At two jam-packed neighborhood association meetings last week, neighbors overwhelmingly voted against a proposal that would change Interstate Avenue to César E. Chávez Boulevard. "You cannot have the avenue," one elderly woman told the Chávez committee, after they presented the idea to the Overlook Neighborhood Association on Tuesday, September 18. "It's Interstate, and always will be."
At both the Overlook meeting and an Arbor Lodge Neighborhood Association meeting two nights later, neighbors who testified stuck to the same themes: They like the idea of honoring Chávez, but would prefer the committee take a look at alternatives to renaming Interstate, which has its own identity and history in the neighborhood. Moreover, neighbors are frustrated that the committee is following the lead of those who renamed Portland Boulevard for Rosa Parks last year—a change that skirted city rules governing street renaming, and blindsided many North and Northeast Portland residents.
Several neighbors at both meetings asked the committee why they went straight to the mayor and city commissioners to ask for their support for an Interstate rename—which has given neighbors the impression that the rename is a done deal—instead of coming to neighbors first. The process requires signatures from 2,500 local residents (or 75 percent of property owners on the street).
But the committee sees the Portland Boulevard rename as a precedent. "All we want is the same treatment that everyone else has gotten," committee member Sonny Montes explained to Overlook neighbors. "What they want to do now is to treat us differently from the other groups, and we said that's not fair."
Neighbors didn't accept the rationale. At Overlook's meeting, one man who owns two businesses on Interstate asked if "the city council and the mayor [would] break the city's own laws" to change Interstate's name. "Or is it going to follow the city's own process? There are a lot of people still upset about Rosa Parks [Way] because it broke the process."
At Arbor Lodge's meeting on Thursday night at Chief Joseph Elementary, frustrated neighbors questioned their neighborhood association chair, Christine Duffy, asking if their input on the proposal really mattered. "Is this another token meeting for us silly people who have an interest in our neighborhood? North Portland people are getting real tired of this," said one woman in a button-down shirt, sitting with her neighbors in the school's lunchroom.
Duffy encouraged neighbors to speak up. "The final decision lies with the mayor and the city council. They can either go with our consensus or go against it. But they are there to represent the best interest of everyone within the city, so I think they do hear us." Both neighborhoods' message was clear: A motion to "actively oppose" the rename won 64-10 in Arbor Lodge, and 92-12 in Overlook.
There are two more community meetings scheduled to gather input on the proposal. Both are at Ockley Green Middle School at 6:30 pm, on October 3 and 9. A city council vote on the proposal is not currently scheduled.