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August 20th, 2008 12:00 am COREY PEIN | News Stories

Street Race

Renaming rules create an accidental competition between Latino activists and sci-fi geeks.

Chávez (left) and Adams (right) are at the center of a naming debate.

Last year’s to-do over the renaming of North Interstate Avenue for César E. Chávez wasn’t an experience you’d think Portland pols would want to repeat.

The disastrous effort wasted the City Council’s time for a solid two months and cemented Mayor Tom Potter’s reputation as an ineffectual grump while the process built into a kind of shared panic marked by racism, grandstanding and paranoia.

But now commissioners are again inviting discussions about renaming a street for Chávez. And just to keep things interesting, the latest proposal is competing with a simultaneous effort to rename 42nd Avenue on the east side after the late British humorist Douglas Adams—no relation to Commissioner Sam Adams.

It’s not like the city doesn’t have more pressing problems, like a slowing economy and a growing list of street repairs. But the Chávez renaming was unfinished business. And on Aug. 13, the council passed a resolution, sponsored by Sam Adams, promising to follow the city code in future street renamings.

“The city has never followed the code on its own books,” says Adams, the mayor-elect. “After Interstate Avenue, I thought we could improve on that process.”

The code requires that streets only be renamed for “a person who has achieved prominence as a result of his or her significant, positive contribution to the United States of America and/or the local community.” To help vet the proposals, Adams appointed three people to serve on a “historian panel.”

Since city code only allows for the conside ation of one renaming application at a time, there’s a race on to see which group can complete its application first. The two street teams have 180 days to gather 2,500 signatures from across the city and raise $1,000 to cover the cost of printing and mailing notices to people who’d be affected by the name change.

Before you place your bets, here’s a primer on each proposal:

Adams vs. Chávez


Prominent for: founding the United Farm Workers union; mid-’60s grape boycott; being the greatest champion of Chicano labor rights in U.S. history.

Inspirational quote: “We draw our strength from the very despair in which we have been forced to live. We shall endure.”

Born: 1927 outside Yuma, Ariz.

Portland streets up for new signage: 39th Avenue, Grand Avenue, Broadway.

Who’s leading the charge:

The same cast of Chávez activists as last time, headed by Jose Romero and Marta Guembes. The group turned in its initial application July 24 and has until January to collect the needed signatures. It probably bodes well that Guembes has made tentative peace with Adams (Sam, not Douglas), whom she cast as the villain in last year’s drama. “What I can tell you now is that we’re working together,” she says.

Most amusing new letterhead if name change passes:

David Reinhard, associate editor

The Oregonian

1320 SW César E. Chávez Blvd.

Historical relevance to Portland: Chávez visited back in the day. But UFW signed its first Oregon contract in 2007.

Signatures collected as of Aug. 15: “I don’t know how many we have right now,” says Guembes. “You want to sign?”


Prominent for: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series; environmental activism; fervent atheism.

Inspirational quote: “Don’t panic!”

Born: 1952 in Cambridge, England.

Portland streets up for new signage:

42nd Avenue (This is an inside joke for fans of Adams—Douglas, not Sam. In his books, 42 is revealed to be the answer to “life, the universe and everything,” but the question is a mystery.)

Who’s leading the charge: Aaron Duran, who writes the gamer/comics/movie-nerd blog geekinthecity.com. Duran submitted a renaming application back in December, but the city apparently misplaced the paperwork. “We don’t think there was any malicious intent,” he says. He filed a new application Aug. 4, giving him until February to gather signatures and raise money.

Most amusing new letterhead if name change passes:

The Portland Alien Museum

1716 NE Douglas Adams Blvd.

Historical relevance to Portland: Uh, Powell’s sells his books. Nerd pride.

Signatures collected as of Aug. 15: About 200.

FACTS: Last week the Council renamed portions of three eastside streets to correct “errors” made when subdivisions were mapped out. No riots ensued.

None of the new panel members, all chosen by Adams, are historians by trade. They are: Willamette University law prof Gilbert Paul Carrasco, Oregon National Guard Brig. Gen. Michael Caldwell (brother of Oregonian editorialist Bob Caldwell), and Cully Neighborhood Association President Kathy Fuerstenau.

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