Proposal to rename Bay Bridge draws controversy

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The proposal to rename the western span of the Bay Bridge after former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown is generating more controversy as it hurtles through the approval process in Sacramento, where lawmakers are staring down a Sept. 13 deadline before the legislative session ends.

Gov. Jerry Brown has expressed opposition to the idea, and the proposed name change prompted yet another scathing editorial from the San Francisco Chronicle. Former Mayor Brown, who also served as Assembly Speaker, publishes a weekly column in the Chronicle.

Chronicle columnists Matier and Ross reported Sept. 10 that Gov. Brown had met with Alice Huffman, a key supporter of the proposal and president of the California NAACP, about the proposed name change.

The partial renaming of the 77-year-old Bay Bridge has seen very little opposition in the state legislature, and backing from the NAACP might be a key reason why there has been such broad support from lawmakers. As it happens, Huffman has long been described as a friend of Willie Brown’s – she briefly worked for him when he was Assembly Speaker and later served as a political advisor, according to Los Angeles Times coverage.

Assembly Member Tom Ammiano opted to stay out of the fray and abstained from voting, a decision his spokesperson Carlos Alcalá explained by saying, “he’s hesitant to vote against it, because of course Willie Brown was a very important figure” in the California Legislature.

At the same time, Alcalá said Ammiano couldn’t support renaming the bridge, because “it has significant opposition,” and “he thought it was inappropriate to name it after a living person.”

Formal Assembly criteria states that clear community consensus must be in place when a major piece of public infrastructure is renamed. Yet in the case of the Willie L. Brown Jr. Bridge, no such consensus exists. 

On Aug. 29, former Board of Supervisors presidents Matt Gonzalez, Aaron Peskin and Quentin Kopp fired off an open letter to Senate pro Tem Darrell Steinberg in an attempt to halt the proposal from going any further. They urged him not to hear the resolution in the Senate Rules Committee, because the proposal appeared to conflict with Senate rules and "there exists significant concern in our community that naming the Bay Bridge for him is not appropriate."

So far, the former elected officials haven’t gotten much in the way of a response.

“The state Senate has always been a club, and all those elected officials hope that someday things will be named after them,” Peskin told the Guardian. "I think they should name the old eastern span, that they're demolishing, after him," he added with a chuckle. "You know why? Because it's old and crooked and a danger to society."