Proposal for a Method to Change Street Names in Houston
Recently, the India Cultural Center suggested changing the section of Hillcroft between Highway 59 and Westpark to Mahatma Gandhi Street. I don't have a strong opinion about this (except to say that Hillcroft is a very boring street name, but that it would be really weird if the street were Hillcroft south of Westpark, Hillcroft north of 59, but Mahatma Gandhi in-between). The repsonses on Swamplot were quite passionate, though no one was quite as passionate as Slampo on his own blog.
But this got me thinking. I think it should be possible to change the name of a street. But it shouldn't be easy. The requirements for changing a street name should be transparent. So what I am proposing here is a general outline on how to change a street name.
First of all, the mechanism for the change should be a petition to the city government. Get enough registered voters to sign off on the name change, and the name will be changed. Let's call this the Petition to Change the Name of PCN, for short. The PCN would have some minimum number of signatures collected within a reasonable time frame (let's say 6 months). For the sake of argument, let's make 1000 signatures the minimum. (It could be more, though.)
Now in order to change a street name, you have to replace a bunch of signs, and that cost money. And the taxpayers of Houston shouldn't have to bear that cost. So if an orgnaization like the India Cultural Center (or any other orgnaization or individual) wants to change the name of a street, they must not only get a minimum of signatures on the PCN, they would also have to place in an escrow account enough money to pay for the new signs, their installation, and the confirmation of the signatures on the petitions.
Yes, petitions. Because once someone started a PCN, at the same time, a petition to retain the old name, or PRON for short, would be begun. It would have the power to veto the PCN, and would have six months after the PCN was turned in to be completed. (This makes the entire process last at least a year, but that seems reasonable for such a big change.) If enough registered voters were actively against changing the name, the name would stay the same. The minimum quantity of signatures on the PRON would be a percentage of the number of signatures on the PCN. For the sake of argument, let's say 50%. So let's say the supporters of the name change got 5000 signatures. If the PRON has 2501 signatures, then the name remains the same, the escrow is returned to the sponsoring orgnaization (minus a fee for validating the petitions), and we all go home.
So let's say I am president of the Houston Classic Comic Strip Appreciation Society, and we decide we would like to honor George Herriman, the immortal creator of Krazy Kat and other classic comic strips, by having a street named after him. The one we choose is a one-block street called Herridge. So we go to City Hall, pay our escrow ($650: $250 each for the two street signs we would replace, and $.10 each for the minimum 1000 signatures we need, plus $50 for the possible 500 signatures on the PRON. Note--all prices are just made up in this example.) In getting this petition, a notice goes up on the City of Houston website that the HCCSAS has started a PCN, and that if anyone wishes to get a PRON to oppose, they can pick it up at City Hall.
Now the HCCSAS has a mailing list of all the classic comic strip fans in Houston, and we also go out in public places and get random citizens to sign. We do pretty well at street festivals, in Montrose, and in the Heights. Their PCN gets a total of 4000 signatures. When they turn it in to City Hall, though, they must pay an extra $500 into the escrow to pay for the extra signatures (theirs and the potential extras on the PRON).
In the meantime, the anti-Herriman folks are collecting signatures on their PRON. First of all, several people who live on Herridge don't want their street name changed. Then Slampo puts up a scathing denunciation of the whole plan on his website, which encourages even more people to sign the PRON.
If the PRON has more than 2000 signatures, the HCCSAS loses and Herridge stays Herridge. (The HCCSAS gets $500 back from the escrow account.) If the anti-Herriman forces are unable to generate opposition in the form of 2000 signatures, then the HCCSAS doesn't get anything back from the escrow account, but Herridge St. becomes Herriman St.
(In addition to all this, there would have to be some guidelines and maybe a mayoral veto power to prevent people from creating "Shit St." or "Hitler Lane.")
The reason I like this method is that it puts a big burden on the people who want to change the name--they have to pay for the change, and they have to convince a lot of registered voters to go along with them. And it gives people who are actively opposed to the change the ability to veto it, if they can convince enough voters to agree.
I'm not sure what the best minimum number of signatures on the PCN would be. Is 1000 enough? Or too high? Also, should the percentage of the number of PCN signatures needed on the PRON for a veto could be 25% or 40% instead of 50%. These are details.
The main point is that the hurdle for changing a street's name should be high but not insurmountable, and the process for doing it transparent and open to any citizen of Houston.
Labels: Houston Streets