During Thursday, September 6th's afternoon city council session, four representatives of the César E. Chávez Boulevard Committee made their pitch to the mayor and commissioners. They showed a video celebrating Chávez's work organizing farm laborers, and outlined an idea to find private funds to open a cultural center in Chávez's name. And, they asked the city to rename Interstate Boulevard.
"We've got Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, we've got Rosa Parks, and now we're asking for your support with a César E. Chávez Boulevard," said one committee member.
In response, the council voted to open an official five-week public comment period—instead of directing the group to follow the official city process for changing a street name.
The process, outlined in city code, would require filing an application with the city. Then, the committee would need to collect signatures: 2,500 citywide, or from 75 percent of the street's property owners. They'd also have to pay a fee to notify neighbors, so residents could weigh in. And the idea would have to go past a panel of historians, and the city's planning commission—then the city council decides.
Moreover, the official process bars a name change at the whim of the council, unless it's to "correct errors in street names, or to eliminate confusion." In fact, the city code is very clear that the council cannot take it upon themselves to rename a street to honor a person. (The council recently voted to ignore that law when Portland Boulevard was renamed for Rosa Parks.)
But, the council created a public comment period—and it's unclear what happens when that period closes. Also, the mayor posted a link to the committee's petition on his website several weeks ago. The petition has collected 131 signatures since.
Meanwhile, organized opposition to the idea has sprung up. One neighbor in Arbor Lodge—"another frustrated NoPo'er, sick of getting stepped on in matters of developers and high-density zoning and street name changing," as she says—launched her own online petition to oppose the idea. By Tuesday, September 11, less than a week after she launched it, the petition had garnered 54 signatures. (Another pro-Interstate petition has 166.) And the Historic Interstate Avenue Businesses group ran a full-page ad in neighborhood newspapers, begging the city to find a way to honor Chávez that is "less divisive, less costly to small businesses, and less costly to local taxpayers."