read news articles about her and always considered her a personal hero," Scullion says. "I saw the documentary Dolores and went to hear her speak at the Herbst Theater."

Some public officials are aware of the campaign, and supportive of it—in principle.

"Dolores Huerta is one of my all-time heroes, and it's exciting and fitting that people are raising the idea of renaming a major street running through the Latino Cultural District in her honor," says District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen, in whose jurisdiction the proposed street name change partially falls. "I would be happy to carry it forward if we see broad community support for the change."

Huerta is 89 years old. The Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree already has a square named after her in Los Angeles, as well as several schools in California and beyond. Scullion says naming a San Francisco street after Huerta would be a fitting tribute for her upcoming 90th birthday. (April 10, Huerta's birthday, is Dolores Huerta Day in California.)

"Renaming South Van Ness seems like a win for everyone," Scullion says. "The mayor and supervisors can have a chance to shine a spotlight on someone who exemplifies the spirit of San Francisco, the neighborhood and city get a constant reminder of a role model, and Ms. Huerta can be given a birthday gift acknowledging her contributions and sacrifices."

The petition comes at a time when the city of San Francisco has legislation in place to increase the representation of women on the city's street names, public buildings, and public art by 30 percent before the end of 2020.

Despite the race to meet the legislative requirements, it seems unlikely that the street name change, if it comes to pass, will happen in time for Huerta's birthday.

San Francisco Department of Public Works spokeswoman Rachel Gordon says street name changes involve getting a groundswell of community buy-in before her department begins its in-depth review process, and then potentially sends the request on to the board of supervisors and mayor for approval.

"The ones that succeed are the ones where there is a lot of community outreach," Rosen says. "And the ones where there are not a lot of properties on the street."

An online Department of Public Works information sheet about the process mentions the need for property owners to be on board with the potential street name change: "If a member of the public initiates the request, they must present their petition to Public Works with signatures from property owners whose lots are abutting the subject street. The number of signatures must indicate a very strong majority in favor of the change."

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While some local street name changes, like the 2018 switch from Phelan Avenue to Frida Kahlo Way, don't meet with too much opposition, some street name changes are controversial.

Gordon says many people in San Francisco opposed the decision to rename Army Street to Cesar Chavez Street in the mid-1990s.

"It's an old school San Francisco street," Gordon says. "There are still some bumper stickers you see around town that say 'It Will Always Be Army Street To Me.'"

Because of the number of properties on South Van Ness, Gordon says getting the necessary community buy-in could be tough.

"That would be a huge undertaking, to change the name of South Van Ness," Gordon says. "Possibly even bigger than Cesar Chavez Street."