BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
Menlo Park City Council, in a snub to supporters and relatives of local icon Onetta Harris, has decided to put a generic name on a new community center under construction on the east side.
For years, the buildings at 100 Terminal Ave. — which included a youth center, senior center, pool and community center — were referred to as the Onetta Harris community center, even though her name was only on the community center’s building. SamTrans buses that run through the area declared the center as “Onetta Harris.”
Harris died in 1982 at age 57.
Meta, Facebook’s parent company, is funding the construction of the new community center at 100 Terminal Ave.
The new building will combine the community center, senior center, Belle Haven Youth Center, Belle Haven Library and Belle Haven pool.
But the council voted 4-1, with Councilwoman Maria Doerr dissenting, to name the community center after the name of the neighborhood, Belle Haven.
Vice Mayor Cecilia Taylor, who represents the Belle Haven neighborhood, and Councilwoman Betsy Nash, said they should’t name the entire community center after Onetta Harris, instead just keep her name on the recreation center portion of the new complex.
Taylor said that this project is not about one person, or one name, this is about a community that has not always felt included by the rest of the city.
The Belle Haven neighborhood is where the majority of the city’s black population lives and is physically separated from the rest of the city by Highway 101. Taylor is the first person from Belle Haven to be elected to City Council since Billy Ray White was elected in 1978.
Onetta Harris was a community volunteer who helped create many programs not only at the center at 100 Terminal Ave. but in both Belle Haven and East Palo Alto.
Many members of Harris’ family spoke before council, with one calling Harris a “community icon.”
That speaker, who signed in as Claudia LL, said kids in the community didn’t have an opportunity to excel due to safety issues such as crime and drugs in the neighborhood. But through programs at the Onetta Harris Community Center and the Harris family, children were able to have a bright future, she said.
Greg Goodwin said the community center under Harris was an oasis for children because people respected Harris and didn’t bring problems to the community center.
All of the commenters at Tuesday’s council meeting were in favor of keeping Onetta Harris’ name on the building in some fashion.
Before Tuesday’s meeting, hearings on the name issue were held by a council committee made up of Nash and Taylor and another panel, the Parks and Recreation and Library commission.
The Parks and Rec and Library commissions voted to recommend the council name the entire building after Harris.
Meanwhile, Nash and Taylor recommended calling the complex the Belle Haven Community Center.
Mayor Jen Wolosin said it seemed like there was a dual track since the council committee and the two commissions came up with differing recommendations.
Councilwoman Doerr was the lone no vote Tuesday, favoring placing Onetta Harris’ name on the building. Doerr said having a single name on signs across town would be “powerful” and could lead people who might never go to the new community center to look up who was Onetta Harris. In the process, they would learn about Belle Haven’s history.
Nash and Taylor also requested having a documentary made about Belle Haven and its history. They also want to have a display about various community leaders from Belle Haven, including Onetta Harris.