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Originally published Friday, November 23, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Portland gives street-naming issue a rest

Scratch Fourth Avenue's new name. The Portland City Council voted unanimously this week to overturn an earlier move to rename the downtown...

PORTLAND — Scratch Fourth Avenue's new name.

The Portland City Council voted unanimously this week to overturn an earlier move to rename the downtown street for César Chávez. The council also voted 3-2 to reject renaming Interstate Avenue, the choice of Mayor Tom Potter and Latino leaders.

Months of debate over renaming a street for the labor leader revealed deep divisions in the city, and the council finally decided it needed a breather.

"I can see no good reason to put the community through any more of what has become a dysfunctional debate," Commissioner Randy Leonard said. "Discussion is healthy, but this is not a good discussion. It has to stop."

The decision pleased Chinese community leaders, who held a joint news conference with Latino leaders before the council meeting to decry the proposal to rename Fourth Avenue through Chinatown.

"I'm glad that they opened their ears to the community" said Richard Louie, president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association.

Marta Guembes, co-chairwoman of the Chávez renaming committee, said she remained disappointed in the process and the rejection of her community's desire to rename Interstate.

The renaming process began in September when the council voted unanimously to support a proposal by a group of Chávez supporters to rename Interstate, sending the idea to a pair of community meetings.

When those meetings revealed fierce neighborhood opposition, commissioners began looking for compromises. But the supporters, solidly backed by the mayor, rejected anything but changing Interstate, and no alternative could muster a council majority.

Last week, searching for a compromise, four commissioners agreed to initiate the renaming of Fourth Avenue, a prominent street that runs in front of City Hall. But it also runs into Chinatown and faced immediate opposition.

"It was just an idea," Commissioner Erik Sten said. "It wasn't a moral truth."

Said Commissioner Dan Saltzman: "A lot of us in this room are tired of this. We need some healing. We don't need open race wars in this city."

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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