Your Views: Unconstitutional street renaming rules

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Your Views: Unconstitutional street renaming rules
Photo/Cody Mello-Klein
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To the editor:

Your article on renaming Lee Street, “Residents divided over petition to rename Lee Street,” in the Aug. 5 Alexandria Times tries to cover the complexity of the underlying issues involved in renaming this street. What is troubling, though, is that city hall seems to be quietly slipping under the radar different criteria for “controversial” street names, which now require the same 75% of property owners who live on the street as for street renamings in general.

City hall is scheming to reduce the approval requirement to a mere 25% – but only for those named for “controversial” figures. There are three problems with what city hall is contemplating:

1) Practical: If only 25% of property owners on the street are needed to rename it, the other 75% could petition to change the name back a year later. The 25% threshold is impractical as it could lead to several competing proposed names, none with majority support.

2) Ethical: The 25% threshold could result in a name with only minority support being chosen over one with majority support.

3) Constitutional: Having a different legal standard for streets named for “controversial” figures than for other street renamings unconstitutionally discriminates against individuals based on their political opinions, akin to a rule giving Democrats five minutes to speak at public hearings, but Republicans only three minutes, which would run afoul of free speech and equal protection. Moreover, what constitutes “controversial” is arbitrary and subjective.

Were Lee Street’s name changed based on a petition with less than 75% support, those who oppose the change could challenge it in federal court and have a potentially winnable case which would entitle them to recoup attorney’s fees for a constitutional violation committed by a governmental entity.

Instead, city hall should retain its current uniform rule requiring renaming petitions needing to obtain 75% of property owners on streets which are primarily residential.

-Dino Drudi, Alexandria

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