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St. Paul: where the streets have two names

MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson
Street signs on a lamppost at the corner of Oxford and Selby and Rev. Dr. A.P. Williams Ave.

More than a few things puzzled Rebecca Noecker about St. Paul City Council when she joined in 2016. Like, why did council members remain silent during roll calls when they were in support of an ordinance or resolution instead of actually saying, you know, “aye”?

More recently, it was the streets. Or, rather, why and how certain streets in the city had two names?

So earlier this year, Noecker, who represents Ward 2, asked whether there was a policy on deciding which requests for co-naming of city streets were worthy and which were not. She’d already received a request from a church to co-name the street on which is was located for a person associated with the religion, though not a St. Paul resident. And she’d also been asked to co-name another street for her predecessor, Dave Thune.

What were the rules, she wanted to know? For example, does the honoree have to be deceased or could they still be living? Was there a time limit for the honorary namings, which designated a second street sign to be placed on top of the one giving the street name that’s on the map?

Noecker’s questions eventually triggered a discussion about the city’s rules — and how they could be applied more consistently. At the council’s April study session, Council President Russ Stark wondered if there was a public safety issue; what happened if a caller gave the honorary name to first responders?

Council Member Amy Brendmoen mentioned that a street in her neighborhood has three names. “Is it Nagasaki Road, is it Horton, is it Como?” she asked. “I don’t know. It depends on which way you’re pointing at the intersection.”

Council Member Chris Tolbert joked that it is a tradition in St. Paul to have confusing streets. “If you haven’t lived here for 50 years you get lost.”

At least one council member said he likes the current policy of — well, no policy. Council Member Dai Thao said that his Ward 1 may have the most co-named streets in the city, since it was where the historic Rondo neighborhood was located before being decimated by the construction of Interstate 94 construction, and it’s now where more-recent immigrants have congregated. “For people to name those streets after icons and community champions is a way to identify that this was once our neighborhood — to recapture that and make it part of the healing,” Thao said.

Council Member Jane Prince agreed that many co-naming honorees are “people of color whose legacies are in no way reflected anywhere else in the city.” But she said that if the person is significant enough, perhaps a permanent renaming would be in order — especially in areas where “the original name is like a developer who named a subdivision as opposed to a name in tribute to someone.”

But the more the council talked about it, it seems, the more the council appears to have decided that the whole thing is a bit silly — that perhaps there are better ways to honor worthy St. Paulites. In fact, at its Wednesday meeting, the council will consider a resolution to get rid of the whole program. (UPDATE: Council members approved the resolution by unanimous voice vote.)

There are a “variety of other ways to honor individuals including proclamations and resolutions,” the proposal states. “A street co-name sign has confused some in the public who do not recognize the official street name, resulting in the potential for miscommunication in an emergency situation.”

“It became apparent that the work it would take to create something that would be fair and standard across the board would be more work than it was worth to have street co-naming happen,” Noecker said this week. “Not a great use of city resources.”

So what’s next for the St. Paul council’s fresh eyes?

Noecker said city staff is considering requesting a change in the process that requires the council to hold public hearings and vote on each request for variances from sound-level ordinances in order to have amplified speeches and music at outdoor events. In the spring and summer there are up to a dozen such requests each meeting, and having someone actually show up to testify at the hearing is as rare as hearing a “no” vote by a council member.

“Stay tuned,” she said.

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