Hours before the November 15 city council meeting on whether or not to rename Interstate Avenue for César E. Chávez, the latest twist in the months-old saga emerged: Late the night before, Portland's four city commissioners had crafted a compromise idea to rename Fourth Avenue—city hall's address—for Chávez. They tried to bring Interstate stalwart Mayor Tom Potter on board, but he called the Oregonian instead—breaking the news to Fourth Avenue residents and businesses as well as Interstate rename supporters, and cranking up the drama on an already tense issue.
By the time the meeting rolled around, there were several items on the agenda people could testify about: There was Potter's pair of items, a resolution declaring the city's intent to rename Interstate, and the ordinance to actually set the rename in motion. Commissioners Randy Leonard and Sam Adams still had a resolution calling for additional process to determine the best street to rename for Chávez. And, thanks to the last-minute negotiations, Commissioner Dan Saltzman had a substitute resolution in his back pocket—one that would supplant the mayor's Interstate resolution with one declaring Fourth Avenue as the council's preferred option.
Several hours later—following testimony from over 80 people—the council had decisions to make. But now Commissioner Erik Sten, the originator of the Fourth Avenue idea, was wavering; testimony from members of the Chávez rename committee, and from their supporters—most urged the council to simply affirm the committee's choice of Interstate—had swayed him back into the Interstate camp.
Three other commissioners, however—Saltzman, Leonard, and Adams—elected to swap out Potter's Interstate resolution and replace it with the Fourth Avenue one, despite Potter's call for vote on Interstate. "I believe the people deserve an up-or-down vote on their proposal," the mayor said.
But with Interstate now off the table, Sten rejoined the Fourth Avenue camp: The substitute resolution passed 4-1.
However, Fourth Avenue isn't renamed yet. The city code governing street renames prohibits the council from initiating an honorific rename. (Not that the code has stopped the council before; for both the Portland Boulevard to Rosa Parks Way, and the Front Street to Naito Parkway renames, the council waived the code that should have tied their hands.)
To get around that prohibition, the council plans to vote to amend the renaming code on Wednesday, November 21, by passing an ordinance that Saltzman added to last week's agenda at the last minute. (The Interstate proposal, which was "contrary to our city code," was potentially vulnerable to legal challenges, Saltzman said at last week's meeting. The new process is intended to make the Fourth Avenue rename defensible.)
If the amended code passes, the council is no longer barred from initiating a rename. Instead, the council would follow a new process for council-prompted renames that differs from citizen-initiated renames. While citizens who follow the process have to collect signatures from 2,500 people citywide, or from 75 percent of property owners on the street in question—plus pay notification fees, fill out an application, submit a biography on the honoree, among other things, before the proposal goes to a panel of historians—the council simply needs to pass a resolution, like the one the council passed regarding Fourth.
From there, the council's rename proposal heads to the Planning Commission, which must determine if the renaming is "in the best interest of the city and the area within six miles of the city limits."
Following the Planning Commission's recommendation, the council holds a public hearing. If, after hearing the testimony, the council concurs that the rename is "in the best interest of the city," they pass an ordinance to rename the street.
According to several commissioners, the new process isn't intended to be a lasting fix. Rather, the new process is a way to rename Fourth Avenue for Chávez as soon as possible. Commissioner Randy Leonard is considering a charter amendment that outlines the rename process, which could go to the ballot as soon as May. Outlining the process in the charter—which the council can't waive—would make renames resistant to "political manipulation," he says.
Meanwhile, Potter's ordinance to rename Interstate didn't die at last Thursday's meeting when its companion resolution was replaced. Leonard and Adams' pulled their "more process" resolution at the end of the meeting, but Potter—bent on forcing an up-or-down vote on Interstate—declined to remove his ordinance. It'll come back on November 21 for a second reading and vote, unless the other commissioners do something procedurally to kill it.