Wiping Lech Walesa off San Francisco’s map would require a feat of democratic solidarity 

Polish politician Lech Walesa’s anti-gay remarks have spurred calls to take his name off a street near City Hall. - S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • S.F. Examiner File Photo
  • Polish politician Lech Walesa’s anti-gay remarks have spurred calls to take his name off a street near City Hall.

Come Tuesday, Jane Kim’s staff pledges, the District 6 supervisor will introduce a resolution to change the name of Lech Walesa Street. Come Wednesday, however, Walesa’s name will still grace street signs — and shall for many Wednesdays to come.

Changing a street name is much like accomplishing anything else in San Francisco — exhausting. City policy calls for input from up to five departments — Public Works, Planning, Police, Fire and Building Inspection — and multiple actions from the Board of Supervisors. Additional bodies would be involved if Lech Walesa Street were on Port of San Francisco, park, Presidio or state highway land, or a university campus.

In a 10-paragraph policy, eight sections of four city and state codes are cited.

Kim’s move comes 27 years after The City honored the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize winner and Polish politician by renaming Ivy Street near City Hall in his honor. On March 1, however, Walesa made strident comments during a television interview, claiming that LGBT members of Poland’s parliament should be sequestered “behind a wall.”

Per state code, the heavy lifting required to wipe Walesa off the map rests with the board, which “may initiate a resolution” to that effect. This resolution is relayed from the board clerk to Public Works to the chief surveyor for “review and investigation.” Public Works conducts its own study alongside the surveyor, and both report back to the board’s Housing and Neighborhood Services Committee, which can then send the resolution to the full board.

Should the board approve the name change — with the blessing of the mayor or by overriding his veto — the new street name will be forwarded back to the chief surveyor for “inclusion within the Official Map of the City.” This map is “updated on a somewhat irregular basis,” as most folks with streets named after them are either dead or refrain from making bigoted statements on television.

Kim has stated a leading street name candidate is Dr. Tom Waddell, the gay activist and 1968 Olympic decathlete who founded the Gay Olympic Games in San Francisco. The Tom Waddell Health Center is located at 50 Lech Walesa St.; ironically, considering Walesa’s comments, the center hosts a transgender clinic.

Waddell, who died of AIDS in 1987, was personally and financially devastated when the U.S. Olympic Committee successfully sued him over use of the term “Olympic.” The USOC’s lead attorney in that case — who went so far as to place a lien on the dying Waddell’s home — was subsequently appointed to the federal bench, despite opposition from Rep. Nancy Pelosi and others due to “insensitivity” to the gay community. That appointee was Vaughn Walker, who in 2010 handed down the groundbreaking ruling overturning Proposition 8, the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

Regardless of what the street in question will be renamed if Kim’s move is successful, The City will have Lech Walesa’s name on the wall for a long while to come. Per Section 701 of the Public Works Code, “Once the street name has been officially changed, the street signs must contain both names for a 5-year period.”


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