They may have supported his presidency, but this hits a little too close to home.
“No-Drama Obama” might have been a thing during some of the former president’s term in office, but the road recently renamed in his honor was not the change several long-time residents had ever hoped for.
For decades, Rodeo Rd. was a 3.5-mile residential street not far from the 10 freeway that cut through the predominately African American neighborhoods of Baldwin Hills, Crenshaw and Leimert Park.
The most annoying thing about living there was explaining that it wasn’t that Rodeo in Beverly Hills. Locals brought the point home by pronouncing it as the cowboys do “roh-dee-oh” as opposed to “roh-dey-oh” like the fancy drive to the northwest.
But a few years ago, L.A. Councilman Herb Wesson, now the council president, received a suggestion from a constituent to change the name to Obama Blvd. as a salute to the first African American president. It seemed like a no-brainer since those neighborhoods lie close to other streets named after presidents — Adams, Jefferson, Washington.
One portion of Obama Blvd. is even a half-mile away from a street named after another black leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Wesson, and others, also believed Rodeo Rd. was the appropriate street for the name change because, in 2007, then-Senator Obama chose the Rancho Cienega Sports Complex on Rodeo to hold his first Southern California presidential rally.
The city went through the process, it passed, the name was changed, there was a big bash hosted on the street earlier this year with performances from Doug E. Fresh, Sheila E. and Yo Yo.
But now many long-time locals are saying no-no.
Arturo Chaparro is a retiree who has lived on Rodeo for 30 years. He also voted for Obama — twice. What does he think of the street’s new name?
“I hate it,” Chaparro, says. “They asked me and I said I don’t want it changed. All of that didn’t mean anything. I didn’t have a say. It’s like talking to a wall.”
He says Councilman Wesson acted with the other politicians to make the change for political reasons. “It’s a drag,” he adds.
Edward Johnson, Wesson’s assistant chief deputy, says residents had two years to air their grievances, and since the majority of those who would be affected supported the change, the city council voted unanimously to pass the motion.
“There is a process that the city follows before a street can be renamed,” Johnson wrote in an email. “Gauging support for the change is part of the process.” This two-year process was followed, with the majority of those surveyed supporting the change.
Connie Evans, who lives next door to Chaparro — a home she has resided in her entire life — says she was approached by city representatives in person and she told them she was not happy about the plan. When she got the feeling that her opposition was not passed on to Wesson, she wrote a letter. She did not receive a reply.
“After almost five decades of writing Rodeo on forms, I have to write Obama Blvd.?” she asks. “Does this look like a boulevard to you? It’s only four lanes across.”
Evans says that as president, Obama did a good job. “I have no complaints about that,” she says.
But Will Blast, who also doesn’t like the name change, does have gripes about the Obama legacy.
“He was anointed as the so-called ‘Black President,'” Blast says, “but it didn’t have much of an impact for us as people, so I don’t see how honoring him in that way here is really valid.”
Blast, instead, considers Obama “the LGBT President” because “he ushered in most of their laws. So his face might resemble mine, or ours, but his political disposition ushered in their agenda.”
Luciano Mendoza, who voted twice for Obama, also preferred Rodeo Road. Mendoza says he liked that it sounded like the fancy street in Beverly Hills, unlike Blast who appreciated the pronunciation and suffix as a declaration of pride for their working-class neighborhood.
Since 1986, Mendoza has lived on Rodeo Road. He says he became emotional when he heard of the city’s plan.
“I cry,” he says, “I cry.”
Although Mendoza was generally dissatisfied with Obama’s two terms, he says the best thing the former community organizer did was unite the races in the city.
Neighbors also complain that the change caused hiccups in their mail delivery, which added insult to injury.
George Morales, one of the two regular mailmen who service the 90018 zip code, says that even if mail is addressed to Rodeo they will deliver it to the proper mailbox. He says that because the change was made over 45 days ago, though, the computer system and substitute mail carriers may not realize the intended destination and kick it back.
“Less than 10% of the mail has Rodeo on it now,” he says, adding that even the junk mail advertising is properly addressed to Obama Blvd.
Not everyone is upset with the name change.
Elizabeth Carnela and her family have lived in the neighborhood for seven years. She says they didn’t encounter any mail issues and they like living on Obama Blvd. Did she like him when he was president?
“He was OK,” she says smiling.
Retired Army veteran and school teacher Vance Richardson was washing his car when he was asked how he felt about the new name.
“You’re asking if I am OK with living on the street named after the best president we’ve ever had?” he says with a big smile. “Yes, I am.”