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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 19, 2007 8:05 AM. The previous post in this blog was Shipping out?. The next post in this blog is And now, some more delusion from the O. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.



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Monday, November 19, 2007

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.

Comments (31)

SW 4th wends its way in fits and starts through much of SW Portland, most of it very quiet and residential. It's hard to imagine all of those being changed to Cesar Chavez Boulevard.

All you GPS-based navigation system owners: how much for the data update?

I hope this is the last promise Potter / Leonard et al make to a group that they can make stuff happen for them.

This is all about them playing the big man and making promises and now they have to scramble. Just to keep the image up.

There was coverage on KOIN about a town hall meeting in China Town last night and there is a video clip you might want to link to where an Asian woman questions how the postcard of the Ornamental Chinese Gate marking the entry to China Town over Cesar Chavez boulevard plays in Peoria.

It's hard to imagine all of those being changed to Cesar Chavez Boulevard.

One of the first articles out mentioned the name change would only apply to the downtown stretch. That way it doesn't freak out the straights. That was their problem with the whole Interstate mess. They didn't realize people actually lived and worked up there. Nor did they believe the community would organize as they did.

Why can't CoP adopt something similar to what other big cities do and give a street an honorary name? I've seen it in NYC, I've seen it in Chicago. I bet that would meet much less resistance from everyone.

If the council gets this one through then Portland truly has finally achieved the government it deserves. But I doubt that there'll be any newspaper photos of crying mean girls lamenting the elevation of political expediency over silly legalisms. Wondering if Lord of the Flies should be required reading for these 8th graders that are now running the city.

Your analysis is spot on...but let me throw a little Molotov Cocktail into the inferno: Council is, with the revised Ordinance, waiving the requirement that a street be named after A. a notable American and B. someone dead at least 5 years. If passed, that means Council Members can propose to rename streets after their personal hero, major campaign donor, and/or favorite Tuk-Tuk driver. The fig leaf that the Planning Commission's review supplies is hardly sufficient to guard against abuses. Basically, this is a power grab...and if the Council can make this one stick, imagine what else they might attempt.

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.

The City Council can waive provisions of the city code, since they are responsible for making and amending code. No action by any one Council can legally bind action by a future Council (i.e., you can't put "permanent" code into place).

What they cannot do is waive charter provisions or state law. In this case, the proposed waiver that would have allowed the renaming of Interstate violated state law because it bypassed the Planning Commission. So it WAS legally dubious, and you're right that is why they are amending the code in order to rename 4th.

That way it doesn't freak out the straights.

What's that mean?

why has City Council has put so much time and energy into "street renaming"? what was the motive behind such an effort, i wonder?


I'm assuming your data on the city debt problem must be false. If it was true the city council would be working on such a big issue rather than stroking themselves with street name changes.

what was the motive behind such an effort, i wonder?

Political Correctness and swaying the voting bloc of hispanics.

It's hard to imagine all of those being changed to Cesar Chavez Boulevard.

Snethen's right (as usual), the name change is only going to be from Portland State to the north end of Fourth. Don't worry, it won't go down where the rich people live.

The City Council can waive provisions of the city code, since they are responsible for making and amending code.

That's just not true.

Jack, I'm curious why you don't think that's true?

Read the original posts by Laquedem and me, which are linked above. The code prohibits the City Council from renaming a street for a person. If it wants to change those restrictions, the council has to go through the process of amending the Code. Which is what it is now doing.

A "waiver" is a voluntary relinquishment of a known right. Since the council did not have the right to rename the street after Chavez, it had nothing to "waive."

Snethen's right (as usual), the name change is only going to be from Portland State to the north end of Fourth. Don't worry, it won't go down where the rich people live.

If that was the plan all along then why the need to change the code to name just a portion of a street? And doesn't that therefore make it a cinchy fix to go back in and exclude Chinatown? That should make that a non-issue.

