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Phoenix Council Gives Itself Power To Rename Streets Without Residents OK

Phoenix could soon change the names of Robert E. Lee Street and Squaw Peak Drive.
(Photo by Christina Estes - KJZZ)
Phoenix could soon change the names of Robert E. Lee Street and Squaw Peak Drive.

By a 6-3 vote, Phoenix City Council members gave themselves the power to change street names they find offensive or derogatory — even if people living on the streets want the names to stay. The future of Robert E Lee Street and Squaw Peak Drive sparked hours of debate during Tuesday’s council meeting.

Mayor Greg Stanton thinks a street named after the Confederate general and a street containing an derogatory term for Native American women have no place in Phoenix.

“We want to send a message about our values as a city and that means Phoenix should not have public street names whose signs are funded with taxpayer dollars that demean our residents,” he said. 

Many people spoke in support of Stanton’s effort, including Patti Hibbeler, CEO of the Phoenix Indian Center.  

“We want to create the vision of inclusion for everyone and not to create places that bring tears or anger when they drive down those streets because they belong to everyone,” she said.

“You don’t have to be African American or Native to be offended,” said the Rev. Warren Stewart, Jr., founder of Church of The Remnant in Phoenix.

Councilmembers Sal DiCiccio, Jim Waring and Thelda Williams voted against changing the renaming process. They think residents who live on the two streets have been ignored.

“I cannot support being all inclusive by excluding the citizens that are most impacted by taking away that right,” Williams said. “I think when we eliminate rights it causes distrust of government and perpetuates resentment and turmoil.”

She said it’s wrong to remove a requirement that 75 percent of residents agree to a name change.

“It’s just not appropriate for a city this size to be able to cram things down peoples’ throats without talking to them first,” DiCiccio said.

Councilman Waring read from a 2006 policy that highlighted the goal of assuring property owners impacted would have an opportunity to participate in the review and approval process. He also read from a 2012 updated policy that detailed a requirement for property owners to sign a petition in support of name changes.

“I believe with this motion we can change any street name to anything that we like,” Waring said. “I don’t think that’s appropriate. I’m not debating the merits of the two names that have come up today. It’s more the fact that, you know, it probably would have been nice to go ask those neighbors first.”

The mayor or three council members can now request name changes. Among other things, the new process will include at least two meetings with residents directly impacted, a report detailing the cost to the city and ways to limit costs to residents and businesses, along with a public hearing before the council votes. 

The issue of renaming Robert E. Lee Street and Squaw Peak Drive are expected to be addressed this fall.

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As a senior field correspondent, Christina Estes focuses on stories that impact our economy, your wallet and public policy.