The "waiver" that never was
In the spectacular train wreck known as Cesar Chavez Boulevard, the adolescents on the Portland City Council have taken heed of Isaac Laquedem's and my warnings that the process they had proposed for renaming Interstate Avenue appeared to have fatal flaws. The council was planning to "waive" several of the steps set out in the city code for street renaming, as it had apparently done in the past. Since you can't "waive" rules that apply to you, that move appeared to be of dubious legality.
Now, as they spoon-feed (and force-feed) the Chavez name to the folks on Fourth Avenue downtown, the council has drafted a whole new subsection of the code that would give it a new route for renaming streets. Under the new procedure, the council can propose to rename any street -- or any portion of a street -- and the matter is then referred to the city Planning Commission for a recommendation on whether it's "in the best interest of the City and the area within six miles of the City limits" as is required under state law. After a single hearing, the council will decide whether the renaming is in the same best interest, and if it is so decided, the deed is done.
The proposed changes, which are apparently up for rush-rush passage on Wednesday, are interesting in several respects. One is that while citizens' groups must still propose to rename an entire street or none of it, the council will now apparently have the right to rename just a portion of a street. (Section 17.93.020(C) of the code will probably need to be amended to make this clear, however, and so far the council has not proposed to do so.) Partial renaming is what's usually done, for example, in New York City, where many venues are re-christened for just a block or two; the city holds a little ceremony and puts up a sign, and it's ignored forever after.
Another fascinating aspect of the new Portland system is the reason that the council gave for it. The hurriedly drafted ordinance passed on Thursday (and hey, why the heck isn't it readily available on line?!) apparently started with findings that "[t]he current procedure for Council initiated renaming of streets is overly complicated, [and a] simplified procedure for Council initiated renaming of streets will preserve opportunities for public input while reducing the time and expense of the process."
That's pretty funny. There was nothing complicated about the old system at all. Under the former process, the council could initiate a name change only "to correct errors in street names, or to eliminate confusion"; it could not do so in order to name a street after a person. The new version creates lots of new opportunities for street name revisions, a new process, and a vague standard for determining whether street name changes are appropriate. How that simplifies anything is quite a mystery.
The standard by which proposed name changes initiated by the council will now be considered -- the "best interest of the City and the area within six miles of the City limits" -- is about as amorphous as one could imagine. It appears to have no meaningful content whatsoever.
In any event, it will be interesting to see what the reaction of the folks on Fourth will be to the proposed change to their stationery. Since the city code is being amended to grease the skids, the council's actions are theoretically subject to a public vote if opponents can collect enough signatures on petitions calling for a referendum. But even with lots of disgusted voters on both sides of the river, that kind of revolution seems unlikely. There's a 30-day deadline (jingle all the way), and the minimum number of signatures is 6 percent of the registered voters in the city as of the preceding municipal primary election. If I've got my math right, that's more than 18,500 valid signatures. Dream on.