My observation about the other places SW 4th Avenue goes to had nothing whatsover to do with money and rich people. After all, the tenants of those buildings on SW 4th downtown and the owners of the businesses in them have way more than anybody else. I was thinking about the ludicrousness of a one block residential dead end being called a boulevard, be it Cesar Chavez or otherwise.

Jack, are you buying into Tom Potter's assertion that questioning the wisdom of this name change is in and of itself racist and elitist? Put process aside. Should an existing street, SW 4th Avenue, N Interstate Avenue, or any other Portland street, be renamed for Cesar Chavez? I can think of many reasons why it's not a good idea and none of them have anything to do with race or ethnicity.

It's not very convenient to have different segments of a continuous street with different names. In fact, one might call it
"confusing". Good for map sales, though, I suppose.

Following up on Jack's comment above, the city can't waive the code requirements for two reasons. (1) Nothing in the code authorizes the city to waive the requirement of the street naming ordinance, and (2) the requirement is a limitation on the city's authority, and if the city could waive it then the city could waive any code-based restriction on its authority.

(2) the requirement is a limitation on the city's authority, and if the city could waive it then the city could waive any code-based restriction on its authority.

I'll be honest, I'm still not convinced that they can't. It only takes three votes to amend City code, and they can amend any part of the city code they want. So what authority (charter or state law) would prevent them from simply waiving it (versus amending it, doing what they want, then changing it back)?

I know that Council ordinances waive code routinely, but perhaps Isaac and Jack are right those are special situations. I'll have to do more research.

they can amend any part of the city code they want

That's not what they were proposing in the go-round on Interstate. They were proposing to leave the code alone, but just "waive" it. The problem is, they can't "waive" restrictions on their own power. They need to, as you say, amend the code first.

Maybe after Chinatown is Chaveztown, they'll amend the code back to what it used to say. But since the new version gives the council more power, I doubt it.

Forget it's Chaveztown...

It's not very convenient to have different segments of a continuous street with different names......

Burnside is a natural dividing line, so I would think leaving Chinatown as 4th would work without too much confusion. On the south end, there would be a short stretch of continuous 4th left in place just across I-405 (two or three blocks I believe) before it starts jumping around SW Portland. We also have this situation in several streets right now that don't seem to be a problem - MLK into McLaughlin Blvd, Lombard into Portland Highway are two that come to mind.

It makes Portland Sense to spend over $6M in taxpayer money in the last three years to make a better Chinatown, then have it become Chaveztown. Kick them out to 82nd. The gate must be movable if Sam thinks the Sauvie Isand bridge moved to NW Portland is feasible and cost effective.

I guess you could call it Cultural Mobility.

Time to change the name from City of Roses to City of Whims.

Time for a ward system. It is the only way the grease will get spread even nearly fairly.

When the elected leaders openly make their job the distribution of exceptions to the rules, and rush to change any rule they can't hand out selective exceptions to, we don't have a city government. The message: rules are for chumps.

Did the City Commissioners and the mayor come from the same planet we live on? It's interesting that no name change is being proposed for SE Woodstock which I believe is the Mayor's neighborhood. Mayor Potter, how about changing your street to Chavez Blvd?

Rename the Fremont Bridge. As it stands now you have to take an off ramp and jog around awhile before you get to Fremont anyway. What better icon than one of the largest bridges in the City and no business owner would have to spend money on changing their advertising.

We can't rename the Fremont Bridge; it was named after General John C. Fremont, noted explorer and a longtime inspiration to Americans of Canadian descent.

Let's name the tram after him.

SW Moody Street, in the heart of the OHSU/H. Williams condo zone, is available and has no long-term residents to object.

I still can't get over the syntax of what the leader of the Chinese business community had to say, be it an intentional put-down or not.

With all due respect, this is Chinatown, not Mexicantown.

That was played on the radio while I was driving, and I had to pull over, I was laughing so hard. Wow, that is just a shocking level of bluntness, considering today's nearly castrated official standard of politeness for all things racial.


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