Berkeley City Council approves petition to rename Ashby BART station after activist Mable Howard

Reni De La Nuez/Staff

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Berkeley City Council has unanimously approved a petition to rename the Ashby BART station after local Black activist Mable Howard.

Mable Howard, as described by her daughter, Mildred Howard, was a leading community organizer who successfully launched a lawsuit against BART in 1968 to stop construction of an above-ground train. The train would have disrupted many small local businesses — “banks, hardware stores, a shoe store, an appliance store,” said Mildred Howard — and divided white communities and communities of color across the tracks.

The petition was created by Berkeley-based filmmaker Pam Uzzell on the crowdsourcing website, where it had garnered 673 signatures as of press time.

“She said she did not want a Berlin Wall in South Berkeley,” Mildred Howard said. “She approached the City Council member. … She acquired a lawyer. They stopped BART for nine months. She was 63 and she did it.”

According to Uzzell, 80 percent of Berkeley citizens had voted to tax themselves to move the tracks underground. BART had decided to place the train above ground regardless, added Uzzell.

Councilmember Ben Bartlett said the city is currently preparing a petition to the BART board of directors, from which point the city and BART will be able to enter into negotiations regarding approval of name change, feasibility and cost.

This effort, if successful, would mark a first in BART history. According to BART spokesperson James Allison, there is currently no precedent for a BART station name change based on public advocacy. The process to do so mandates three stages of review, an application deposit payment and, if the petition is approved, the coverage of all associated costs by the petitioner.

The cost for changing a station name, owing primarily to signage alteration and labor, is estimated to total $479,000, according to a 2017 BART memo on station name changes. The framework of name-change guidelines was developed after an unsuccessful community effort in 2004 to change the name of the Pleasant Hill station, which is now called Pleasant Hill/Contra Costa Centre.

Bartlett said the city of Berkeley hopes to enter negotiations with BART staff and the BART board regarding the coverage of the costs. On whether the city’s petition is likely to persuade the BART board of directors, Allison declined to give an answer.

Allison also said all current station designations, including a recent board ruling regarding the Warm Springs/South Fremont station, feature geographic indicators as a practical guide to the passenger.

“It’s about time that we had more things named after women and women of color,” Mildred Howard said. “Black women for years had been in the shadow, and it’s just time now that they come to the forefront. And not just for a minute, but to be there. What better place for it to happen than the East Bay?”

Contact Anna Ho at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anna_j_ho.

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  • BillStewart2017

    Dear Berkeley City Council: Please don’t do this. Yes, Ms. Howard did valuable work. Maybe name the plaza out front after her, or as somebody else suggested, one of the streets, or put up a statue or something. But the name of the station reflects where it is, and what street it’s on, and tells anybody in the Bay Area who’s trying to get to Berkeley or Oakland whether they’re going to the right place or not.
    If you want to rename the station, rename the entire street, from the hills to the freeway, like you renamed Grove St. to Martin Luther King.

  • Sherry

    Ms. Howard can be acknowledged and congratulated—maybe with a plaque. But all stations should be named with their geographic location, as they are currently. Naming this one after Ms. Howard would establish a precedent (an expensive one, at that) that would doubtless result in a flurry of proposals to name other stations after local fine citizens (and competitions regarding just who that should be….) Thank you, Ms. Howard, but let’s not continue this.

  • berk_res

    Leconte Station?

  • That Guy

    So her “achievement” was to delay the BART station by 9 months?

    • James Fish

      Maybe give this a read:

      Without her effort, there could very well be aboveground tracks cutting up South Berkeley. Somebody was trying to be cheap and Mable (and others) put their feet down and made sure things were done the right way.

      • That Guy

        Thank you. It was not clear from the article.

  • Braun Baer

    Transit stations should bear the name of their location. This proposal is dumb and I hope it fails.

    • James Fish

      I disagree. This seems to be a unique situation where the renaming is fitting. I’m also not against a middle ground.

      Mable Howard St / Ashby Ave Station ?

      Perhaps Berkeley could consider changing the name of one of the small streets near the station to Mable Howard St, perhaps Otis St? It is near by and small. That would work around the location issue and honor Mrs. Howard even more.