The famed civil rights crusader Cesar Chavez is stirring up some posthumous controversy in Portland, where several community activists have launched an effort to have a city street named after the farm labor organizer.
Though Latinos make up around 11 percent of Oregon’s population, the greater Portland area has no public tribute to American Latino leaders, according to the Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard Committee, the group leading the renaming efforts. Christening the pavement after Chavez, they argue, will remind Portlanders of his legacy and will publicly recognize the contributions of the wider Latino community for the first time.
A panel reviewing the historical significance of three possible Chavez streets will convene on April 20 to decide on a recommendation to be sent to the City Council. The final decision is expected to come from City Hall by May or June.
The decision may be harder than expected. While the renaming might seem like an innocent effort to pay tribute to an important historical figure, the opposition has been fierce. Since the Chavez Committee began fighting for a name change in 2007, there has been a virtual tug-of-war between community members and Chavez fans. An attempt to redub North Interstate Avenue after Chavez failed when nearby residents and businesses protested, partly because the City Council didn’t follow official renaming procedures. Those procedures were later clarified, specifying the requirement of a petition signed by 75 percent of the property owners along the proposed street or a minimum of 2,500 signatures across Portland. The Chavez Committee has now received those 2,500 signatures, but the debate is still quite heated.
A postcard survey  – whose $3,000 cost was fronted by the Chavez Committee – carried out by the city auditors’ office found opposition along all three possible street locations. Along Broadway, 95% of residents opposed. Along 39th, about 87% opposed. And, along Grand, 84% opposed.
Some argue that the cost of renaming is an unnecessary extravagance in a year of tight city finances. Others say they cannot justify spending money on reprinting corporate stationary to match new addresses. One author for a local paper said the money would be better spent on more pressing needs, like filling the ever-present Swiss-cheese potholes that dot Portland’s streets.
This is not the first street renaming controversy to hit urban pavement. Two years ago, Louisville, Kentucky faced opposition to renaming a downtown street after Martin Luther King, Jr., and some in San Francisco are battling Mayor Newsome’s efforts to rename Third Street after his predecessor Willie Brown.