Joe Person is a patient man. For more than a year he’s worked hard to get something of significance in Chico named after slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. His efforts have hit curious road blocks at council and park commission meetings and ugly taunts and racist denunciations on the letters-to-the-editor pages of the Enterprise-Record. So this week when Person learned after the fact that the Chico City Council had voted to rename a southeast Chico street after King, but not until 2007, he grimaced, shook his head and vowed to see it happen sooner. Even the most patient man has his limits.
The council had voted unanimously about 10 minutes earlier to rename Whitman Avenue as Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. But that won’t happen until Jan. 15, 2007 so that the businesses along that street can use up their letterheads, business cards and other business-related paperwork and save the cost of ordering new ones necessitated by the street-name change. In the past year Person has sat through hours of meetings, sometimes until late in the evening while the council debated any number of mundane city matters, waiting patiently until the King issue came around on the agenda. This week he thought he’d try to time his arrival to coincide with the council action on the King matter—a tricky proposition at best.
What he missed this time were objections like that of Jan Bratcher, a hair salon owner who said it would cost his company between $200 and $500 to make the change. Theresa McDonald, a woman from Paradise, said that while the civil rights leader was a good man, he was not “an extraordinary American” like those who had given their lives in war. She thought about what she said. “He did give his life,” she conceded, “but many others have as well.” Then she added this: “And this is going to be very confusing for people like me who carry old maps.” Rocky Niles, owner of Corlin Paints, which sits just south of the park, said he had no problem with the city wanting to honor King, but suggested “the next new street, next new park or next new school would be a better solution.”
A few people who worked with a coalition to find a way to honor King thanked the council for its action, singling out Councilman Steve Bertagna for his efforts. And Carol Ebling said, “I have precious little of value to leave to my grandchildren. Thank you for this.” Marilyn Ey, on the other hand, said most of the affected business owners were afraid to speak out because the matter was a “political hot potato.” In the future, if the city chooses “to honor Kennedy, Reagan or Ford” (Henry or Gerald? we wonder), it should simply make a proclamation to that end. This street-renaming business is too much of a hassle, she said. City staff noted that the post office will continue to forward mail to the new address for one year after the change. Vice-Mayor Maureen Kirk suggested the Jan. 15, 2007—King’s birthday—be the day when the new street signs are posted, coinciding with some type of city celebration. Councilman Dan Herbert suggested the date be extended to Jan. 15, 2008 to further lessen the financial burden on Whitman Avenue businesses.
Councilman Andy Holcombe said he was mindful of the costs involved, but suggested they could be at least partially written off as a business expense. Bertagna agreed that 2007 rather than 2008 would be appropriate. The council voted 6-0—Councilman Larry Wahl was M.I.A.—to make the change in 2007. Arriving after the vote, Person said in the lobby outside the council chambers that he was disappointed to learn the street signs would not be changed for another 18 months. “We need this now,” he said. “We can’t go without those signs that long.” He expressed disappointment that he had missed the vote and vowed to try to get the changes in place sooner. He said the new street signs need to hang with the old ones for a period of time to help people understand that the name had changed. Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway will run from East Park north to where it ends at the entrance to the 20th Street Community Park. That park, by the way, is schedule to get some sort of monument to King. It’s still unclear if that will occur within this century.