Panel backs changing names of portions of Carondelet, La Salle streets _lowres

DO NOT RUN DO NOT RUN DO NOT RUN Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Funeral services for Bishop Robert C. Blakes, Sr., Pastor and Founder of New Home Ministries, age 74, were held Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at The Pontchartrain Center in Kenner. Known among the faithful as "The Prophet," the pastor died April 11. The funeral filled the Pontchartrain Center with dignitaries like New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu in attendance. MAGS OUT / INTERNET OUT/ONLINE OUT/NO SALES/TV OUT/FOREIGN OUT/LOUISIANA BUSINESS INC. OUT/GREATER BATON ROUGE BUSINESS REPORT OUT/225 OUT/10/12 OUT/IN REGISTER OUT/LBI CUSTOM PUBLICATIONS OUT/MANDATORY CREDIT THE ADVOCATE/ JOHN McCUSKER

Portions of two Central City streets apparently will be renamed to honor former pastors of churches in the neighborhood.

The City Planning Commission voted Tuesday to give the names Robert C. Blakes Sr. Drive and Rev. John Raphael Jr. Way to four blocks of Carondelet Street and 11 blocks of La Salle Street, respectively.

The changes were requested by Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, whose district includes both areas, on behalf of the families and congregations of the two men, both deceased. Mayor Mitch Landrieu also supported the changes.

The final decisions on the changes are up to the full council.

The City Planning Commission staff, however, opposed the changes, saying they do not meet the city’s normal standards for street name changes.

Both men, for instance, died less than two years ago. City rules say that streets can be named for people only after they have been dead for at least five years.

The planning staff also objected that the changes would fragment the names of continuous streets for a few blocks. Under city planning rules, either the entire length of a street should be renamed or a section of the street to be renamed should be separated physically from other portions of the street, such as the final few blocks of a street.

The staff recommended that honorary street name signs, which wouldn’t officially change the name of the streets, be used instead to recognize both men.

The Planning Commission voted 5-3, with members Kelly Brown, Kyle Wedberg and Alexandra Mora opposed, to overturn its staff’s recommendation on the Carondelet Street change.

The commission then voted 7-1 on the La Salle Street change. Wedberg and Mora voted in favor of the second request, though both said they remained philosophically opposed to the proposal.

The dissent centered on concerns about public safety and policy involved when the name of a street is changed. Street name changes require changes to the maps and information used by 911 operators, police, the Fire Department, mail deliverers and other people who provide services to citizens at their homes.

Wedberg said he believed Blakes and Raphael were deserving of having streets named for them but was concerned about the “unintended consequences” of doing so, such as disruption of mail delivery service and delays in providing public safety assistance.

The Carondelet Street change will affect 53 addresses from Felicity Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The La Salle Street change will stretch from Earhart Boulevard to Simon Bolivar Avenue and includes 116 addresses.

Carondelet Street honors a Spanish governor of Louisiana during the 1790s who was responsible for numerous public improvements in New Orleans.

La Salle Street is named for the French explorer who in 1682 canoed down the Mississippi River. He named the Mississippi basin La Louisiane in honor of King Louis XIV and claimed it for France.

No one opposed the name changes at Tuesday’s meeting, but commission members said they had received letters from residents opposing the proposal.

Wedberg said he believed the commission shouldn’t act on the name changes and instead should ask the council to create a formal process by which the city could have honorary street signs as suggested by the planning staff.

“If we’re going to change a street, we should change a street,” Wedberg said. “If we’re going to honor a person, we should do an honorary street name.”

But supporters of the name changes said the honorees in question deserve special exemptions from the rules.

Blakes, who also was known as Prophet Blakes, founded New Home Ministries, based at 1616 Carondelet St. Blakes advocated for blight and crime reduction and ran a weekly ministry that fed the homeless, supporters of the change said. He also oversaw programs that offered after-school tutoring and computer literacy classes.

Raphael was pastor of New Hope Baptist Church at 1809 La Salle St. The onetime police officer pushed to stop violence in Central City and was the force behind the “Thou Shalt Not Kill” signs dotting the neighborhood.

“I think for exceptional people, you make exceptions,” Commissioner Nolan Marshall said. Marshall said the city is “losing touch” with the people who make it great and the changes would be a way to reconnect with them.

Commissioner Craig Mitchell said the board should get out of the way of the people of the neighborhood who were requesting the changes.

“At some point, we need to leave something to the people and not the politicians,” Mitchell said.