In a contentious meeting spanning three hours, the Hollywood City Commission voted Monday night to begin the process of changing the streets named after three Confederate generals that lie in the heart of the city’s African-American neighborhood.
“It’s refreshing to see people rise up to their courage. That’s what leadership is about,’’ said Rev. Michael Anderson, pastor of New Jerusalem First Baptist Church in Hollywood.
The commission voted on two key measures to begin the street-renaming process.
In the first measure, proposed by Commissioner Richard Blattner, the city agreed to waive its policy of conducting a poll of residents affected by the name change. Under Blattner’s plan, the city would vote on whether to change the street names without polling the residents, something it would normally do under its current policy.
Blattner said if the commission takes the poll and the majority of people don’t want the street names changed, but the commission does it anyway, it would look like the commissioners could care less about what their community has to say.
Blattner’s measure passed 5-2 with Vice Mayor Traci Callari and commissioner Peter Hernandez dissenting.
“What message are we sending to the rest of our residents: If you put enough pressure on city hall, then this will happen,’’ said Hernandez, who suggested commissioners vote later to change the streets to numbered streets.
The second measure, proposed by Callari, called for dual-naming the streets for two years so people could get adjusted to Lee, Forrest and Hood streets eventually disappearing from Hollywood. After two years, the street names would be officially changed.
The three streets are named after Confederate generals. Forrest was considered the father of the Ku Klux Klan.
“Let’s take what Commissioner Callari said, now that we’ve waived the ballots, and put on the Aug. 30 agenda the acceptance of three new names, a dual sign for two years so people can get adjusted. After two years, those names will finally be put to rest,” said Commissioner Kevin Biederman.
The commission will vote on the matter Aug. 30.
“I’m looking forward to celebrating on Aug. 30 when we finally vote on the street names officially being changed,’’ said Esther Pereira, a resident and a BlackLivesMatter activist.
Not everyone was happy with this decision.
“You were elected to serve the public, not the special interest groups,” said Hollywood resident Cynthia Baker, who was one of only a few in attendance that was against the street name change. “If you pass this, where will it end?”
There were 11 who spoke in support of the change, with only one person, Baker, opposing the move.
Carlos Valnera and Cindy Johnson discussed the same point – that the ballots were just a “scapegoat.’’
“I have heard people claiming that if the street names change, then ambulances will get lost and that is starting to scare people,” said Valnera, a Hollywood resident. “If you look at history, I bet if you put women’s rights to a vote it would have never passed – where would we be today? Sometimes it is not about the majority, but it is about doing what is right.”
Johnson, who is retired but got involved with activist groups after Donald Trump was elected president, said the more bureaucratic hoops the commission puts in front of the issue, the more resilient the people will become.
“We will keep pushing the issue and bring national attention to is so they don’t forget it,” Johnson said.
Residents reminded the commission that after more than a decade of calling on the commission to change the street names, they would not be stopped or silenced.
“It is time to change the names and the time is now. Hollywood has a proud history as a multicultural and non-discriminatory city and we the commission have an obligation to ensure that legacy to our residents in a consistent and timely manner,” said Commissioner Debra Case. “We must do the right thing. And we must do it now. In conclusion, I support the street name change of Forrest, Lee and Hood.”