Process to rename Downtown Berkeley street delayed

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The Berkeley City Council unanimously voted at its meeting Tuesday night to delay changing the name of Downtown Berkeley street Harold Way to Dharma Way.

After hearing concerns about the renaming process from a community member, the council referred the item to the city’s Public Works Commission for further review before deciding whether to adopt the resolution.

“The renaming of a public street is not to be done lightly,” said Steven Finacom, board member of the Berkeley Historical Society, at the meeting. “It’s part of the public patrimony. It deserves discussion, not simply action … there’s no need to rush it.”

In April 2011, the Tibetan Nyingma Meditation Center — a non-profit organization that seeks to preserve Tibetan Buddhist culture and also owns three properties on the west side of Harold Way — contacted the city in hopes of changing the street name to Dharma Way.

The center began the street renaming process by gathering signatures from more than half the residents on the street favoring the change. It spent about a year going through the process with the council and writing a $800 check for expenses.

One of the concerns for Councilmember Linda Maio was the idea of “using a religious term for a civic entity.” Dharma is a Sanskrit term for the truth, reality and the natural order of things.

However, Curtis Caton, co-director of Dharma College — one of the three properties owned by the center — believes that the name change is consistent with Berkeley’s values as a diverse city.

“It’s not a sense of entitlement that brings us here … we’re talking about cultural contributions,” Caton said.

Daphne Chen covers city government.