Judging by the more than 100 comments at a recent meeting, there appears to be overwhelming support for naming the new Menlo Park Community Campus after Belle Haven resident Onetta Harris.
A joint meeting of Menlo Park's Library Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission discussed keeping the Onetta Harris name on the new community campus, which is still under construction in the city's Belle Haven neighborhood, east of U.S. Highway 101.
Belle Haven’s former community center, torn down to make way for the new community campus, was named for late resident Onetta Harris who was an activist and involved community member, according to the Menlo Park Historical Association. The Menlo Park City Council unanimously voted to rename the Belle Haven Community Center at 100 Terminal Ave. the ‘Onetta Harris Community Center’ in July 1983.
The new Menlo Park Community Campus (MPCC) is soon to be completed, according to the city’s project website, and was funded largely by Meta, formerly known as Facebook.
The commissions are considering dedicating the building to Meta Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. At a Sept. 18 meeting, 71 residents spoke, and many sent written comments, largely to support keeping Onetta Harris’ name on the building. Between public speakers and write-ins, it totaled over 100 comments.
The commissioners addressed what they said were some common misconceptions, saying that the city, not Meta, holds the naming rights; Meta has no hand in the naming process; and that city officials never promised not to change the name from Onetta Harris.
At the crux of the fight for Harris's name, however, is not just one woman's legacy. Belle Haven residents said that they are fighting for the community they know and a history that is often forgotten.
“No matter how many times you can tear that building down, build another one … Onetta Harris’ legacy should always be up, front and center on the building,” resident Darrell Barbour said.
Several comments at the meeting mentioned a perceived gentrification of Belle Haven, as well as an erasure of Black history, not just in Menlo Park but throughout the United States. To the speakers, the name of the MPCC is a way to preserve the community’s history, despite demographic changes, for future generations.
Belle Haven resident Rose Bickerstaff, who opposes naming the building after Harris, said it would not be erasure to name the building after Zuckerberg.
“Maybe we can find common ground,” Bickerstaff said. “It isn't always getting your name on the building. There are other things that you can do to honor your loved ones.”
Menlo Park Housing Commission Vice Chair Adriana Walker spoke on behalf of keeping Harris’ name on the MPCC, saying that her husband’s family has been in Belle Haven for generations and knew the Harris family. According to Walker, he says that it’s hard to even look at the MPCC building without it bearing her name.
“What does it hurt to keep a name on a building, especially of one who holds great value, whose name still rings, and registers with, and resonates with residents?” Walker said.
According to the commissioners, they are considering suggesting either Mark Zuckerberg and Onetta Harris for the name of the building. The Library Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission is recommending up to three potential names and dedications for the MPCC, as well as three for each of the five programs within the facility: the library, the senior center, the youth center, the aquatics center and the recreation center.
The decision of the commissions will be sent as a recommendation to the City Council for a final decision at a meeting later this fall.
The Library Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission will discuss its recommendation at another joint meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 25. Written comments may be emailed to email@example.com.