What’s in a name? In Berkeley, a lengthy process

Park and other public facility names will be subject to a new city policy. Photo: Berkeley Partners for Parks

At next Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, a seemingly uncontentious item suggests that Berkeley adopt a formal policy for the naming and renaming of public facilities.

A simple matter that can swiftly be handled before the Council proceeds to more important matters, yes? Not quite.

The attempt to create a naming process that updates the existing 1973 policy has been wending its way through various committees and commissions since December, 2000, when the Council asked the Parks & Recreation commission to develop a new proposal.

A detailed resolution made it to the commission in October, 2003. The Council took the commission’s recommendation and created a subcommittee. A 2005 memo from Mayor Tom Bates recommends the subcommittee “begin discussion of establishing a policy to name public facilities”.


And, at last, here we are, 12 years later. 

“It’s sort of funny that people thought it was so controversial,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington, a sponsor of the new policy, along with Mayor Bates and Councilmember Linda Maio. “Once Tom, Linda and I sat down, we were able to reach consensus pretty rapidly.”

The policy requires newly acquired or developed public facilities be named “immediately after acquisition or development to ensure appropriate public identity”. Under the policy, facilities can only be named for a living person with a two-thirds vote of the City Council. Further, the City “encourages the recognition of individuals for their service to the community in ways that include the naming of activities such as athletic events, cultural presentations, or annual festivals, which do not involve the naming or renaming of public facilities”.

There is a stated bias in the policy to long-standing names: “proper weight should be given to the fact that: a name lends a site or property authenticity and heritage; existing names are presumed to have historic significance; and historic names give a community a sense of place and identity, continuing through time, and increases the sense of neighborhood and belonging”.

Worthington said that part of the spur for action after such a long time was the death of Bill Lipsky, who had been instrumental in creating the “tot lot” in Willard Park. Many neighborhood people, he said, were talking about an appropriate way to commemorate Lipsky’s role.

“It helped motivate getting this moving along now,” Worthington said.