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What’s in a Name? Free Money

February 8th, 2013 by dk

Some Oregonians wish our neighbors to the north hadn’t legalized marijuana for recreational use before us. We reminisce being first in the nation for bottle bills and statewide land use planning. Back in the days of Tom McCall, Washington was content to follow us.

Lately, they’ve taken the pride of progressive politics away from us. They indexed their minimum wage months before we did, so every year they claim the highest paid low-pay workforce. We’re always a few cents behind. It hurts.

But then came this. Last week, a Washington legislator proposed that her state ease its budget woes by selling naming rights to streets, bridges, highway ramps, and any other state-owned property that may offer some commercial appeal.

“I’m trying to think out of the box and come up with some revenue for our local folks and for our state that isn’t another dollar out of our taxpayers’ wallets,” said Republican state Rep. Jan Angel.

To which, many commentators have responded, “What have they been smoking in Olympia?”

We should be glad we’re not carrying the mantle of marijuana to the rest of the nation. If we want to continue being the state that dreams up big ideas, it’s best if the image conjured isn’t a dorm room with a bong.

Governor Kitzhaber attracted $1.9 billion from the federal treasury to retool Oregon’s medical delivery system toward achieving health, not treating sickness. Would the Obama administration have made that commitment if stand-up comedians were at the same time suggesting the governor must have been high when formulating it?

For once, it’s good to let Washington go first. But on this naming rights idea, they’d better hurry, because Virginia lawmakers are also pursuing the idea. Other states have also looked into it. And why not?

Americans seem perfectly comfortable having everything named after something. Try going a week without wearing a stitch of clothing that advertises for itself or others. It’s not easy to do.

Philadelphia pocketed $5 million from AT&T for its name on a downtown transit station. New York City sold to Barclays bank the naming rights to a busy Brooklyn subway station.

Eugene has been aggressively tightening its fiscal belt for the past several years, but City Manager Jon Ruiz has begun warning that further cuts will not be invisible to residents. If citizens refuse to accept new fees or taxes, we may find ourselves considering some crazy options.

Eugene’s policy for naming streets forbids the use of last names of living people. Instead, we have a tradition of using first names, beginning with Eugene himself. The Park Blocks were donated to the city by Eugene Skinner and Charnelton Mulligan. Hilyard Shaw was the city’s first building contractor. More recently, developers in north Eugene named Chad Drive for a son and Suzanne Way for a wife. The popular acceptance of Matt Court is only a matter of time.

So there are ways to get naming rights that don’t require dying first. Peter DeFazio’s bike bridge was built after Eugene voters refused to widen the Ferry Street Bridge with federal money he secured as a freshman in Congress. (Although, to hear him tell it, that voter rebuke was not unlike a death to him.)

Our City Council may be heading for a similar voter comeuppance in May. If so, they may have to choose between closing branch libraries or inviting corporate sponsorships. Although they won’t name streets for living people, they’ve also hinted they don’t believe corporations should be considered living people. So there’s a clear path forward.

Soon we may be able to board the Em “M&M” X bus rapid transit system at the Fern “Ruffles have” Ridge Reservoir, ride it on West 11th “Herbs and Spices” Avenue, all the way to the downtown L”Lipton Tea” D central terminal.

Of course, there would have to be limits, but here too we can follow Washington’s lead. Angel has already suggested that certain names would be deemed inappropriate because they represent companies or ideas that people consider obscene or unhealthful.

She would specifically ban companies that market tobacco or cannabis.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs.

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