BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
Menlo Park City Council has been hit with a lawsuit over its decision to essentially drop Onetta Harris’ name from the soon-to-be-expanded east side community center.
The lawsuit filed by resident Joseph Johnson Jr., acting as his own attorney, claims council members took a 15-minute break before voting on the name when they were convinced to vote for what Councilwoman Cecilia Taylor wanted — not to put Harris’ name on the complex and name it the Belle Haven Community Center. Harris’ name went on the recreation center portion of the new complex. The council voted 4-1 at the Nov. 14 meeting, with Maria Doerr dissenting.
Harris was a community volunteer who died in 1982 at age 57. After her death, the council named the community center after her.
Johnson claims in his lawsuit that some of the council, particularly Taylor, who represents the Belle Haven neighborhood, had their minds made up when they entered the room that night and influenced other council members to vote their way.
Johnson doesn’t give examples as to how other council members were convinced to vote for the Belle Haven name but says some unnamed witnesses will testify at trial over what was said during the 15-minute break.
Johnson calls Harris “the personification of love” and especially loved her community.
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 who spoke before council said Harris created a safe space for children and teenagers in a community that wasn’t always safe.
Johnson asks that the judge negate the council’s vote on the community center name. Johnson had also emailed city officials requesting a new hearing occur. City Attorney Nira Doherty responded by explaining to Johnson that only a council member who may want to change their vote could have requested a reconsideration within a certain period. Doherty told Johnson he is always welcome to speak at City Council meetings about the issue during public comment.
The city has not responded to the San Mateo County Superior Court lawsuit in court yet, but the council met in closed session last night. City Attorney Nira Doherty announced afterward that the council took no “reportable action” during its closed-door meeting.