Supporters of the Fresno City Council’s March 9 vote to rename 10.3 miles of streets in the southern area of the city for farm labor leader Cesar Chavez waved mock street signs inside Fresno City Hall on Thursday, March 30, 2023. (Bee file photo) Credit: Tim Sheehan / Fresno Bee

Fresno County won’t participate in efforts to rename a Fresno thoroughfare to Avenida César E. Chávez.

The Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 on Tuesday to oppose renaming portions of a street that fall under county jurisdiction in honor of the civil rights leader.

The resolution, which was proposed by Supervisors Steve Brandau and Brian Pacheco, says the city of Fresno didn’t do enough to engage the county and its county island residents and businesses on renaming efforts.

On March 9, city of Fresno leaders voted to change the name of a 10.25-mile Fresno thoroughfare — which includes Kings Canyon Road, Ventura Avenue/Ventura Street, and California Avenue in southeast and southwest Fresno — after civil rights leader César Chávez.

City leaders say the decision, which comes 30 years after an initial name change attempt, is meant to honor the city’s farmworker population, many of whom reside in south Fresno. The city set aside $1 million to support businesses impacted by the name change in addition to other business incentives along the corridor.

But the city would need the county’s cooperation to change the entirety of the street.

In southeast Fresno, a few stretches of Kings Canyon Road are under county jurisdiction where the county island community of Sunnyside is located, including about a half-mile from west of Minnewawa Avenue to Clovis Avenues, 0.6 mile Argyle Avenue to Fowler Avenue, and a 0.3-mile stretch from Burgan Avenue to Armstrong Avenue. Kings Canyon Road from Temperance Avenue to the end of the cul-de-sac near Locan Avenue and Highway 180 is also under county jurisdiction.

In southwest Fresno, California Avenue is a country road on a half-mile stretch from Hughes Avenue to West Avenue.

“This is a multi-jurisdiction, multi-agency issue,” Pacheco said. “As a representative of southwest Fresno, I couldn’t idly sit by as the people of southwest Fresno felt their voices were not being heard.”

Criticism of Fresno’s renaming process

Multiple commenters at Tuesday’s board meeting criticized the city’s approach to the renaming process and said there was insufficient community outreach on the name change.

“We did not receive, nor have I ever seen, any notification from the city…about this change,” said Sarah Pilibos on behalf of the company, Stephens Investments, which owns a 17-acre property with about 30 businesses along Kings Canyon Road.

B.T. Lewis of southwest Fresno, a pastor and an appointed liaison between the city and southwest Fresno community, told the board of supervisors on Tuesday that the name California Avenue is “significant” to west Fresno and is the only area of the city that carries the history and heritage of Black Fresnans. He and some other southwest Fresno residents have been vocal in opposing the name change.

Other opponents to the name change include Fresno Unified’s Sunnyside Trustee Valerie Davis, who told the board she hopes they continue opposing the renaming of the streets and suggested renaming 2500 E. Stanislaus St. outside of the César E. Chávez Adult Education Center after Chávez. She also added that her grandchildren live in the Sunnyside community.

Board Chair Sal Quintero, whose district includes large portions of the street in question, spoke about his personal ties to the United Farm Workers union and César Chávez but decided to oppose the name change. He said Chávez would have declined the name change and would allocate the $1 million to organizations like the Poverello House to fight homelessness.

Fresno City Councilmember Miguel Arias addressed the board of supervisors during Tuesday’s meeting, saying the city doesn’t “need” nor “seek” the county’s permission to proceed and defended the city’s public engagement in the process.

He also pointed out that the county is suing the state of California to protect local control and that he “would hope that you would be consistent in your position and honor the fact that the local residents have elected a city council” that has policies to change the name of city streets in honor of a “Latino hero who fought for farmworkers.”

County cites potential confusion with renaming

According to a Fresno County analysis of the name change’s impact, the County of Fresno Emergency Services Division is concerned the name changes “could affect the timely response of emergency calls for service.”

“Both residents and visitors to the area may not know of the street name change and could give incorrect information as to the location of an emergency. The result could be a delay in the arrival of first responder personnel,” Salvador Espino, a county administrative analyst, said in a staff report.

One public commenter named Martha, who said she was a former mail carrier, said the current street and its multiple names is confusing. Fresno civil rights activist Gloria Hernandez likened the complaints about the name change to “NIMBYs” (Not In My Backyard).

“We’re asking our city to recall that vote,” Lewis said. He also wants the city to establish a diverse committee that receives recommendations on the name change.

A community meeting was planned on Tuesday evening at the Armenian Community Center to work on the next steps to preserve the Kings Canyon, Ventura, and California avenues.

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Melissa is a labor and economic inequality reporter with The Fresno Bee and Fresnoland.

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