Jeff Adachi looks set to get his Way in SoMa

Residents, property owners oppose renaming of Gilbert Street for late public defender

The 700-foot stretch of concrete between Bryant and Brannan and Sixth and Seventh streets in SoMa just came one step closer to being renamed in honor of The City’s late Public Defender Jeff Adachi, despite opposition from property owners and residents.

The resolution for the name change of one block of Gilbert Street to “Jeff Adachi Way” was unanimously approved by the Land Use and Transportation Committee and sent to the full board Monday.

“I’m excited that we will be able to honor him in this way” said Supervisor Matt Haney at the hearing.“I think there is something powerful about having a public street named after Jeff. It’s something that belongs to all of us.”

The proposal was introduced in March and is co-sponsored by President Norman Yee and ten other supervisors. However, it was stalled for eight months while The City collected and evaluated public feedback from street residents, who have largely opposed the resolution and argued that the name change will prove costly and time-consuming for local property and business owners.

After Adachi’s sudden death on Feb. 22 this year, dozens of San Francisco’s public figures paid their respects in public statements and on social media, describing him as a champion of the people and a “legal giant.” It was members of the Public Defender’s Office who first suggested honoring Adachi’s legacy with a street name.

The resolution – which initially applied to both blocks of Gilbert Street – was passed unanimously by the committee on May 6, and approved by the full board on May 14.

However, when the San Francisco Department of Public Works offered it up for public comment to the residents of the 74 active addresses on Gilbert Street, several neighbors came together to delay and challenge the decision.

Alex Liu, an attorney representing a number of neighbors and residents at Monday’s hearing, said that of the 28 fronting properties on the street, 23 told the Department of Public Works that they opposed the renaming and 18 submitted signed declarations suggesting that the committee honor Adachi by renaming the Public Defender’s Office building instead of Gilbert Street.

“Residents oppose the name change (because) it imposes a significant expense. Every property owner would be forced to engage in a very time consuming, very expensive process… and in some cases be forced to retain lawyers.”

Several other speakers at the hearing also supported the renaming of the Public Defender’s Office. However, they were less concerned about costs and convenience, and more troubled by the insignificant size of the alleyway which will bear Adachi’s name.

“The guy was a fearless advocate,” said Gilbert Street property owner Christopher Holland at the hearing. “Why would they name a back street, or so called ‘alleyway,’ after Jeff Adachi?… That’s kind of degrading.”

“When Jeff Adachi died, there was a huge photo of him and several flower arrangements in the front door,” said another San Francisco resident, Jerry Scott. “The proposal now before you is to (move) the tribute to Jeff Adachi from the front door to the back door.”

However, Adachi’s colleagues present at Monday’s hearing insisted that naming a street after the public defender would be the most appropriate way to honor his life and career.

“Jeff Adachi left an indelible mark on this city,” said Valerie Ibarra, a spokeswoman for the Public Defender’s Office, “and having his name right outside our door and across the street from (the Hall of Justice) would be a fitting reminder of his spirit and legacy of fighting not only for civil rights but for human rights.”

“I understand that some of you have expressed the inconvenience of such a change,” said Judy Hamaguchi, vice president of the San Francisco Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League – over which Adachi presided for several years.

“However, all over The City such changes have been made and I know it takes a bit of time to adjust. Jeff Adachi did not think, not for a moment, that his time and work was an inconvenience… He mentored, he inspired and shared his passion with so many and his name will remind future generations that a good fight is worth having.”

After some residents expressed concerns about address changes last May, the committee decided to only apply the resolution to the block between Bryant and Brennan streets, although Gilbert Street extends one more block south towards Townsend Street.

Haney also proposed to keep the old Gilbert Street name posted in smaller letters below the new Jeff Adachi Way sign for five years, to ensure a smooth transition. Only after that period would Jeff Adachi Way definitively replace Gilbert Street.

Adachi took office as The City’s Public Defender in 2002. In the 17 years he served as public defender, he regularly used the former Gilbert Street “as a place to connect with, mentor, and support fellow attorneys on their way to and from the court,” according to a statement delivered by Haney in March.

Adachi, the first elected public defender in California, was “a warrior for justice” and “[a] true believer who spearheaded a rebirth of the fight for racial and social equality, and built a nationwide army to carry the battle forward,” Haney said in the resolution. “The Board of Supervisors intends to rename Gilbert Street to Jeff Adachi Way to enshrine his legacy.”

Edward Gilbert, for whom the street is currently named, was a politician, a soldier and a journalist during the Gold Rush. He conducted one of San Francisco’s earliest censuses in 1847, and was the owner and editor of San Francisco’s only newspaper in 1848. Gilbert died in 1852.

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