Dallas officials clash over a street's name

DALLAS - October 20, 2008 The name of the famed labor leader and civil rights activist won handily when the city asked residents to come up with a new name for Industrial Boulevard, a dull strip lined with liquor stores and bail bond offices

"Cesar Chavez Avenue" beat such names as "Riverfront" and "Trinity Lakes," but Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert said the survey wasn't binding.

Cesar Chavez Task Force leader Alberto Ruiz believes the city would have accepted the choice had it been someone other than Cesar Chavez.

"If the results would have come back for Stevie Ray Vaughan, it would have gone through," Ruiz said of the white Texas guitar legend, whose name was not on the survey.

Some question whether Chavez, who rallied fieldhands over low wages and exploitation, is relevant to Dallas history. Others say his name doesn't fit the marketing plan behind the surrounding $2 billion Trinity River sector revitalization.

Developers envision Industrial, a gritty three-mile strip, becoming a destination of condominiums and upscale shopping.

"We were trying to create a marketing scheme for that entire street given its location to the Trinity," Leppert said. "That still makes sense."

Leppert said he wants to find another street to honor Chavez. Latino leaders say they won't compromise.

Ruiz and his supporters accuse Dallas leaders of brushing off the results of the survey, which cost the city $20,000 and came back with Chavez as the 2-to-1 favorite. A key city planning commission vote on the renaming is expected in mid-November.

Ruiz, who calls the Chavez campaign a symbolic community battle in a city that is 43 percent Hispanic, now has his group going door-to-door on Industrial trying to shore up support ahead of the vote.

Ruiz said the resistance to Chavez for Industrial and another prominent Dallas street, Ross Avenue, has "a bit of a sentiment that it does have to do with race." Opponents say it's simply about finding the appropriate road.

But Ruiz said renaming Ross Avenue after Chavez would have made perfect sense if Industrial wasn't possible: It's where nearly a half-million marched in 2006 in support of citizenship for illegal immigrants, and the street faces a school that's already named for Chavez.

Leppert, a first-term mayor and former CEO of construction giant Turner Corp., said the city will find a street to honor Chavez. Just not Industrial, where the top destinations now are mostly auto scrap yards and the county criminal courthouse.

Industrial's rough reputation is supposed to soften under the Trinity River Corridor Project, the largest public works project in Dallas history. Areas of blight and neglect are planned to become lush parks and urban trails, and the street - whatever its name - will be a key gateway.

Leppert said the survey was intended only as one piece of input to help the city brainstorm street names.

Michael Phillips, who wrote about the city's racial roots in "White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, 1841-2001," said the renaming fight is important to minorities in a city where a busy downtown freeway is named after R.L. Thornton, a former Dallas mayor and Klansman.

"That's just like a thumb in the eyes of blacks and Latinos if they're getting turned down with the proposal to name a major thoroughfare after Cesar Chavez," Phillips said.

Other Chavez backers have suffered similar defeat. A push in Portland, Ore., to name a street after Chavez fell apart last year after being met with fierce community opposition.

At Fuel City, a gas station on Industrial, owner John Benda doesn't want to see Industrial renamed for Chavez, or anyone for that matter.

"It's a lifetime situation, the name," Benda said. "It's bigger than any one person."


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