Senate OKs Bay Bridge name change, lawsuit seeks to overturn it

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Attorney G. Whitney Leigh (left) and his client, good government advocate Bob Planthold.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY REBECCA BOWE

The California Senate gave its blessing to the rename the western span of the Bay Bridge after former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown on Sept. 12, blatantly disregarding mounting local opposition to the proposal. Since ACR 65 is a nonbinding resolution, Gov. Jerry Brown cannot veto it even though he went on record earlier this week saying the 77-year-old bridge should keep the same name it’s always had.

San Francisco Sens. Mark Leno and Leland Yee both voted in favor of the resolution.

The same day, Attorneys G. Whitney Leigh and Lee Hepner filed a complaint seeking injunctive relief to overturn the resolution on behalf of their client, good government advocate Bob Planthold.

At a press conference, Planthold said the lawsuit “has nothing to do with Willie,” but rather sought to remedy what he perceived as state lawmakers ignoring their own rules, a state of affairs he characterized as “Orwellian.” Here’s an excerpt of his comments to reporters:

For his part, Leigh questioned why Sacramento legislators were in such a rush to rename part of the Bay Bridge when construction of the eastern span had only just been completed, following long delays and overruns. “There is a shadiness and irregularity to this procedure,” he said.

The suit, directed at the California Senate and the Assembly and all the lawmakers responsible for pushing it through, alleges "arbitrary suspension and/or violation of legislative rules and policies" to fast track the legislation.

Specifically, Hepner said, lawmakers ignored an established timeline for introducing new proposals, instead allowing ACR 65 to be submitted four months after the formal deadline. Additionally, he said, the Senate Committee on Transportation and Housing was technically barred from meeting between Sept. 3 and 13 – a rule likely meant to keep lawmakers focused on more pressing issues, like approving 400+ bills before a Sept. 13 deadline – but nevertheless, ACR 65 passed out of that committee on Sept. 9 on an 8-1 vote.

Planthold previously served on the city’s Sunshine Ordinance Task Force and was previously an officer on the San Francisco Ethics Commission. Leigh is the former law partner of Matt Gonzalez, a former president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors who joined two other former board presidents to formally call on Senate pro Tem Darrell Steinberg to stop the resolution from going forward.

Despite Gov. Brown's opposition to renaming the Bay Bridge, it remains unclear exactly what he’ll do about it now that it has formally passed. In response to a query about whether he would take steps to halt implementation, spokesperson Evan Westrup responded in an email: “Got your message. Don’t expect we’ll be providing further comment today.”