Hoping to expedite plans for a new tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the San Diego City Council on Monday established a citizens' committee that will recommend a way to honor the slain civil rights leader in the wake of voters' decision last month to remove King's name from a major downtown street.
By a unanimous vote, the council created a 19-member panel intended to propose a new method to commemorate King by next July. The Rev. Clyde Gaines, chairman of Mayor Maureen O'Connor's Black Advisory Board, said he hopes that the 19 positions will be filled by the council within several weeks so the committee can begin its task by Jan. 1.
Monday's action represented the council's latest and most substantial effort to defuse lingering resentment among local black leaders over the emotional Nov. 3 vote. The vote was to restore Martin Luther King Way to its original name, Market Street--a decision that some argued was motivated, in part, by racism and damaged San Diego's national reputation.
Michel Anderson, co-chairman of the group that fought unsuccessfully to preserve the name of Martin Luther King Way, predicted Monday that the committee will enable the council to "achieve something bigger, something better, something grander than Market Street" to commemorate King.
In an effort to avoid the divisiveness of last month's ballot initiative, the committee plans to hold numerous public meetings throughout the city to solicit suggestions on potential ways to honor King.
Don McEvoy, executive director of the San Diego chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, noted Monday that the council had been widely criticized for failing to solicit sufficient community input before deciding in 1986 to rename Market Street in honor of King. Dissatisfaction with that process spurred opponents of the name change to gather tens of thousands of signatures to put the issue on last month's ballot.
"Last time, some said (the council) made a mistake," McEvoy said. "This time, we're going to make sure that the community doesn't make a mistake by doing it better."
Gaines said that the 19-member committee will represent "a good, broad . . . cross section" of the city, adding that he hopes the panel includes a member of the group that favored restoration of the name Market Street.
Representatives of Groups
Under guidelines approved by the council, the panel will include one member from each council district appointed by the mayor, as well as representatives of business and professional groups, the San Diego school district and various community, ethnic and racial groups.
Although the group is charged with developing its recommendation on how to honor King within six months, Gaines stressed that the committee will conduct a "thorough, careful examination . . . of all options."
"We're not hastily or hurriedly trying to come up with something," Gaines said. "We hope to spend enough time to reach enough citizens . . . to come up with a suitable tribute. We think this process is a more appropriate way to begin what we're trying to do."