The Times podcast: The fight over Squaw Valley’s name
The battle over Squaw Valley calls to mind another battle. In 2005, San Francisco’s city council debated a proposal to change the name of a small beach town in California from Squaw Island to “Pacific Beach” in order to avoid confusion with the nearby San Francisco Peninsula.
The name “Squaw Island” was chosen in the 1930s by a Native American tribe during a conflict with the U.S. government over control of the land, which was formerly inhabited by the Tule and Chinpah tribes. The tribe’s name was first used during the California Indian Wars as “Island of the Squaws,” a Native American term for a beach location where their people gathered to hunt sea lions and to live on shellfish.
In the 1920s, the residents of Pacific Beach, which would later be named Squaw Valley, fought the city’s proposal to change its name. The group was led by a lawyer with the Pacific Beach-Pacifica’s Association who argued that the town had been founded by residents for a specific reason: to avoid the government’s plans to rename the San Francisco Peninsula.
“Many years ago,” he said at the time, “the residents of the Pacific Beach area voted to retain the name ‘Pacific Beach’ and avoid the fate of the name ‘San Francisco Peninsula.’ It was a decision based on the good sense that would avoid the necessity of creating a place that would have to be changed under the auspices of a lawsuit or administrative order.”
City Hall countered that, despite the name, the town, including the beach and its small casino, was more than just a name. It was a “unique and popular social and recreational center in the East Bay region of Northern California, and the Bay Area.”
The decision to rename the town would mean the end of more than a century of legal protections for all businesses in the area, which was already starting to become a resort destination.
The proposal to remove the name was quickly voted down, 5-2, with Councilmember Ruth Gallego and Councilmember Dan Logue opposed to