A proposal to rename a stretch of University Avenue near the Berkeley Marina after labor hero Cesar Chavez has met with objections from some family members and supporters, who are calling the move a back-handed compliment.
The proposal, put forward by Mayor Shirley Dean and Councilmember Betty Olds, designated the stretch of University connecting with Marina Boulevard and Spinnaker Way, a relatively lightly-travelled area, for the distinction.
“We believe Cesar Chavez merits the honor of a principle thoroughfare, such as has been done in San Francisco and Los Angeles,” said Federico Chavez, nephew of Chavez and head of the Cesar E. Chavez Labor Organizer Legacy Committee. The Committee has been working with local businesses to secure support to rename Sacramento Street in honor of Chavez. “We’ve really been gaining momentum on this,” said Chavez.
“This proposal is a slap in the face to people who have been working to honor Cesar Chavez by naming a major street after him,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington. Worthington said he had been engaged for several years in efforts with Chavez supporters to find a major East Bay corridor that would run through Latino communities and would offer a marked interstate exit.
Worthington charged Mayor Shirley Dean with proposing the stretch of University near the marina to “deliberately pre-empt our process.” He said he had discussed the efforts to rename either Sacramento or an equivalent street as far back as 1998.
The mayor said she knew nothing of these plans. “Nobody has ever come to me to discuss renaming Sacramento Street.”
Dean said her proposal was motivated in part by a desire to accommodate the wishes of Chavez supporters that the entity bearing his name be featured on an interstate sign. Dean attempted to have Cesar Chavez park indicated on the University Avenue exit sign but, she said, the California Department of Transportation refused to give such a designation to a city park. By naming a stretch of road that exits the highway after Chavez, Dean hoped to address the problem.
The Mayor retracted her recommendation after learning of the opposition to it.
“We’re not in the business of shoving honors down people’s throats,” she said. “We’re trying to do the right thing here.”
The effort to name a street after Cesar Chavez was initiated in 1994 with a push to rename University Avenue. Those efforts were scrapped following significant opposition from businesses along the road. Shortly thereafter, the North Waterfront Park was renamed in honor of the United Farm Workers’ leader. Recently, controversy has erupted again over an off-leash dog park that was designated for a section of the park. “There were hurt feelings over the way that was handled,” said the younger Chavez, who explained his group objected to having been left out of discussions about the dog park. But Mayor Dean noted that the dog run is one of the most popular places in the park.
“It was no insult to the Latino community,” she said.
Councilmember Linda Maio, who agreed that a major road should be named after Chavez, observed that the name-change proposal at least had brought the issue to the fore. “The idea in its basic form was a good beginning to initiate a process that will help us decide the best way to honor these national leaders,” said Maio.