Battle Over Renaming of Streets Begins

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In a test of just how important Cesar Chavez is to the city of Berkeley, City Council members fought Tuesday night over which street to name after the union leader.

A measure to rename a street west of the Interstate 80 overpass Cesar Chavez Drive was pulled from the council agenda Tuesday night because some say it does not do enough to honor the legendary farm worker organizer.

"We feel (the measure) is counterproductive to our efforts," said Federico Chavez, speaking to the council on behalf of the Cesar Chavez Foundation.

He objects to renaming the western-most part of University Avenue, Marina Boulevard and Spinnaker Way after Chavez because he would rather see the renaming of a major street, he said. He thanked the council for the idea, but expressed that it was not enough.

Chavez, who died in 1993, organized migrant farm workers into a major union, now the United Farm Workers of America. He led a five-year strike of grape pickers and a national boycott of table grapes.

Mayor Shirley Dean and Councilmember Betty Olds proposed the measure, which also would have named streets in the area after former state Assemblymember Tom Bates and prominent environmentalist David Brower. Dean motioned to remove the provision regarding Cesar Chavez Drive after Chavez's comments, but Councilmember Linda Maio pulled the item entirely. It will be addressed at the next meeting.

Dean said she did not understand Maio's actions.

"This would be a wonderful opportunity to recognize Bates and Brower," she said.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington also opposed the measure, calling it a "slap in the face."

"I think the mayor's self-promotional 'pretend-naming' the street, which is very tiny and very poorly traveled, is no substitute for the real thing," Worthington said.

He said that in 1998 Dean and Olds voted against a measure to allocate $20,000 for a planning process to rename a major street after Chavez and that Dean knew others were working to do just that.

"It is ironic that she's trying to take credit for the street after she's killed it before," he said.

Worthington said he has been working with the Cesar Chavez Foundation and the Oakland City Council to rename a major street after Chavez for several years.

Among possible streets to be renamed are Ashby Avenue and Gilman and Sacramento streets. An attempt to rename University Avenue after Chavez provoked "ferocious" opposition from businesses, but Worthington said Sacramento is a "prime possibility" because it is longer, turning into Market Street in Oakland.

An assistant manager at the Over 60 Health Center, on Sacramento Street, said an address change may cost a bit, but would be worth it.

"I think it's good - that guy should be honored," said Chelsea Colby. "He did a lot for the Hispanic community."

As for naming streets after Bates and Brower, Worthington said the measure was insufficient.

"We need a logical, coherent honor which corresponds to their accomplishments," he said.

Worthington said Bates was a progressive "visionary" who helped found East Shore State Park and promoted open space in the area.

Brower, who led the Sierra Club and founded the Earth Island Institute and Friends of the Earth, recently died in his Berkeley home. Worthington said it would be inappropriate to name a road after him.

"When you think of David Brower, you think of him teaching people the beauty of appreciating open space," he said.


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