Failure to Name Center for King Rapped

From Associated Press

Some City Council members Wednesday criticized the Port Commission's refusal to consider naming San Diego's new convention center for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

On Tuesday, the commission avoided a vote on renaming the convention center, instead voting 4-3 to endorse the idea of an Avenue of Honors at the facility as tribute to King and others.

"I can understand that they wanted to find a compromise," City Councilman Wes Pratt said. "But what they did simply begged the question. They should have addressed the issue first and then moved on the compromise."

'Insufficient Tribute'

"The Avenue of Honors idea is an insufficient tribute in light of what we were trying to do," said Pratt, the only black member of the council.

The compromise proposal will be sent for consideration to the City Council, which voted 7-2 last month to rename the center the San Diego Martin Luther King Convention Center.

Any change in the name of the $160-million San Diego Convention Center name must be approved by the Port Commission as well as the city because the Port District owns the land where the center is being built. Completion is set for October.

The city has struggled with a way of honoring King since voters in 1987 decided to strip his name from a downtown street and return it to its original name, Market Street.

Paul Downey, spokesman for Mayor Maureen O'Connor, said she was "very disappointed in the port's vote . . . (and will do) whatever is necessary to keep the community from becoming more divided."

If council members again recommend naming the entire facility after King, the matter will return to the Port Commission. One commissioner who backed the proposal by Chula Vista colleague Robert Penner said he will change his vote and support renaming the center if that happened.

"I will support whatever the City Council decides to do, but I think they deserve the opportunity to discuss this (port) proposal," Commissioner Daniel Larsen of San Diego said.

Larsen, who previously said he would support the council's action, explained that he was persuaded to change his position by a petition and letter-writing campaign opposing the renaming of the facility.

While King would be the first person inducted into the Avenue of Honors, the proposal calls on officials of the Port District and San Diego city and county to develop a process for selecting others.

The Port Commission decision upset many of the city's black leaders, including the Rev. George Stevens, who afterward called for an informal boycott of the center.

Those opposed to changing the center's name, however, called the port's counterproposal a fitting compromise to an emotionally charged issue.

"We're very pleased," said Robert Pruett, leader of the Citizens to Keep the Name San Diego Convention Center, which presented commissioners with a petition signed by 4,769 people.

The group has also threatened to initiate a referendum drive to reverse the name change if it is ultimately approved by the port and city.

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