Sept. 14 2010 12:00 AM

Lansing's newest addition: Malcolm X Street

Lansing City Council Vice President Kathie Dunbar took a few minutes to explain why she was about to vote no on renaming Main Street to Malcolm X Street at Monday’s meeting. A few months ago, she said she supported the name change.

Since then, Dunbar, with help from some interns, surveyed property owners along Main Street just south of I-496 to get an “empirical” feel for what residents thought about it. Of 33 people who commented, 21 did not support the name change, eight were neutral and four supported it.

“There needs to be some type of memorial for Malcolm X,” Dunbar said. “But I went by this survey.” She suggested memorializing X in museums, playgrounds, statues or some other “much more educational setting.”

Main Street starts at Lansing Road from the west and runs to River Street just before the Grand River. It starts again at Parker Street and runs east to Aurelius Road.

Despite Dunbar’s research, the Council secured five votes to rename Main Street from At-Large Council members Derrick Quinney and Carol Wood, Second Ward Councilwoman Tina Houghton, Fourth Ward Councilwoman Jessica Yorko and Council President A’Lynne Robinson. First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt cast the other no vote, while At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries was absent.

The lengthy public comment period at Monday’s meeting mostly addressed the proposed medical marijuana ordinance, though two people spoke in opposition to Malcolm X Street. Benerie Austin of 1901 W. Main St. was one of them.

Austin was given longer than the allotted three minutes for public comment to talk about knowing Malcolm Little as a young boy. She remembered him as a foster care child living nearby and also recalled a late-life visit X made to Lansing “dressed to the nines” in a light blue zoot suit.

While she supports honoring X, Austin said renaming Main Street is perhaps not the most fitting. “Malcolm pulled himself up by his bootstraps to achieve what he lived in life,” she said. “What does Main Street have to offer? It is just a thoroughfare to the highway.”

Robinson said X will be remembered in his “true and complete legacy” and that she is “proud of the process” that took place in renaming Main Street. While there will be other chances to remember X in a more educational setting, a street name change is of the highest caliber, she said: “At this point, there is but one (way to memorialize X) that speaks to the level of grandeur he deserves.”

In other memorial business at Monday’s meeting, Cesar E. Chavez’s name will be featured more prominently in Old Town. The Council voted unanimously to add honorary street signs that will sit atop existing East Grand River Avenue signs in Old Town. Lot 56 will also be renamed to Cesar E. Chavez Plaza.

(Prior to the vote, Hewitt made a motion to recuse himself from the vote because he lives on East Grand River Avenue. The Council voted 5-1 to not recuse Hewitt, which left him visibly confounded. Before the Council voted on the signage, Hewitt left the chambers, missing the vote. The resolution passed unanimously with six yes votes).

Two amendments were added to the resolution before passing. One includes a clause that says the Old Town Commercial Association and the Lansing for Cesar E. Chavez Committee will have direct input in designing the street signs. The second allocates $100 per sign from the city’s transportation fund to pay for them.

Before the two memorial votes, a scheduled public hearing on a proposed medical marijuana ordinance brought eight varying opinions on how the city should or should not regulate it. The proposed ordinance only addresses the purchase of medical marijuana from a caregiver’s home. Only one caregiver at a time can operate in a home, which must be at least 1,000 feet from any public or private schools, playgrounds, churches, public and private youth centers, public swimming pools and substance abuse treatment centers.

Christopher Caszatt expressed concern that he and his wife, both medical marijuana caregivers, would be forced to cut back or separate their growing operations. He said the new regulations would promote black market sales and activity by people who may need to skirt the law. “This (ordinance) is not about effective distribution of medicine,” he said.

Mary Lindeman of the advocacy group Cannabis Patients United argued that in-home caregiver services are not a business, but “a service we provide under the law,” and therefore do not require heavy regulation. She said growing plants in your basement is a private matter whether you are growing tomatoes, daffodils or cannabis, she said. “By the way, I’m not growing tomatoes,” she said before leaving the podium.

The Rev. William Lugger, pastor at St. Casimir Catholic Parish in south Lansing, said the ordinance should extend to any cannabis-related business, including equipment supply stores. St. Casimir is located near Hydroworld, 700 W. Barnes Ave.. Lugger said the church has been “dealing with” Hydroworld for the past six to seven months.

“Their customers are putting us in jeopardy of a safe neighborhood. There have been un-Christian comments made to us. It is frustrating to try and reason with them,” Lugger said.

Other speakers expressed concern that requiring these in-home services to be at least 1,000 feet away from community-oriented centers suggests inherent criminal activity. Another wanted daycare centers to be included in the ordinance. The final speaker, Brant Johnson,  asked the Council to “treat them like any other business.”

In other business, the Council approved seven more resolutions at Monday’s meeting. Three were tributes recognizing the deaths of local residents Tim Haggart and Harriet “Holly” Martin and recognizing a National Senior Corps Volunteer Week. Two involved the transfer of funds, including $33,578 from parks millage money for Maguire Park improvements and $39,800 in federal grant money for neighborhood outreach programs through the Community Oriented Policing Policies Project Safe Neighborhoods.

Two resolutions were added to the agenda late that place five more law firms on the city’s list of consultants used by the City Attorney’s Office. The first adds Foley Lardner and also Latham and Watkins to the list, two firms that specialize in utilities and electricity generation cases. The second resolution came at the request of the Lansing Board of Water and Light to hire three firms that specialize in fraud monitoring for retirement systems.

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