After an outpouring of support for naming the new Menlo Park Community Campus after Onetta Harris, city commissioners agreed to recommend honoring the late Belle Haven resident and community activist to the City Council. An overwhelming majority of members of the Menlo Park Parks and Recreation and Library commissions supported the idea at a joint commission meeting Oct. 25.
Following a Sept. 18 meeting where most of over 100 comments sought for Onetta Harris to be honored at the new complex, a total of 34 residents spoke on Oct. 25, with 32 of them supporting putting 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. Many speakers were so passionate they went over their allotted 90 seconds of time.
Onetta Harris was a community activist in Belle Haven, and the former community center at 100 Terminal Ave. was named for her in a unanimous vote from the Menlo Park City Council, according to the Menlo Park Historical Association. The Onetta Harris Community Center was torn down to make way for the new Menlo Park Community Campus (MPCC) in the same location.
“Miss Harris's trend of activism should be highlighted and used to inspire everyone that walks in that building to build upon her legacy of leadership,” resident Taylor Barber said. “Onetta Harris was an important voice and a catalyst for positive change in Menlo Park, and Belle Haven specifically, for 30 years. Why would you want to erase that?”
Only two speakers suggested different names to the MPCC. Belle Haven resident Pam Jones suggested naming the complex the Belle Haven Multigenerational Campus in honor of the area, with a plaque inside documenting the naming process and all of the passion shown by residents.
“Belle Haven is the name that was used in the 1960 Civil Rights Movement when they were documenting the redlining,” Jones said. “Belle Haven is the name that's remembered. This land that we're on is Belle Haven … We have a lot of legacy here, a lot of people here that have done a lot. Belle Haven is what anchors us.”
A petition given to the joint commissions had 250 signatures in support of calling it the Onetta Harris Community Center, and residents told stories of their time at the old community center. Memories ranged from learning to swim and watching Bruce Lee movies to making life-long friendships.
“She lives through us,” David Harper said. “Her soul is here right now, her legacy is here right now, her spirit is here right now, so we are Onetta Harris. We will fight for her as she fought for us, and we are a reflection of her.”
Many public comment speakers brought up the erasure of Black history in the United States, with several pointing to new laws against teaching it in states like Florida. The speakers said that not having Onetta Harris’s name on the building would be an attack on local Black history in Belle Haven.
While comments were overwhelmingly supportive, one speaker and two commissioners argued that the campus shouldn’t be named after Harris since the entire original campus was never officially named for her, only a portion of it was. Despite that nuance, the name caught on and was used colloquially on everything from bus lines to official Menlo Park city communications.
One commissioner suggested that the center be called the Belle Haven Community Center, with one of the programs named after Harris, saying that the building is not a continuation of the former Onetta Harris Community Center, and it never officially had that name. One commissioner suggested naming it the Belle Haven Community Center, but renaming Terminal Avenue, the street it's on, after Onetta Harris.
The majority of commission members said they had heard no other name seriously proposed, and that calling it Onetta Harris could honor not only the late activist but also the community's fight to preserve the name.
The commissions submitted two recommended names for the building: Onetta Harris Community Campus and Onetta Harris Community Campus at Belle Haven. The five programs that will be housed at the complex have the suggested names of Belle Haven Pool, Belle Haven Branch Library, Belle Haven Community Center or Onetta Harris Community Center, Belle Haven Senior Center or Menlo Park Senior Center and Belle Haven Youth Center. There is also an option where the names of all five programs were left blank, in order to be named after significant community leaders.
The vote on the naming recommendation passed in a 10-2 vote with Library Commission Chair Vamsi Velagapudi and Parks and Recreation Commissioner Wonman Lee opposed. The Menlo Park City Council will make the final decision at a future date.