Opinions on the SW 4th Name Change

The news that the Portland City Council is considering renaming Southwest Fourth Avenue after Cesar Chavez, rather than Interstate Avenue, has immediately sparked a firestorm of debate in the blogosphere. Ben at Witigonen states his support for the proposal:

I think this is a fantastic idea. I've always been a supporter of renaming a street after the late labor leader, although I was open to hearing the concerns from the interests that represent parts of Interstate. So, when Randy Leonard and the four other Commissioners decided that they had the votes to move forward (with or without the support of Mayor Potter), I was pleased.

Instead of sending the name change out into the wilds of the city, why not let it hit close to home? What better way to honor Chavez (in a renaming process, mind you) than put it right on Council's doorstep?

People did indeed work hard to gain consensus at renaming Interstate. But the plan was falling apart and people just couldn't pull the trigger without worry, so instead we have this last-minute brainstorm.

The process isn't over, not by a longshot. The article admits there is still loads of time before a vote. I'm sure we haven't heard the last of this situation.

City Council candidate Amanda Fritz is less than pleased with the process leading up to the possible change:

For crying out loud, City Council! Announcing you have four votes for a proposal announced in the newspaper this morning (but not at a meeting last night... showing again who is inside the circle of power here in Portland, and who is not) is still more contempt for public process. Now, you expect everyone living or doing business on SW 4th to drop everything to attend City Hall this afternoon, in the faint hope their opinion might matter? SW 4th wasn't even on the list of five being proposed for consideration in the compromise on the table this afternoon.

Renaming SW 4th has the merit of changing the address of City Hall, the Development Services building at 1900 SW 4th, and the new PSU Engineering building adjacent to it, which would honor the hero's name. It's less obvious whether having the County Courthouse address linked with Chàvez is a neat association desirable to foster. And what about the small businesses on 4th? Shouldn't the latest suggestion be reviewed thoughtfully, instead of with less than twelve hours' notice?

If this is a proposal three or more members of the Council want considered, the Council should announce a time certain hearing in four weeks to discuss and vote on it. Or do I hear any advance on SW 4th Avenue? Going once, going twice... hey, there are still several hours until the agenda item is called at 3 p.m.! Public process in Portland has apparently degenerated to a point that seems more like the end of a football game in overtime, than a reasoned, civilized, adult discussion.

Meanwhile, blogger Isaac Laquedem echoes Fritz's call for a more formal process for renaming the street:

Here's what I suggest the Council does this afternoon: State that it is willing to rename SW/NW Fourth Avenue to be SW/NW Cesar Chavez Avenue, if the proponents gather the 2500 signatures of Portland residents as required by code and obtain a letter in support from some member of Mr. Chavez's family. (The proponents of renaming should be able to do both of these easily.) The Council could commit the City to paying the cost of sending out the notifications. The Council would take the other steps required by Chapter 17.93 of the Portland city code: convene the historic review committee, which will easily find that Mr. Chavez was a person of national signficance; hold the appropriate public hearing, and approve the renaming.

Why should the Council do this the long way (what we used to call the "legal way") instead of simply renaming Fourth Avenue today and being done with it? Because sometime -- next year, the year after, certainly within Mayor-elect-apparent Adams's first term -- someone else is going to ask Council to rename a street, and it's a lot easier for the Council to tell the next group to follow the rules if the Council follows the rules itself.

Comment at the various blogs. Even better: speak up at a City Council meeting discussing the proposal starting at 2pm this afternoon (the change itself is on the agenda for 3pm).


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