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SoMa street may be renamed Jeff Adachi Way

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Departed defender frequented Gilbert Street just outside his former office

Late Public Defender Jeff Adachi with demonstrators at the SF Hall of Justice in 2014.
Late Public Defender Jeff Adachi with demonstrators at the SF Hall of Justice in 2014.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

When longtime San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi died unexpectedly in February, it triggered shock, sadness, and, most recently, controversy, as police raided the home of a freelance reporter who obtained previously undisclosed information about Adachi’s death.

A more quiet but possibly longer-lasting consequence might be the renaming of a SoMa street near the Public Defender’s Office. On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to clear the way for Gilbert Street to become Jeff Adachi Way.

Gilbert Street is a short (less than 1,000 feet) byway between Bryant and Brannan and parallel to Sixth and Seventh, located across from the Hall of Justice. According to the measure authored by Supervisor Matt Haney, who proposed the name change, he selected Gilbert because Adachi frequented that street for decades:

The Public Defender hired Jeff Adachi in 1987 as a Deputy Public Defender, and beginning in 1987 until February 22, 2019, Jeff Adachi walked from the Public Defender’s Office back entrance door, out to Gilbert Street to get to the criminal courthouse located at 850 Bryant Street. [...] Adachi used Gilbert Street as his thoroughfare to get to the criminal courthouse but also as a place to chat with lawyers who were coming back from court that day.

At a meeting of the city’s Land Use and Transportation Committee on May 6, Haney said that members of the Public Defender’s Office proposed renaming a street in honor of Adachi. Haney took up the cause to “enshrine his legacy.”

“He was an extraordinary person, he cared about others fought for others, he was truly one of our city’s heroes,” said Haney of Adachi at the committee hearing.

The three-person committee passed the change unanimously, and the full board voted in favor of it Tuesday.

However, that’s only the start of a longer and more complicated road toward rechristening the road. In the coming week, the San Francisco Department of Public Works will contact Gilbert Street residents—the street has 74 active addresses—to inform them of the city’s intent, and give them the chance to either object or support the change.

Once that process is done, the board will consider public feedback and make a final decision. Under city law, street signs would display the new name but also the old name in smaller lettering underneath it, to help mitigate potential confusion.

Signs are supposed to ditch the old name entirely after five years, but signage bearing the imprimatur of long-vanished streets are still visible on some San Francisco corners decades later.

Adachi was first elected public defender in 2002. His obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle declared him “a renowned advocate for the accused and an outspoken watchdog on police misconduct.”

Gilbert Street is named after Edward Gilbert, whom the Media Museum of Northern California identifies as a newspaper owner and editor in the years before and during the Gold Rush.

During his time as lieutenant in the Army, Gilbert conducted one of the earliest censuses of San Francisco in 1847—there were 459 residents.