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Council OKs Market St. Change to King Way

April 23, 1986|RALPH FRAMMOLINO | Times Staff Writer

Resolving an issue that has aroused bitterness and suggestions of racism, the San Diego City Council on Tuesday voted to change the name of Market Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Way in honor of the slain civil rights leader.

The council also instructed the city manager's staff to determine which of the highways slicing through San Diego should also be renamed for King. Possibilities mentioned by council members included California 94 and sections of Interstate 15.

The name change along Market Street will not become effective for at least a year and a half. New signs for King Way won't be posted for six months, and then they will share the same poles with the old Market Street signs for at least 12 months so merchants and residents can get used to the switch, city officials said.

In selecting Market Street and a highway to be named later, the council went beyond the request of those who asked that one route be named for King.

It also defused what some council members said was a sometimes ugly campaign by some Mid-City residents who were trying to defeat a proposal to rename a five-mile segment of Euclid Avenue and 54th Street, stretching from National City on the south to El Cajon Boulevard on the north.

City Manager Sylvester Murray proposed the Euclid Avenue and 54th Street route in February, and it quickly won the backing of local black leaders, who argued that it was a fitting tribute for the late Nobel Peace Prize winner because it cuts through neighborhoods of different ethnic and income groups.

But the route roused a storm of protest from some Mid-City residents and business owners--many from the Oak Park community along 54th Street--who argued that a name change would be inconvenient, and possibly costly, because it would force them to change the addresses on private and corporate checks, stationery and invoices.

Their objections were also philosophical.

"I just feel that the colored people were pursuing a cause that, as far as I'm concerned, I do not accept it, and I think there are many white people that don't accept that cause, even though (King's birthday) was established as a national holiday," Ed Vires, a resident of 54th Street, said after Tuesday's vote.

Vires spearheaded a drive against the proposal by gathering 900 signatures on petitions against the Euclid-54th Street route. And Murray said Tuesday that his office had received 510 written responses against his proposal, with only 15 in favor.

Because of that response, city officials braced themselves Tuesday for the possibility of a rancorous, long-winded meeting on the street renaming. Acting Mayor Ed Struiksma cleared the agenda and arranged for the meeting to take place in a room at Golden Hall, where 700 chairs were set up.

However, only about 45 people showed up for public testimony, and the proceedings were relatively tame.

Yet the racial tension generated during the past weeks by the controversy was underscored during discussion by Councilmen Uvaldo Martinez and William Jones, the council's two minority members. Jones said some of the remarks made to his staff in opposition to the Euclid-54th Street proposal were "disgusting."

Martinez added that some of the comments he and his staff received "do not bode well for America's finest city."

Offensive Feelings

"There are people in this world, even in our beautiful city, that have feelings that are not healthy," Jones said after the meeting. "They have feelings that are, I find, offensive. I experience those feelings from time to time. It's not very good to have an issue like this where you have to experience a lot of those kind of calls, a lot of those kinds of comments when you're at public places."

The ill will was enough to steer the council away from the Mid-City route.

Councilwoman Gloria McColl, whose district includes portions of the controversial route, said it was the council's intent to honor a man "known for teaching people and bringing people together. But I think what disturbs me today is that I see not people together but people divided, and I don't think that that is a very good way for us to remember this great man."

Instead, the council chose Market Street, which runs east from the San Diego Bay for about six miles before ending about two miles west of Lemon Grove. The vote was 6-1 with Councilwoman Abbe Wolfsheimer opposed. Councilman Bill Cleator was absent.

Wolfsheimer opposed the change because she was concerned about the costs to businesses that would have to change their addresses, but she favored naming a freeway after King.

The street, named Market in November, 1915, runs through downtown San Diego's warehouse and business district.

Jones said Market is a good choice because it features economic revitalization efforts downtown along the Gaslamp Quarter as well as the Gateway East and West redevelopment project farther west in his district, adjacent to Interstate 15. The Gateway project, he said, is supposed to generate 3,000 new jobs for the predominantly black community.

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