Sunday, July 12, 2020

City Council, July 13th - To Rename Center Street

Council meets on Monday, and they have history on the mind. In addition to the Historic Preservation Plan, they will moot Councilor Hoy's suggestion to rename Center Street to honor Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Center Street is much earlier than Asylum Avenue
and was already part of the earliest grid naming
Marion & Linn County atlas, 1878
Based on the first tranche of public comment, it seems likely that this is a concept that needs more discussion. Rather than snapping into focus with a consensus, several writers propose alternatives, each heading off into a different direction.

Advocating at the Capitol, February 3rd, 1919
Some of the suggested alternatives stress a local figure rather than national one. One person on social media suggested Beatrice Cannady, for example. I do not read the alternate suggestions as any kind of delaying sentiment, especially at this early stage of a proposal, but as offered in good faith. There is also no comment from our local NCAAP chapter or Oregon Black Pioneers, and a successful renaming proposal would be sure to have their endorsement and participation.

Altogether, it is not clear the proposal is fully mature, and there may be benefit from a wider community conversation about whom to honor and how to honor.

Here, it is interesting to note, not a fatal quibble by any means, that Center Street downtown between the River and 14th was named early as part of the first full street grid and predated Asylum Avenue, the extension outside city limits, by more than a generation. Center Street as a street name is not quite the palimpsest that Asylum Avenue might suggest.

Though it is a minor street, because Governor Gaines owned slaves, it has seemed that Gaines Street might be a good candidate for renaming. As we talk about history and our own problematic characters, we may turn up other candidates both for renaming and for the new names. Some "mission creep" here into a broader conversation might actually be constructive.

Other Items

Last month it had seemed that a member of family with a cannery likely to be redeveloped might be a good addition to the Planning Commission, but in a supplemental questionnaire they write about "costly alternative modes" - and what?! To see walking and biking as more costly than car driving is a gross error and perhaps even disqualification. Council should probably appoint the other.

There is information on the proposed Police Department Performance Audit, and hopefully others will analyze it. The outline doesn't touch on racism or bias, and it doesn't really look at staffing levels. Generally it is a little, well, Fordist? It's about bureaucratic efficiency rather than about values. Is it the right approach?

There is more on the challenge to using SDC funds for the purchase of 298 Taybin Road NW on or near a future Marine Drive. Narrowly, on using SDC funds under the 5% slush allowance, it looks like the City has the stronger case. But whether it's a wise purchase is harder to say. The purchase price looks high, the property is located on a contested alignment for Marine Drive that may be contrary to other Council decisions, and there are plenty of other questions. Hinessight has a more detailed discussion, and argues that Staff are not following Council's lead adequately.

Also on SDCs there is a proposal for "partial SDC exemptions for housing projects that guarantee affordable housing for less than 30 years."

A Land Value Tax concept critiqued,
then failed at the ballot in 1908
(March 9th, 1908)
And finally, two notes on Legislative priorities for 2021, one from the City, the other a concurrence with the League of Oregon Cities. One of the LOC policies is for property tax reform, and perhaps it's time to revisit a Land Value Tax, which was debated and rejected in the early 1900s in Oregon. Here's a brief Strong Towns note on a Land Value Tax, and more on Henry George.


Walker said...

This is so vital. It’s never wise to think a single reform will serve as a silver bullet that solves everything, but the way taxes act (what we tax rather than how much) as foundational for everything else makes a good tax reform the closest thing possible to a silver bullet. Moving to a land value tax would be the single most beneficial reform we could have, because it would take care of so many other issues that we struggle with in terms of trying to make better public policy around making our cities more productive and livable.

There’s a group here in Oregon ( that is part of a national Georgist network (including It seems wonky, but there is no more powerful thing we could do than reverse our perverse incentives that currently reward sprawl and land speculation while punishing people who try to redevelop properties for people.

Jim Scheppke said...

I fully support Councilor Hoy's proposal to rename Center Street to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. About 600 cities in the US have already done this. That the capital city of Oregon has not should be something of an embarrassment to residents here. Most of the testimony in opposition is not well-conceived. By choosing Center Street we can also ask ODOT to rename the Center St. bridge after MLK. Since the bridge is scheduled for a seismic upgrade and hopefully a few other design improvements in 2025 there is the possibility that we could see some public art on the bridge to honor MLK as part of this project. Everything we can do to mitigate the shameful history of racism in our state needs to be done and this is a good way to do it. Naming a park for MLK or naming the street for Senator Winters or someone else doesn't cut it.

Anonymous said...

In The Oregonian, R. Gregory Nokes writes:

"One person very much deserving recognition is Robin Holmes, a former slave, whose suit against his former owner in 1852 resulted in a definitive ruling that slavery was unlawful in Oregon.... Judge George Williams of the Oregon Supreme Court ruled in Holmes’ favor in a landmark ruling in 1853. Because of Holmes’ courage and perseverance, as an illiterate Black man prevailing in court against a white man who would serve four terms in Oregon’s provisional and territorial legislatures, he deserves consideration for a statue on the Oregon State Capital grounds."

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

The second tranche of public comment is overwhelmingly in favor of renaming Center Street.

Mike said...

Ultimately I could either way. But I don't want to see the bridge named after MLK. To me it represents an autoism mindset that took people away from the city. "White flight" may not have been the primary reason for suburbanization in Salem but the middle class still abandoned older parts of town for the burbs in Marion and Polk County while also demanding that they have an oversupply of free parking in Salem.

It seems more appropriate that we change the part of Riverfront park at the Peace Globe to Martin Luther King Jr Peace garden.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

After making a public records request for a bunch of emails, Hinessight has more on the Taybin Road purchase in "Salem City Council bamboozled by staff on Taybin Road property purchase."

Some of the claims might be overstated, but this part seems pretty secure:

"Mayor Bennett and the other members of the City Council [should] realize that, at the least, they should have been much more aggressive in challenging the glib answers of Fernandez and Dameron, and much more sympathetic to Easterly when he presented evidence that city staff had stonewalled his efforts to get information about the Taybin Road purchase that he needed for his appeal."

There are certainly a lot of questions, and Council did not seem very interested in making an attempt at finding answers.