The creation of Barack Obama Boulevard was unanimously approved by the San Jose City Council this week, but it will be months before it is officially on the map.
The newly named road, which will stretch between Interstate 280 and West St John Street, will still need to be approved by the county.
“Then, there is a process that involves our GIS system and coordination with Planning, Fire, and Caltrans on address changes,” Colin Heyne, Department of Transportation spokesperson, said. “We want a system of signage and addressing that supports a clear, smooth emergency response.”
So, the nearly 4,300-foot boulevard will likely be complete by July, Heyne said.
But the council’s unanimous decision is still a win for the group of community leaders, known as the Barack Obama Boulevard Committee, who have been working on this initiative for more than three years.
Alex Shoor, who spearheaded the plan, said he was inspired after volunteering for both of Obama’s presidential campaigns.
In 2017, he started an online petition that received more than 2,800 signatures and raised more than $11,000 for application fees and implementation.
“It’s an ongoing reminder of the importance of America electing its first African American and person of color as president and a message to every person in San Jose that no matter who they are or where they come from that they too can achieve their dreams,” said Shoor.
The committee includes prominent local Black leaders like Bill Melson, Hellen Sims, Joe Bass and Milan Balinton from the African American Community Service Agency.
“By honoring President Obama, we demonstrate that while we still have work to do, we value equity and justice for all, and are willing to address tough issues and strive for that justice. Yes, we can and yes, we will,” Sims said.
“It’s an ongoing reminder of the importance of America electing its first African American and person of color as president and a message to every person in San Jose that no matter who they are or where they come from that they too can achieve their dreams.”Alex Shoor
The road change will rename portions of Bird Avenue, South Montgomery Street, South Autumn Street and North Autumn street, “right in the heart” of San Jose’s vibrant and diverse downtown core, said Mayor Sam Liccardo.
And only portions of existing streets are being renamed after Obama to preserve historic references to T.S. Montgomery and Calvert T. Bird.
It was chosen to be there, Shoor said, because of its proximity to the Diridon Station, SAP Center and Santa Clara Street — one of the city’s major downtown roads.
Also, because most of the road will be used for the Google 80-acre campus, the impact of address and name changes will be minimal to residents and businesses.
“Our analysis shows 33 impacted parcels, 18 of which we believe are currently occupied,” Heyne said. “More work is needed to determine if building numbers will change; a timeline for that has not yet been determined.”
Support not unanimous
The move has garnered support from former State Sen. Jim Beall and even the chair of the Santa Clara County Republican Party, Shane Patrick Connolly. The city also received 70 letters from the public, most of which are in support of the rename, according to a memo by city Planning Director Rosalynn Hughey.
But the move was not welcomed by everyone.
“It’s offensive for Barack Obama’s name to be associated with the most redlined, restricted, coveted areas in this city,” San Jose resident Paul Soto said during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “This is the kind of stuff that Google wants to use to sanitize its reputation by having on all of its letterheads the word association between Barack Obama and Google.”
However, Shoor insisted it had nothing to do with Google, and the plan to create Barack Obama Blvd was in place before the Google complex.
In a memo, Liccardo and Vice Mayor Chappie Jones said the new boulevard will honor Obama’s legacy in supporting universal healthcare, economic inclusion, climate reform and LGBTQ+ rights.
“There will undoubtedly be people with different views in politics in this city,” Liccardo said during the meeting. “But I hope that particularly over time, we all increasingly recognize what I think was the extraordinary role that Barack Obama played not simply as president of the United States but as someone who could help realize a vision that we all share in a country that has been torn by racial division for its entire history.”
San Jose joins many cities like Los Angeles and Milpitas in naming a street after the 44th president.
Costs for the new signage and other expenses will come from the Barack Obama Boulevard Committee as well as direct donations from council and Mayor offices.
Those interested in donating can do so online by selecting “The Barack Obama Blvd” campaign.