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Friday, January 12, 2018

San Leandro moves closer to honoring first African American councilmember

Surlene Grant served 10 years on the San
Leandro City Council.
SAN LEANDRO CITY COUNCIL
A number of buildings, overpasses and even sports facilities in San Leandro have been named after local historical figures. A city building is named after Helen Lawrence, long-ago the first female of San Leandro. An overpass is named after former Mayor Jack Maltester, likely the city's most prominent elected official ever; and a well-used library meeting room is named after another mayor, Dave Karp, who passed away while in office.

Now, San Leandro, which only within the past two decades, has transformed itself from a historically white-only East Bay enclave a generation ago to one of the most diverse in the country, is continuing a discussion over how it can honor Surlene Grant, the city's first African American ever to sit on the San Leandro City Council.

Grant was first appointed to the City Council 1998 to finish the council term of Shelia Young, who was elected mayor that year. Grant later ran and won the District 2 seat outright in 2000 and was re-elected in 2004. According to the city, Grant is also the first person of non-European heritage to serve on the council.

During her 10 years on the City Council, Grant helped pass the city's inclusionary housing ordinance, a local purchasing policy, founded the African American Business Council, and the South Area Development Plan. After being termed out of office, Grant has served on the San Leandro Redevelopment Successor Agency Oversight Board since 2012 and sits on the San Leandro Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.

Discussions over naming a city structure after Grant have been on-going for more than a year and moved to the city-level last September when the City Council's Rules Committee issued some guidance. The matter was taken up last November by the city's Library Historical Commission with support coalescing around naming a community room within the Helen Lawrence South Offices on East 14th Street, which is slated to begin construction in 2019.

The idea of naming a meeting room in her honor, say supporters, matches Grant's consistent pledge during her council terms and after to bring people together and facilitate conversation within the community.

San Leandro's administrative code offers general guidelines for naming structures after residents. As it pertains to elected officials, a recommendation the individuals has performed duties and function above and beyond their officials baseline duties, along with a reasonable connection between the individual and the place or structure being named after them.

An alternate proposal includes naming the East 14th Street Triangle after Grant. The property resides in Grant's former council district, but a specific plan for the area is not yet finalized and may not be for some time.

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