In April, 1986, the San Diego City Council voted to change the name of Market Street to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way. In doing so, the City Council committed the people of San Diego to a controversy that has been brewing ever since. The issues underlying this controversy are significant and reach well beyond a simple name change.
The circumstances leading up to the City Council's decision were fairly straightforward. In response to a suggestion from Sacramento, the council decided to name a street to honor the slain civil-rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The selection process narrowed the choices to four--of which Market Street was ranked third by the city staff.
First on the city manager's list was 54th Street and Euclid Avenue. By far the most popular choice based on community input was Imperial Avenue. But, for some reason yet to be properly explained and justified, the City Council members turned their backs on these recommendations and selected Market Street to honor King.
The City Council's action caused outrage among the citizens of San Diego. A week after the City Council's decision, the council chambers were packed with San Diegans requesting reconsideration of the Market Street name change. Those in attendance ranged from Market Street residents and businessmen to those who advocated changing the name of Imperial Avenue. A question posed by all was: Why Market Street?
The conduct of the City Council at this meeting was less than graceful. After 5 1/2 hours of patient and courteous waiting, the door was slammed in the face of the audience when acting Mayor Ed Struiksma abruptly adjourned the meeting and bolted for the exit.
Despite the fact that more than 40 residents and business owners were in attendance, and several of us filled out slips requesting to speak on the issue, we were never heard. By refusing to bring the issue back to the floor during that meeting, the council effectively killed our chances to have its previous vote reconsidered. As the council members filed out, we were left dumbfounded.
A group of concerned citizens formed a committee to "Keep Market Street." After repeated efforts to have the council reconsider the matter were shunned by the City Council, the Keep Market Street Committee launched an initiative effort to place the Market Street name change on a city-wide ballot. Six months and 79,000 signatures later, the committee accomplished its goal to bring the decision on Market Street to the voters of San Diego.
While the City Council has yet to adequately answer the questions about Market Street, the answers from the voters of San Diego are plainly clear:
Market Street has been a major thoroughfare in downtown San Diego since 1915. As Broadway has represented the retail district, Market Street has been the commercial byway through town. As such, Market Street is a significant part of San Diego's culture and heritage.
Market Street runs directly through the Marina Redevelopment and Gaslamp Quarter areas where the city has committed millions of dollars and a tremendous amount of energy to promote restoration and historical preservation. The name of Market Street plays an important and relevant role in this redevelopment effort.
The City Council's decision to change the name of Market Street was contrary to most of the community input and was not in accordance with the city manager's recommendation. It is clear that the City Council selected the wrong street to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The scope of concerned citizens interested in maintaining Market Street in San Diego ranges well beyond the Market Street shopkeepers and residents. More than 10% of the city's voters came forth to place the Market Street measure on the ballot.
As "America's Finest City," there is no reason why San Diego should not have both Market Street and an appropriate memorial for King.
Common sense says that the leaders in City Hall should be taking action today to end the controversy over Market Street. The burden of this issue remains with the City Council. In November, the citizens of San Diego will give their answer to the Market Street question. The City Council would do well to anticipate the wishes of the electorate and have a plan of action prepared to preserve San Diego's reputation as "America's Finest City."