Milpitas residents might have to add something new to their shared vocabulary: Barack Obama Boulevard.
In a 3-2 vote, the city council passed a motion to rename Dixon Landing Road to Barack Obama Boulevard in honor of the former U.S. president.
Councilmembers Bob Nuñez and Anthony Phan, who both introduced the proposal, were joined by Vice Mayor Karina Dominguez in voting yes on the name change. Councilmember Carmen Montano and Mayor Rich Tran opposed it.
According to Nuñez, the renamed portion in his proposal would stretch from the exit off Interstate 880 to the area near Millmont Drive. The official length of the renamed road has yet to be determined.
The city council agenda stated the significance of a proposed name change, as the currently-named Dixon Landing Road leads into the Sunnyhills neighborhood, one of the first integrated neighborhoods in the country, according to the council agenda.
But Tran, who has made public his support for Obama, also pointed out what was on Dixon Landing on the side opposite of Sunnyhills: The Newby Island Landfill.
“You’re going to name an exit off the freeway that leads to the largest landfill in Silicon Valley after one of our most honorable presidents,” Tran said incredulously. “The road that leads to a landfill,” he repeated.
The Newby Island Landfill, which lies just outside city limits, has been among one of several factors that contribute to the foul odor in Milpitas. Regulating the constant smell (to say nothing of the accompanying ridicule) has been a priority for many Milpitas mayors, including Tran himself.
Nuñez, the former chair of the Santa Clara Republican Party, didn’t seem to mind.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s next to a 7-Eleven,” he said, before adding that a Barack Obama Boulevard would give “a larger presence” to Milpitas. “It’s an indicator to persons outside of Silicon Valley that Milpitas is an international hub.”
“This isn’t about politics,” said Phan. “Otherwise my colleague wouldn’t even be supporting this,” he added, referring to Nuñez.
Another point of contention among the five leaders was a desire to honor and promote leaders from Milpitas. The creation of the Sunnyhills neighborhood was championed by the city’s first black mayor, Ben Gross. Some in the room, including Montano, Phan, and Tran, were concerned that an Obama Boulevard would overshadow local achievements.
At one point, Tran asked rhetorically who between Gross and Obama had made a bigger impact on Milpitas.
Milpitas resident Rev. Jethro Moore, the president of the Silicon Valley chapter of the NAACP, was in attendance and publicly supported the change as he stood for public comment, pointing to the ethnic diversity of the city.
Another resident commented that she opposed the name change, offering the names of other leaders of color. She cited Obama’s highly-criticized record of mass deportations during his administration.
An informal, non-binding poll by Tran on his Facebook page showed residents were overwhelmingly against the name change, with many citing cost as a significant factor.
After a couple of false starts on a roll call vote, wherein Tran chided Phan for momentarily holding up the procedure, Dominguez interrupted, and scolded the mayor for “bullying” and being “unprofessional.”
A visibly flustered Tran then resumed the vote after briefly hanging his head. The motion passed 3-2.
“To me, this is sad,” Montano said immediately after the vote. “I grew up in that neighborhood [Sunnyhills] and I have a lot of memories there like a lot of people who grew up in that neighborhood.”
The next steps will fall to the city manager’s office, where Interim City Manager Steve McHarris will look into issues such as cost and traffic concerns related to implementing the council’s decision.
“This is going to make news,” said Tran at the dais. “The president is going to tweet about it. I’m not ready for Milpitas to be a joke.”