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Dave Faries here, taking liberties with Shakespeare to offer for consideration that a road by any other name would smell sweeter.

During a Nov. 16 meeting, the Board of Supervisors took an initial step toward renaming certain streets in East Garrison that some residents identified as offensive. Chief among these are those bearing the names of Confederate officers, such as Pickett, Early, Breckenridge, Alexander, Mahone and Lee.

East Garrison’s original development firm, East Garrison Partners, thought it would be clever to associate the community’s roads with Fort Ord and military brass who had served over the years. So there’s a Pope Lane, presumably honoring John Pope, the U.S. general who blundered his way to defeat at the second edition of Bull Run. And there’s McClellan Circle, recognizing the man who, even when he actually won a battle, was so convinced of his inadequacies (always imagining the Confederates greatly outnumbered his own force) he allowed the enemy to slip away. As expected from a man of his mettle, McClellan ran against President Abraham Lincoln in 1864, hoping to sue for peace.

But failure and lapses in fortitude are part of the human condition, not a cause for offense. To celebrate in signage the names of those who fought against the United States to defend the enslavement of Black men, women and children—well, it is reasonable for East Garrison residents to be concerned.

As Wendy Root Askew, the county supervisor representing District 4 of which East Garrison is a part, says in noting the county’s responsibility in approving the street names, “someone should have been watching.”

Monterey County Public Works approved the development a little over 15 years ago, which makes the inclusion of Confederate names unusual. Research by the Southern Poverty Law Center identified two spikes when charting the timeline of monuments to Confederates. The first came in the wake of Reconstruction as former slaveholding states sought to reassert their control over the story, branding the Civil War as “the Lost Cause.” The second came in the 1950s and ’60s in response to the civil rights movement.

A plaque honoring Confederate General Robert S. Garnett was installed by Monterey’s Colton Hall in 1957. Years before switching uniforms, Garnett attended the California Constitutional Convention at the behest of President Zachary Taylor and—probably on his own accord and not the president’s—designed California’s state flag. While the monument might seem appropriate for those reasons, it is telling that the push to celebrate Garnett was led by the California chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The city of Monterey removed the plaque without fanfare in 2017.

It’s not that the officers who fought for the Confederacy against the United States were universally evil individuals. Nor is it fair to claim that all who fought to restore the Union considered Black people as equals. And there’s the tangled web of context, of what people in a time believed to be part of the norm. It can reasonably be argued that Confederate statuary belongs on battlefields of the Civil War, but should be removed from locations where the intention is to honor a past involving slavery.

That said, the overwhelming majority—hopefully—of Americans consider slavery to be repugnant. The trouble people have when those who turned their backs on the United States so they could cling to an institution we now know as inhuman are granted the esteem of a monument—or even a street name—is understandable.

Still, there has been some pushback from residents of East Garrison and elsewhere against the name change initiative. The “States Rights” and “Lost Cause” groups may account for some of this. However, much of the opposition to erasing Confederate names comes from those worried over the hassle—filing a change of address with the post office, notifying utilities, banks and credit card companies—and the cost. The county charges for the new signage, the labor, and so on.

The board referral Root Askew presented to the county hopes to satisfy the complaints by having the county assume all or some of the fees. She expects to have a report on the process, timeline and who foots the bill back from county staff in January. If it all looks feasible—and if everyone involved can agree on new names (and they stand up to background checks; good luck with that)—the initiative can move forward.

And hopefully they do move forward. “It’s the right thing to do,” Root Askew says.

-Dave Faries, features editor, 

P.S. The Monterey County Gives! campaign is currently underway through Dec. 31. Today's Spotlight is Rotacare, which fills in a critical health care gap: serving uninsured and underinsured patients. Learn about their important work—and that of 169 other nonprofits—in this year's campaign, and please donate to support their efforts. And you can read more about Rotacare’s work, providing free services to patients in need, here.

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