Thirty years after the first attempt, the Fresno City Council voted Thursday to change Kings Canyon Road, Ventura Ave. and W. California Ave. to Cesar Chavez Boulevard in honor of the civil rights leader who founded United Farm Workers.
The move, however, was not a popular one among southwest Fresno’s Black community.
The backstory: The city council initially approved the name change in 1993, but then Mayor Jim Patterson vetoed it after public backlash. The council did not override Patterson’s veto.
- Last year the council, at the behest of Councilman Luis Chavez, voted to initiate the process to change the name, an act that at the time was widely supported by the public who participated in the meeting.
State of play: With hundreds of businesses lining the Kings Canyon corridor, the city has allocated $1 million to reimburse businesses for the expenses that will be incurred with the name change.
- The name change was approved by a 6-1 vote, with Councilman Garry Bredefeld casting the lone vote in opposition given the community pushback and the $1 million expense. Councilmembers Miguel Arias and Nelson Esparza joined Chavez as coauthors of the resolution.
Driving the news: The public comment portion of Thursday’s council meeting prominently featured residents from southwest Fresno who opposed the change, asking for a seat at the table to have their voices heard.
What they’re saying: Southwest Fresno pastor B.T. Lewis called the name change an “insult and blatant disregard” to the Black community’s presence in Fresno.
- “My heart is heavy as once again we are facing another of 1,000 cuts killing the history and the heritage of the African American community in our city. It absolutely challenges my ability to breathe, and that is absolutely literal,” Lewis said. “When I think about the erosion of our presence in our city’s history. While the name California Ave. may seem benign to people unfamiliar or even insensitive to the cultural history of southwest Fresno, California Ave. continues to be a landmark of measurable significance for our community.”
- Fresno Unified School District Trustee Keshia Thomas, who represents the Edison High School area and has lived in southwest Fresno for most of her life, asked for the community to have a greater say in the change.
- “California’s really important to me,” Thomas said. “My uncle had the first Black gas station on California. My parents went to Edison High School. My family lived there. Lee Street is named after my family. That is a family entity, and just to come in and change it is not right for us to at least have a voice.”