The San Diego City Council on Monday rejected a citywide vote on the renaming of Martin Luther King Way.
Opponents of changing the name of Market Street to Martin Luther King Way immediately vowed to seek enough petition signatures to place an initiative on the November ballot.
Council members voted, 5-3, against a ballot measure that would have changed the name of the recently renamed Martin Luther King Way back to Market Street, saying that a citywide vote would divide the city and dishonor slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
"If you think this city is divided now, think how divided we would be if the campaign consultants got ahold of this issue," Councilman Mike Gotch said.
Mayor Maureen O'Connor and council members William Jones, Judy McCarty and Gloria McColl also voted against placing the item on the ballot. Council members Bill Cleator, Uvaldo Martinez and Abbe Wolfsheimer voted to put the issue on the ballot. Councilman Ed Struiksma was absent.
"I do think that this is inappropriate to place this on the ballot," O'Connor said. "If that were the case, you'd have every little item on the ballot."
Members of the Keep Market Street Committee, a group of merchants on the street and others opposed to the name change, have argued that because of the historical significance of the street, the council should find an appropriate alternative street rather than renaming Market Street. Merchants also objected to the money they would have to spend to change letterheads and reprint stationary.
Members have offered survey results saying that the majority of those polled supported putting the decision on the ballot.
"When the notices (proposing the name change) went out, 50% of the merchants did not receive them," said Dan Williams, member of the committee. "Street signs can be torn down. We only come to suggest that Market Street remain Market Street. But we are prepared to go to ballot initiative."
The council voted in April to change the name of Market Street to Martin Luther King Way. It would have cost taxpayers $50,000 if council had decided to put the issue on the ballot.
To get the measure on the ballot without a vote from council, the Keep Market Street Committee would need an initiative signed by 10% of registered voters, or about 50,400 voters, according to Jack Fishkin, elections officer at the City Clerk's office.
G.T. Frost Jr., who owns a business on the street, told the council that they should rethink their vote and find an alternative street that would not create as much dissension.
"It is safe to say that our current memorial for Dr. King is not working," Frost said.
However, while some business owners on the street opposed the renaming, most blacks at the council meeting urged council members to uphold their decision.
Gloria Vinson, spokeswoman for the San Diego Voice and Viewpoint, a black newspaper on Martin Luther King Way, said that many merchants already had changed the street name on their letterheads and business cards.
The Rev. Owen Ringold, from Bethel Southern Baptist church, said that the name change had given new pride to a large constituency and that the community should be proud of the street name rather than concerned with the cost of changing letterheads.
An attempt by McColl to suspend the rules and consider an alternative to renaming Market Street failed by lack of six votes. Although five votes is a majority, six votes are required for the council to take special action.
The council also voted against reconsidering its decision of naming the portion of Interstate 15, between Interstate 8 and Interstate 5, after Martin Luther King Jr., saying that it would confuse drivers and that San Diegans call freeways by their number, rather than their proper name.