Supes to keep Francis Drake road name

03/10/2021

Sir Francis Drake Boulevard will keep its name in unincorporated Marin, but it may wind up with a second legal name or a ceremonial name, following a vote by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. 

Many residents have advocated for a new name for the county’s thoroughfare—one that would distance Marin from Sir Francis Drake and his ties to slavery and colonialism. Yet three of the four cities and towns that host the boulevard decided not to pursue the idea. Although supervisors voiced their support for a new name this week, they decided in a 4-to-1 vote to seek a consensus on a dual name from the jurisdictions. 

A second name would mean that residents could choose which they preferred, while a ceremonial name or historical designation wouldn’t apply to property addresses but could result in two separate street signs. 

Supervisors Katie Rice and Dennis Rodoni led the effort to respond to the calls for renaming, which arose from the racial justice movement that ignited in 2020. They recommended pursuing consensus around a dual name from a selection of four possible actions: keep the road name, legally rename it, give it a legal co-name and provide a historical designation or ceremonial name. The two supervisors recommended that the latter options be chosen together, giving them some flexibility with which to return to the cities and towns. 

They will now consult the other jurisdictions before the board makes a final decision on the road name in unincorporated Marin.

“My personal inclination is to rename the road—that’s where I started and that’s where I end personally, but I have a professional obligation as well: I’ve been elected to try to move this community and this county forward and I feel that this route will allow us to move forward without perpetuating divisiveness that doesn’t allow for open minds and open hearts,” Supervisor Rice said. “We have a lot of big things ahead of us.” 

Supervisor Rodoni listed several reasons for their recommendation. He said he had hoped from the start that whatever decision was made would be made for the entirety of the road, showing a unified position in Marin. He also acknowledged the pandemic’s burden on local businesses and said that any added costs associated with a name change were not ideal. And, like Supervisor Rice, he said the county needed to move on to other racial justice work. 

“For me, at the end of the day, the road changing became less important to me because of the process of the learning and the engagement that was taking place—an engagement that is just starting and a conversation that is just starting,” he said in his closing remarks. “It became very clear to me in this process that we must recognize the Miwok with a land acknowledgement and being inclusive to them. We must recognize the Black residents who weren’t allowed to buy property in most of Marin for decades. We must do all of those things by learning from our past and committing to improving our future with real actions, improving the lives of all residents. I think that dual naming will allow us to do that, resolving the renaming issue and allowing us to move on to maybe more important things.”

The vote was not unanimous: Supervisor Damon Connolly made it clear that he wished to throw out the current name entirely. Supervisors Judy Arnold and Stephanie Moulton-Peters both indicated that they would be in favor of a single new legal name, but ultimately voted in favor of the recommendation. 

Input from the public during Tuesday’s hearing was extensive and reflected all sides. Roughly a third of speakers supported keeping the current name, while the rest advocated for a change. Many described their hope for input from the Coast Miwok. Some who opposed a change asked for a ballot measure, but supervisors discarded the idea, saying it had the potential to deepen divisions and would also be the costliest route. 

Several members of the Coast Miwok Tribal Council of Marin spoke. “I want to remind those on the call that Sir Francis Drake Boulevard overlays an ancient Coast Miwok trail that was used by my ancestors for thousands and thousands of years,” council member Steve Sciallo said. “This is not just a street somewhere or a boulevard in some random place. That trail having that name on it is very offensive to us. The renaming of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard is not about erasing Marin County’s history or anybody’s history: It’s about honoring the first peoples of Marin County.”

Dean Hoaglin, the chair of the council, also commented. “I would ask the board and the communities of Marin County to consider what kind of history you want to continue with—what kind of legacy do you want to continue with? Is it one of oppression? One of supporters of genocide and systemic racism? Those are things to consider when we are talking about changing this name, which our council fully supports.”  

Several West Marin residents called for a name change.

Jennifer Golub, who lives in Inverness Park, appealed to supervisors for a legal renaming. “We have to do the right thing and I think the situation is unambiguous,” she said. “We have a ship captain who was part of abducting human beings into slavery from West Africa and, regardless of his other merits, this is something that stains our history and is a beautiful opportunity to celebrate any number of things—be it the natural beauty, be it indigenous tribal heritage.”

Ruby Clarke, a Point Reyes Station resident, said that taking the step to change the legal name as opposed to adding a second name was important to her. “We need to respect that our goal as a community in Marin is to move toward a more inclusive space, and if we aren’t willing to take the most bare, simple step of changing the name of the road, I’m frankly going to lose trust that we can do anything substantial,” she said.

The outreach conducted by Supervisors Rice and Rodoni has been extensive. Last summer, a listening session drew around 100 speakers, the majority of whom favored a new name. Later, the Marin County Free Library convened a panel featuring representatives from the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, historian Dewey Livingston and academic Dr. Jordan Lieser, who together teased out the historical significance of the boulevard. 

Meanwhile, Fairfax, San Anselmo, Ross and Larkspur agreed they would each tackle listening to their constituents independently. While representatives labored over the fate of the road name, a Larkspur sculpture was taken down and Sir Francis Drake High School was temporarily dubbed High School 1327 while it undergoes a renaming process. 

In West Marin, Supervisor Rodoni met with many local groups to gather input. Though initially he heard a lot of support for renaming, he said that over time more practical concerns arose.

A new name would change the addresses of 350 businesses and residences in unincorporated Marin, out of a total of 641 on the boulevard. If all jurisdictions had been in favor of a new name, the change would have cost the county $134,000. Property owners would make personal adaptations on their own.