By Jackie Ward

SAN FRANCISO (KPIX 5) – Changes could be coming to a San Francisco landmark.

Acknowledging a dark chapter in city history, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Tuesday unanimously backed a resolution calling for the renaming of Justin Herman Plaza.

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Starting in 1959, Justin Herman — as head of the city’s redevelopment agency — spearheaded the effort to revitalize the Fillmore.

Herman has become inextricably linked in the city’s history with “urban renewal” and “slum clearance” projects in the Western Addition.

It was an area once home to Japanese Americans — who were forced into internment camps during World War I — then later became the center of the city’s African American culture.

San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin said, “His name has come to symbolize the displacement of over 4,000 people from The Fillmore, the destruction of 60 square blocks of what was a vibrant, robust community that we have been trying to knit back together for decades since.”

The resolution, introduced by Peskin, calls for the Recreation and Park Commission to rename the plaza at the eastern end of Market Street “Embarcadero Plaza” until a new name can be agreed upon.

San Francisco Resident Barbara Thompson has lived in San Francisco for most of her life and raised her kids in the Western Addition.

She remembers the time back in the 1960s when her thriving community began to fall apart.

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Thompson said, “It was done in a way that was just so shrewd and so calculated and I think it was kind of orchestrated so that we really didn’t know what we were doing when we were selling our homes.”

Board President London Breed grew up in the Fillmore and says, even now, when looking at documents about redevelopment, the Redevelopment Agency justified their actions because it was a “non-white” community.

Herman is alleged to have once said “This land is too valuable to permit poor people to park on it.”

Supervisor Breed said, “The fact that someone could actually use this kind of language to literally destroy a community, a thriving African-American and Japanese community, I think we’re overdue.”

Peskin emphasized that Herman does not bear sole blame for those projects, which were backed by a large number of city officials over the years.

“This was not just about Justin Herman, this was about a national 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.

Breed noted that a budget analyst’s report found that renaming the plaza would only cost around $5,400 to change the signs.

Peskin said the Recreation and Park Commission is expected to take up the issue at its October meeting.

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