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September 10, 2013
Viewpoints: Why not 'San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge'?

New_San_Francisco_Oakland_Bay_Bridge.jpg

(Sept. 10 -- By William Endicott, Special to The Bee)

The Legislature has a long history of naming bridges, sections of freeway and other public infrastructure. Some honorees are deserving, others not so much.

Politicians as a rule like nothing more than naming things for each other, thus California is dotted with sections of freeway, bridges, roadside rest stops and buildings with names of past and present elected officials.

Some honorees are deserving, others not so much. But it's an age-old practice and not apt to change anytime soon.

Examples range from a roadside rest area in Siskiyou County labeled in honor of the late Sen. Randolph Collier, widely known as the Silver Fox of the Siskiyous, to a section of Sloat Boulevard in San Francisco named for former state Senate President Pro Tem John Burton.

Closer to home, we have the Vic Fazio Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area over the Yolo Causeway, and the Robert Matsui Federal Courthouse in downtown Sacramento. Fazio and Matsui were congressmen from our area.

That brings us to the current controversy raging over whether the western span of the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge should be named for former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown.

For years, the Legislature operated pretty much on a whim without any real guidelines for whom gets a name attached to something. Finally, in 2004, a set of guidelines was adopted.

Basically, they say that the person being honored must have provided extraordinary public service or some exemplary contribution to the public good, that there can be no cost to the state, that the author of any bill must represent the district in which the facility to be named is located, and that the proposed designation should not replace an existing designation.

Now, we can argue all day whether Brown provided extraordinary public service or made exemplary contributions to the public good. During his more than 15 years as speaker, he always was the smartest guy in the room, but he left office with few notable achievements. He became the 41st mayor of San Francisco.

Colorful, yes. Deserving of having a bridge named for him? A lot of people in his hometown, including the editors of his hometown newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, say not so fast.

"If legislators want to honor Brown," The Chronicle said in an editorial, "they can find another place and another way to do so. There are plenty of parks, plazas and city buildings. Hold a contest, and ask for suggestions."

The newspaper blames Brown and Gov. Jerry Brown for holding up the rebuild of the eastern span of the bridge and the numerous cost overruns that pumped construction costs from $1.5 billion to more than $6 billion.

But despite the opposition, which also includes three former chairmen of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, it might be too late. The Assembly already has voted 68-0 in favor of honoring Brown. The resolution is now pending in the state Senate.

Not surprisingly, the Assembly violated its own guidelines since the principal author of the measure is Assemblyman Isadore Hall III, D-Compton, who represents a district many, many miles away from the bridge, which is in the district of Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco.

Ammiano's name is not on the resolution and he abstained on the Assembly vote.

The three supervisors who are urging the Senate to sidetrack the measure obviously are not friends of Brown and include former Sen. Quentin Kopp, who frequently clashed with Brown when both were in the Legislature.

Kopp, by the way, has a section of Interstate 380 in San Mateo County named for him.

To me, the best idea came from Larry Hurley of Daly City in a letter to The Chronicle. "How about naming the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge 'the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge'?" asked Hurley.

William Endicott is a former deputy managing editor for The Sacramento Bee.

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