Chinatown Subway Station to Be Named After Rose Pak, Controversial S.F. Power Broker

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Rose Pak attends a Central Subway event in San Francisco in 2012. Mayor Ed Lee and other lawmakers stand in the background.  (Steve Rhodes/Flickr)

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency narrowly voted late Tuesday to name the new Chinatown subway station after Rose Pak, a controversial figure in local politics who fought to bring the subway to the neighborhood.

Scores of people spoke in passionate support — and opposition — to naming the station after Pak, who died in 2016 at age 68. Many spoke in Chinese, using a translator, while others brought videos to show the agency’s seven-member board of directors during the hearing. Public comment lasted for about six hours.

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Pak was a heavy smoker with a penchant for the dramatic, and was considered instrumental in installing certain people in city hall — like former Mayor Ed Lee, the city’s first Asian American mayor — while pushing others out, like former Mayor Art Agnos. She was known for her brusque, unapologetic style, one that rubbed many people the wrong way, while others say she did what she had to for her community.

“She could be your best friend and she could be your worst friend,” said Allan Low, who spoke at Tuesday’s SFMTA meeting in support of adding Pak’s name. “As imperfect as a person Rose was, she did have a vision for a more perfect community and a more perfect city. And one of her visions was the central subway. … If there was a tiger mom for the central subway, it was Rose Pak. She would kick. She would claw. She would make this project happen.”

As many supporters spoke Tuesday, some opponents in the audience made a thumbs down sign, and at one point, an agency board member admonished those making a “snake” sound. Some urged the agency to stick to its habit of naming stations based on geography.

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“We want a name that is easy for a tourist to see,” said Eva Lee of the Chinese Merchants Association, in support of calling the stop simply Chinatown Station.

Lee was among many opponents who talked about how divisive the naming had become among residents. “I hope you can resolve this division for our community and not divide us. And have it be a win-win situation,” she said.

Last week, people marched through Chinatown to protest naming the station after Pak, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

After the Embarcadero Freeway was torn down following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, cutting a major artery to Chinatown, Pak fought for a train line to connect the community to the city’s downtown — and bring in tourists in the process, the Chronicle reported. The 1.7-mile long, $1.6-billion subway line is slated to open in January.

In June, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution urging the SFMTA to name the station, “Chinatown Rose Pak Station.”

Rev. Norman Fong of the Chinatown Community Development Center said Pak certainly had “rough sides and the thorns,” but “it was her heart for Chinatown,” that motivated her. “I hope that San Francisco will honor a bold fierce leader like her,” he said.

In the end, the agency voted 4-3 to do that. SFMTA Director Steve Heminger, who was one of the aye votes, said that while Pak was divisive, “I don’t think divisiveness is disqualifying from civic recognition.”