Cal State Bakersfield President Horace Mitchell's petition to rename the recently opened Westside Parkway as -- deep breath, now -- the "CSU Bakersfield Alumna Wendy Wayne Memorial Parkway" surely inspires a widespread gut reaction: Wow.
Mitchell's proposal to honor the revered community member, who died in June 2012 at age 64 of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, makes sense on one level. Wayne, whose lifetime of good will and selflessness included stints as a volunteer in the Peace Corps, co-founder of the Community Connection for Child Care and executive director of First 5 Kern, was a humble, beloved resident completely deserving of remembrance. Petitioning to rename a city roadway in her honor isn't the issue here.
What raises our eyebrows is the seemingly self-serving way the local university has decided to go about it.
Yes, Wayne earned her nursing degree from CSUB, and, yes, she was inducted into the CSUB Alumni Association Hall of Fame in 2008. But her time on campus there doesn't solely define her. She's not CSUB's to keep, and the university's petition smacks of piggybacking on Wayne's legacy to elicit some positive attention. As heartfelt as it may be, the message falls flat as disingenuous.
"Each of (the parkway's) exits conveniently leads to the university," Mitchell writes in the petition, expressing, shall we say, a creative navigational outlook. If you fudge the routes enough, sure, all roads lead to CSUB. But you could warp GPS directions to reach just about any destination in Bakersfield, for that matter.
"It is fitting that the freeway be named to acknowledge the region's commitment to higher education and to honor one of the university's exemplary alumnae and a distinguished member of the Bakersfield community," Mitchell adds in the text of the petition, which is directed at state Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield.
But it seems odd that CSUB would seek the help of Grove (and apparently Rep. Kevin McCarthy) since the Westside Parkway is not a state or federal highway, but rather the responsibility of the city of Bakersfield. Any support from people like Grove or McCarthy would be largely indirect and completely symbolic.
Adding to the university's ill-conceived mission is the fact that the parkway is already expected to be renamed State Route 58 once the planned Centennial Corridor is completed, approximately three years from now. Conceivably, that name (and affiliation) change could occur after tens of thousands of dollars are spent renaming the parkway after Wayne.
As of Thursday afternoon, the petition to rename the parkway, available online at Change.org, had 144 of its 1,500-signature goal. Not much, but it's early.
This bears repeating: We're not opposed to renaming a prominent local roadway after Wendy Wayne. If the university, or any other local entity, would like to so honor an individual like her, we say go for it.
But there's a right way to go about it. The focus should be on the person, in this case Wendy Wayne. Efforts of this nature should not cherry-pick one of the many stages in which she made a difference.
CSUB is an underappreciated institution in this city. Some clever marketing would definitely be appropriate. Highlighting some of the achievements of its many graduates would make sense. Just not like this.