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California 94 Renamed to Honor Martin Luther King

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 10-mile stretch of California 94, from downtown San Diego to its interchange with California 125 in La Mesa, was formally christened Monday as the Martin Luther King Jr. Freeway.

Four green-and-white signs, each 14 feet long by 3 1/2 feet wide, along the state route were unveiled Monday at a press conference officially acknowledging the name change, San Diego’s latest effort to find a permanent memorial for the slain civil-rights leader.

For two years, the memorial issue has thrust the city in a racially and politically divisive debate. The renaming of the freeway has been one of the least favorite choices of San Diego’s black community.

The Rev. George Stevens, a black community leader who has fought to have the San Diego Convention Center named for King, said at the unveiling that, although he supports renaming the freeway, he isn’t satisfied, and that San Diego must still deal with what he called racism and oppression.

In April, 1986, the San Diego City Council decided against seeking a name change for California 94 and instead voted to designate Market Street as Martin Luther King Way. But, a year later, San Diego voters rescinded that decision by overwhelmingly approving a referendum that restored Market Street.

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In the aftermath, a private group, led by members of the Chamber of Commerce, worked with black leaders to find another replacement, settling on a scholarship fund and King statue to be built in Balboa Park. Fund raising for the $750,000 goal has stalled at about $150,000, civic leaders said recently.

Also attempting to move ahead was the City Council, which called on the Board of Port Commissioners to name the new convention center in King’s honor, a recommendation pushed by the King Tribute Advisory Board. The group held a series of eight poorly attended public hearings before voting on its recommendation.

By last July, the port board decided by a 4-3 vote to keep King’s name off the center, which opens to the public Friday as the San Diego Convention Center. A Stevens-led group has promised to protest and picket the opening ceremonies.

It was after that vote that Assemblyman Pete Chacon (D-San Diego) and state Sen. Wadie P. Deddeh (D-Chula Vista) introduced a resolution asking the Legislature to rename California 94. The Legislature approved the request in September, specifying, however, that private donations be used to pay for the new signs.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Freeway Committee was formed to raise the money. Its chairman is Bishop George McKinney, pastor of St. Stephen’s Church of God in Christ on Imperial Avenue. Sharing the leadership of the group are Gordon C. Luce, chairman of Great American Bank; Kim Fletcher, chairman of HomeFed Bank, and Deddeh.

The group has raised $1,400 of the $2,700 needed for the signs, according to a committee spokeswoman.


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