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

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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.