Portland divided over proposed Chavez Boulevard


Given Portland's liberal reputation, it seemed unlikely that a plan to rename a street for Cesar Chavez would generate much controversy.

But the idea has divided two groups who say they are given short shrift by the city &

Latinos and the residents of North Portland.

The topic has grown so bitter that Mayor Tom Potter responded to talk of a compromise last week by walking out of a City Council meeting.

Latino activists are also not talking compromise, which would likely involve choosing a street other than Interstate Avenue.

"I don't know what people mean when they talk about finding a compromise, when people in my community feel like we have compromised, we compromise every day," said Marta Guembes, co-chair of the Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard committee.

Chavez, a labor organizer and social activist who co-founded what is now the United Farm Workers union, died in 1993. The idea of honoring him started bouncing around Latino circles a few years after his death.

Finally, in July, a group of advocates met with the mayor. Potter was quickly on board and Latino leaders expected little opposition to renaming Interstate Avenue because the council faced only muted opposition when it renamed a street after civil rights icon Rosa Parks.

Members of the Chavez committee agreed to follow a public comment process requested by City Council members. The comment period brought much fiercer opposition than anticipated.

Much of that came from a likely source, business owners who complained that changing the street name would cost them money. But they were joined by North Portland residents who have long felt ignored by City Hall.

The mayor chalked up the hostility to fear of change and, in some cases, racism.

Critics of the name change are offended at the racist label. They say they only want to preserve the Interstate name, which carries a lot of history.

No one is sure where the Potter's walkout leaves the issue. The mayor said he remains opposed to opening the debate to include other streets.

"Personally, I would be honored if the street in front of my house were named after Cesar Chavez, but I don't think that's going to happen," Potter said. "What I keep hearing out of this is that everybody wants to honor Chavez, as long as its not their street or their neighborhood."

Share This Story