Friday, September 19, 2008

U-turn on street names

After months of debate over what to rename Industrial Boulevard, and whether to rename anything for civil rights leader César Chávez, Dallas officially went back to square one Thursday.

In a move that surprised some of its own members, the powerful City Plan Commission voted 11-3 against renaming Industrial to Riverfront Boulevard, the desired choice of Mayor Tom Leppert, several City Council members and most developers of the Trinity River corridor.

"The city of Dallas commissioned a $20,000 survey to take the pulse of its citizens and with the expectation that the citizens' view would be taken seriously," said plan commissioner Neil Emmons, who raised the motion not to rename Industrial.

Because the plan commission declined to rename Industrial to Riverfront, at least 12 votes of the City Council are required to overturn the decision.

In subsequent action Thursday, plan commissioner Jeff Strater moved that the commission consider renaming Industrial for Mr. Chávez next week. When or if the council will hear that is not yet known.

Ross Avenue renaming

Meanwhile on Thursday, a plan hatched by a key City Council committee to rename Ross Avenue for Mr. Chávez was denied by a four-member panel of the plan commission. That denial, however, does not prevent the full plan commission or the City Council from considering renaming Ross.

The main result of Thursday's action was a confusing mix of denials and recommendations at various city levels.

As it stands, either Industrial or Ross or nothing could be renamed for Mr. Chávez.

"It does put us in a difficult predicament," said plan commission chairman Joe Alcantar, who voted to change Industrial to Riverfront.

City Council members, who each appoint one plan commissioner, had a variety of reactions, from confusion to joy.

"I don't agree with it. I don't understand what's going on," District 12 council member Ron Natinsky said. "Riverfront was the right name to put on Industrial, and I still feel that way."

Mayor Pro Tem Elba Garcia said she was pleased by the result. A supporter first of renaming Industrial for Mr. Chávez, Dr. Garcia agreed to a compromise proposal that Ross be renamed instead.

"I am pleased they listened to the voice of the people who took the time to vote," she said.

Dr. Garcia's husband, attorney Domingo Garcia, is the main backer of a task force devoted to renaming a major street in Dallas for Mr. Chávez.

Alberto Ruiz, who leads that task force, said Thursday's vote was the right one and suggested that it is what backers of César Chávez Boulevard wanted all along.

"We knew they couldn't say no to Ross and Industrial. By offering the alternative of Ross, it would force the commission to rethink the results of the survey and consider them as valid," he said.

Business owners along Ross Avenue who fought hard against having their street renamed seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. Several of them urged the plan commission Thursday to rename Industrial, not Ross, for Mr. Chávez.

Effect on businesses

No business owners along Industrial spoke up at the plan commission hearing for renaming that street Riverfront.

But many weren't pleased to learn that the movement to rename it for Mr. Chávez was again alive.

For lawyer James Bush, whose office is at 330 S. Industrial Blvd., the plan commission's decision was a disappointment:

"The name Riverfront just sounds prettier. It's a place people would want to go to," he said.

Two of the biggest backers of renaming Industrial to Riverfront, Mr. Leppert and council member Dave Neumann, didn't return calls for comment Thursday.

Several council members who did speak out about the issue declined to commit to future votes on renaming Industrial or Ross.

It was Mr. Neumann, chairman of the council's Trinity River Committee, who engineered a deal with the council's three Hispanic members to rename Industrial to Riverfront and to recommend that the plan commission consider renaming Ross for Mr. Chávez.

It was also his committee that sponsored the online and telephone survey that resulted in support for renaming Industrial for Mr. Chávez.

Opponents of naming the street for Mr. Chávez have criticized that survey as informal, unscientific and ungoverned.

Nevertheless, as things stand, each member of the plan commission and the City Council may well be left to vote on honoring its result.