August 6, 2008

Long road awaits those who want to rename Ross Avenue for César Chávez

11:43 PM CDT on Tuesday, August 5, 2008
By RUDOLPH BUSH / The Dallas Morning News

A plan to rename one of Dallas' oldest thoroughfares for civil rights leader César Chávez took a significant step forward Tuesday, but it has a long and likely difficult path toward becoming reality.

Sidestepping a controversy over renaming Industrial Boulevard for Mr. Chávez, a Dallas City Council committee voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend that Ross Avenue bear his name.

But that proposal – which also includes renaming Industrial as Riverfront Boulevard – succeeded mainly in shifting the controversy a few blocks east and several weeks or even months down the road.

Council member Steve Salazar, a key proponent of changing Ross to César Chávez Avenue, acknowledged as much moments before Tuesday's vote was taken by the Trinity River Corridor Project Committee.

"This is only one part of the process, and it's going to be a long process," he said.

The proposal next must go before the Dallas Plan Commission. A date for that meeting will likely be scheduled after a 10-day review by several city departments and other agencies.

At the plan commission stage, the public will have the first of at least two chances to be heard on the issue.

And if the calls and e-mails that came into City Hall on Tuesday are any indication, there should be quite a crowd.

The plan commission will have a chance to approve or deny the name change recommendation.

But no matter what the commission decides, the City Council will have the final vote.

The only question is whether approval of the name change would require a simple majority of the council or a three-quarters vote.

A three-quarters vote – 12 council members – would be required under two conditions: If the plan commission denies the recommendation or if 20 percent of property owners along Ross file a written opposition to the name change.

Alberto Ruiz, chairman of the César Chávez Task Force, a group of elected officials and Hispanic leaders pushing for the name change, said Tuesday that he expects his group will need to win a three-quarters vote of the council.

"I think it's going to be very difficult. We have to work hard. We're going to sweat a lot in the next few weeks," he said.

So far, only the council's three Hispanic members, Mr. Salazar, Mayor Pro Tem Elba Garcia and council member Pauline Medrano, are fully behind renaming Ross. All three are on the city's Trinity committee and voted in favor of the recommendation Tuesday.

Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway, who initially opposed renaming the street, also sits on the committee and voted in favor of the recommendation. Afterward, he said that he is likely to vote in favor of the name change when the issue reaches the full council.

But the rest of the Trinity committee, including council members Carolyn Davis, Linda Koop and Dave Neumann, hedged when asked what they will do when the issue comes before them again.

"I'm supportive of letting the process go forward," Ms. Koop said.

In clear opposition at this point are council members Jerry Allen, Ron Natinsky and Mitchell Rasansky.

Mr. Allen said he will listen to all sides but is reluctant to change a street name that is entrenched in Dallas history.

"It's like anything, it's hard to change that, and those are my memories, too," he said.

Indeed, more so than Industrial Boulevard, Ross Avenue seems to represent something deep about Dallas.

Cutting through the heart of downtown, it passes shining skyscrapers and rolls northeast into the neighborhoods of East Dallas where many Mexican immigrants have made a home.

The changes in the street from downtown to Greenville Avenue reflect something about the changing face and politics of Dallas.

That is one reason Ross is the right choice to be renamed for Mr. Chávez, Dr. Garcia said.

"What we are asking for today is respect. What the Latino community wants today is respect. How do you tell the community that César Chávez isn't good enough when this city has a 60 percent Latino population?" she asked.

Answering that question is sure to be complicated for opponents of renaming Ross.

Council member Angela Hunt, whose district includes much of Ross downtown, said she has already received calls from business owners who oppose changing the street's name. No business owners have called her in support, she said.

Calls from The Dallas Morning News and WFAA-TV (Channel 8) to several major businesses on Ross Avenue went unreturned.

"We don't have anything to offer you on that," said Jill Bernstein, spokeswoman for the Dallas Museum of Art, before abruptly hanging up.

A spokeswoman for Crow Holdings, which owns the Trammell Crow Center at Ross and Field Street, had no comment.

A spokeswoman for the company that manages Fountain Place at Ross and Pearl Street didn't return a call.

The Catholic Archdiocese said the church had yet to finalize a position, a spokeswoman said. The Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe sits on Ross and has been cited by supporters of the name change as a major gathering place for Dallas Hispanics.

John Crawford, president and chief executive of Downtown Dallas, said his group hasn't had a chance to fully review the proposal.

Mayor Tom Leppert and many on the council took the same position Tuesday.

"Clearly on something like this you want to listen to all the groups in the community," Mr. Leppert said.

Ms. Hunt agreed but added that she has some concerns about changing the name of a street so tied to Dallas history.

Brothers William and Andrew Ross were prominent Dallas residents at the time of the Civil War, and Ross Avenue cuts through land that once belonged to them.

But like others on the council, Ms. Hunt said the process needs to play out fairly before a final decision is made.

"I am just now at the point where I can start talking to my constituents. We are very early in the process," she said.

Brad Watson of WFAA-TV (Channel 8) contributed to this report.

•A street name change can be initiated by only four entities : a property owner on the street, the city's director of Development Services, a City Council member or a majority of the City Plan Commission.

•After a street name application is received, it is reviewed for 10 days by a series of city departments, local utilities and the U.S. Postal Service.

•Those agencies comment on the name change, and it is then scheduled for a hearing before the city's Subdivision Review Committee.

•If the committee approves the recommendation, it is scheduled for a hearing before the plan commission.

•The plan commission can approve or deny the recommendation. Either way, it is scheduled for a vote before the City Council.

•The council can change the street's name by a majority vote unless the plan commission denied the recommendation or the council received a written protest signed by 20 percent of property owners on the street. In that case, the name change requires three-quarters approval by the council.


•The recommendation of the council's Trinity River committee will go to the Subdivision Review Committee within 10 days.

•The recommendation then will be forwarded to the plan commission for consideration in the near future and eventually will reach the City Council.

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