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After hours of public testimony and heated debate, transit officials voted 4-3 in favor of naming the new Muni Central Subway station in Chinatown after the late community activist and highly controversial San Francisco figure Rose Pak.

Attendees react after a speaker spoke against naming the Chinatown Central Subway station after the late Rose Pak during a hearing at the SFMTA board meeting at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, August 20, 2019. (Ching Wong/SFBay)
Ching Wong/SFBay

The Chinatown Rose Pak station came to be after years of attempts to make it so and years of arguments against the name from many in the community who saw Pak as a divisive force in life. Prior to the Tuesday vote, hundreds showed up to voice their objections yet again during public comment.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors literally split down the middle on the issue when they last took it up for a vote in June. The board, then with only six members, tied 3-3 with half in favor of the Pak name and half against. The same vote was taken again Tuesday night with the addition of newly appointed Director Steve Heminger, who now makes up the seventh member of board.

Ching Wong/SFBay SFMTA board director Steve Heminger, center, attends a hearing on the Chinatown Central Subway station’s naming issue at the board meeting at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, August 20, 2019. (Ching Wong/SFBay)

Directors Cheryl Brinkman, Amanda Eaken and Cristina Rubke again voted in dissent, preferring the name be kept to Chinatown station. Heminger broke the tie by casting his vote in line with directors Malcolm Heinicke, Gwyneth Borden and Art Torres to approve the Chinatown Rose Pak station name.

Heminger recognized Tuesday night that Pak was indeed a divisive figure in life and continues to be even after her death in 2016, but the director said:

“I don’t think divisiveness is disqualifying from civic recognition. If that were the standard, we’d have to tear down half of the street signs in San Francisco.”

Ching Wong/SFBay Demonstrators rally against naming the Chinatown Central Subway station after the late Rose Pak at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, August 20, 2019. (Ching Wong/SFBay)

He added that the Board of Supervisors approved a resolution urging the SFMTA to name the station after Pak and believed it was a reasonable request.

Eaken argued that the board should stick to its policy of strictly naming transit stations after geographical locations. The board adopted the naming policy in 2016, after the first proposal to name the station after Pak was introduced.

The policy does allow for commemorative plaques and certain portions of stations to be named after historically important people. Eaken expressed that she supported Pak being honored in one of those two ways but did not believe the station as a whole should bear her name.

The meeting was a packed house with a large number of objectors lined up outside City Hall for hours waiting for a chance to speak. However, not all in attendance shared the same view.

Ching Wong/SFBay Former Supervisor Jane Kim speaks to favor naming the Chinatown Central Subway station after the late Rose Pak during a hearing at the SFMTA board meeting at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, August 20, 2019. (Ching Wong/SFBay)

City officials, including Supervisor Sandra Fewer and former Supervisor Jane Kim, and a few Chinatown community organizations came out in support of the Pak station name, citing her work in life as instrumental in bringing the Central Subway to Chinatown. Pak took up the cause after the Embarcadero Freeway was demolished due to the heavy damage it sustained during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The freeway once served as a gateway to communities like Chinatown and North Beach.

Cindy Wu, deputy director of the Chinatown Community Development Center who first worked with Pak to build support for the Central Subway Project, said Pak was committed to the project’s success despite criticism — some calling the project “the subway to nowhere.”

Wu said:

“Rose wouldn’t stand for that. To fight for Chinatown was to be seen, to be loud, and to be passionate. Rose saw a vision for a subway to connect visitors to Chinatown neighborhood and connect Chinatown workers to the jobs in The City and region.”

Ching Wong/SFBay SFMTA board director Malcolm Heinicke attends a hearing on the Chinatown Central Subway station’s naming issue at the board meeting at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, August 20, 2019. (Ching Wong/SFBay)

However, critics of the legendary Chinatown activist allege she bullied people in the community to get her way.

Eva Lee, an advisor to the Chinatown Merchants Association, said the SFMTA should adhere to the geographical naming policy in light of the contention surrounding the Pak name proposal.

Lee said:

“We want a name that has 100 percent support from the community.”

Retired Judge Quentin Kopp went as far as saying that reputations would be stained for SFMTA board members who voted in favor of naming the station after Pak. Of the hundreds who lined up to speak, some called her disrespectful and other hailed her as a symbol of Chinatown. Opponents, who submitted a 16,000-signature petition, accused the other side of paying people $25 to show up at meeting in support.

Ching Wong/SFBay People line up to attend a hearing on the Chinatown Central Subway station’s naming issue at the SFMTA board meeting at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, August 20, 2019. (Ching Wong/SFBay)

The debate may not be over for opponents who are looking at a possible ballot measure to take the issue directly to The City’s voters, Lee said.

It was nearly six hours of emotional public speakers, accusations, appreciation and condemnation. In the end, one thing is without question: Rose Pak can still stir up a crowd.

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