Activists have filed a lawsuit against the city of Fresno over the renaming of 10 miles of streets to Cesar Chavez Boulevard.
1 Community Compact, which describes itself as a grassroots group of activists, filed the suit July 10 in Fresno County Superior Court. Members of the group have publicly opposed renaming parts of California Avenue, Ventura Avenue/Street, and Kings Canyon Road to honor the late labor leader.
They called Chavez, the farm labor advocate who died in 1993, “divisive.” The lawsuit said Chavez was not a Fresno native, and he is already honored in other ways.
The Fresno City Council approved the renaming on March 9, 2023, on a 6-1 vote. Mayor Jerry Dyer transmitted a letter disapproving of the name change but acknowledged a veto was futile.
The opposition group alleges that the renaming was improperly noticed, and violated state environmental laws and free speech rights.
“I think the city council’s decision to move forward with this renaming it is unreasonable and unfair to our community at large. And I think that they railroaded this decision without consideration for community engagement,” Pastor B.T. Lewis, a renaming opponent, told GV Wire.
City Attorney Andrew Janz said the city doesn’t comment on ongoing litigation.
Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias — a co-sponsor of the bill — mentioned the lawsuit in a tweet, calling it a “new frivolous lawsuit by anti-Latino and GOP operatives.”
Even though there is no gag order, neither co-sponsors of the renaming, Luis Chavez (no relation to Cesar Chavez) and Nelson Esparza, wanted to comment, citing the ongoing court case.
“It would be irresponsible for me to comment on a matter related to pending litigation, we have a due process and I look forward to the facts being presented and evaluated by a court and subsequent ruling,” Chavez said.
Lawsuit: Due Process, Among Other Rights Violated
The lawsuit alleges 12 different areas of fault with the renaming process, mostly based on loss of due process. The plaintiffs are requesting a judge place a block on the renaming, even though it has started.
Placing the Chavez item on the consent calendar — where the city council often votes on several items, such as contracts or appointments, in a single vote — instead of the regular agenda was one problem, the lawsuit alleges. The lawsuit also accused the city of trying to sneak the item onto the agenda. Affected properties near the proposed street renaming were not noticed, denying the plaintiffs of due process.
Still, there were plenty of public comments from supporters and opponents at the March meeting.
When the council started the process in 2022, it promised a series of meetings and a committee assigned to study the issue. Neither happened, according to the lawsuit.
“The City Council also knew that the residents of those three streets would also be financially burdened by the street name change and would feel marginalized by having their street name changed, a street they have lived on or had businesses on for decades and longer,” the lawsuit states.
Councilman: Lawsuit Racist
In one passage, the lawsuit said a name change would reduce values of businesses along the road.
“(The renaming) damages the Plaintiff members private property by compelling them to spend exorbitant time and expense changing the name on all of their documents, signage, and other forms of identification, and reducing the value of their businesses because of that compelled name change,” the lawsuit said.
Arias blasted the lawsuit.
“It fundamentally makes a racist claim that a city street associated to a Latino surname would result in loss of property and business value. That is simply one of the most racist claims that I’ve heard put in writing,” Arias said.
Arias also connected the lawsuit to Tal Cloud, a Sanger-based conservative political consultant.
“It leads me to conclude that this is a frivolous lawsuit; that is simply Trump-inspired grift by anti-Latino, anti-union and Republican operatives. The city will respond appropriately in the courtroom,” Arias said.
The 1 Community Compact website has information to make checks payable to Common Sense Information, a group associated with Cloud. The donation request even instructs contributors to include “Attn: Tal.”
Headed to Court in November
Other legal arguments made in the lawsuit include that the renaming was beyond the council’s powers and it violated the city’s historic preservation process.
The city held a renaming dedication last month, although actually changing all the street signs could take a while.
Arias and Chavez are running for Fresno County Board of Supervisors against incumbent Sal Quintero.
Part of the roads being renamed for Chavez are within county jurisdiction. The supervisors voted in April 5-0 against the renaming.
Clovis attorney Brian Leighton represents 1 Community Compact. The first court hearing is scheduled for Nov. 2, a case management conference in front of Judge Robert Mangano.
(1/2) I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to everyone who joined us this past weekend to honor the legacy of Cesar E. Chavez through the historic street renaming. pic.twitter.com/Rx9cWnCJYI
— Councilmember Nelson Esparza (@D7Esparza) June 12, 2023