West-side road to be renamed for former Congressman John Burton

By Michael Soncuya

San Francisco is a city of names - Geary Boulevard, Balboa Street, Cesar Chavez Street, Polk Street - but later this month, San Francisco will add to its long list of streets that are named for well-known historical figures - the John Burton Boulevard.

Sloat Boulevard, a two-mile stretch of road that is a portion of Highway 35, starts at the foot of St. Francis Wood and runs west to the Great Highway. It will be renamed the John Burton Highway. The road to the renaming began way back on Sept. 10, 2012, when then-Assembly­woman Fiona Ma introduced legislation to rename Sloat Boulevard in honor of Burton.

California Sen. John Burton served as chairman of the California Democratic Party twice, once in 1973-74 and again in 2009; he also served the Democratic Party by acting as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1968, 1972, 1976 and 1980. He began his political career as a Deputy Attorney General, served as president of the Young Democrats, and won election to the County Central Committee. He then served as a state Assembly member, president of the California Democratic Council, chair of the California Democratic Party, U.S. Congress member and as president pro tem of the California Senate. Burton based his legislative career in the realms of environmental, labor and human rights organizations.

His numerous and varied legislation includes: establishing landmark farm mediation for farm workers and the UFW; achieving DNA testing to free the wrongly convicted and help identify guilty parties; secured prevailing wage rates for construction and building trades; and restored the 8-hour work day.

He also widened the scope of the Cal Grant program - a state-funded educational opportunity grant program to assist students in paying for a college education, and he led the effort in the state Senate to pass the nation's first law requiring automakers to reduce greenhouse gas pollution from cars; increased aid for the elderly, blind and disabled; facilitated an agreement to save the Headwaters Forest Preserve and Farallones Marine Sanctuary; prohibited offshore oil drilling along the Point Reyes seashore; and enacted historic levels of support for mental health and juvenile crime prevention programs.

He overhauled the state's flawed child support collection system; increased affordable housing; helped fight homelessness with a $2.1 billion bond issue; set tough campaign contribution limits; and increased public disclosure of contributions.

He is known for championing a wide range of legislative measures including, but not limited to, legislation to strengthen occupational safety, protect women and children from domestic violence, provide affordable infant and child care, and protect the environment. The magazine "California Journal" said about Burton's departure from the state Senate in 2005: "Gone will be the Senate's most vehement partisan for social services for the poor, the Senate's angriest voice against tax breaks for businesses and the wealthy, its loudest voice for protection of workers, its fiercest pro-labor advocate and its disciplinarian."

Sen. Burton founded and serves as the volunteer chair of the John Burton Foundation for Children Without Homes, a non-profit organization based in San Francisco working throughout California to improve the quality of life for California's foster, former foster and homeless children. He is dedicated to addressing broad changes in the child welfare system relating to foster care.

The renaming of Sloat Boulevard was put forth because Burton has a childhood home at 8 Sloat Blvd. A native San Franciscan, Burton attended San Francisco State University and received his BA degree in social science in 1954. He received his law degree at San Francisco School of Law.

Sloat Boulevard - named after Commodore John Drake Sloat - is a stretch of road that has Stern Grove park, the San Francisco Zoo and the location of the famous San Franciscan institution (but now defunct) Doggie Diner. Ironically, while a member of the Transportation Committee Burton routinely voted against naming bills like the one honoring him, and as leader of the Senate placed a moratorium on such measures.