Bay Bridge Western Span Renamed for Willie Brown

The new name will take effect immediately.

It's a done deal. The double decker span of the Bay Bridge that links Treasure Island to San Francisco has been named for Willie Brown, former San Francisco Mayor and former Speaker of the Assembly.

The state Legislature officially approved the deal Thursday morning.

The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was opened for traffic in 1936 and its soaring gray towers, now covered in flowing LED lights, have become an iconic symbol of the Bay Area

Brown was the Assembly's first black speaker and the longest-serving one in state history, presiding over the 80-member house from 1980 to 1995.

ACR65, the resolution naming the Western Span the "Willie L. Brown Jr. Bridge,'' passed the Senate on a 26-7 vote Thursday. The renaming doesn't affect the celebrated, new eastern span of the bridge, which opened after Labor Day weekend.

Brown said he hopes that having the bridge named for him will prove “inspirational for kids.”

The decision is not without controversy. By Thursday afternoon, at least one lawsuit had been filed against the State of California, among other parties, by a San Francisco resident who claims lawmakers fast-tracked the resolution, largely ignoring any attempts to gauge and factor in public sentiment. (Download a copy of the lawsuit)

State Senator Jerry Hill agrees.  He was one of seven “no” votes.

“We should have no business naming the bridge,” Hill said, “unless we have some input, involvement, some concessions from the city of San Francisco and neighboring communities that this is what they’d like to do.”
Brown said having his name on the bridge transcends a personal victory. He believes this is historic.

“To have an African-American adorn any instrument in California for the first time in the history of this state is unusually significant,” Brown said.

Brown's tenure, political acumen and ironclad grasp on the Assembly made him the most powerful state politician of his time, next to the governor.
"He was like a Michael Jordan or a Magic Johnson or a Larry Bird ... he made other people better,'' said Sen. Roderick Wright, D-Inglewood, who presented the resolution in the Senate.

Yet Brown, who is 79, also became a lightning rod for his critics, who eventually used him as their poster child for a ballot initiative that imposed term limits on state lawmakers.

The plan was approved previously in the Assembly and takes effect immediately. Resolutions do not require the signature of Gov. Jerry Brown, who opposed the bridge naming.

"Governor Brown believes that the iconic Bay Bridge should keep the name it has had for nearly 77 years, a name that lives in the hearts and minds of all Californians," Brown spokesman Evan Westrup informed reporters earlier this week. "And he feels the same way about the Golden Gate Bridge."

Others opposed naming the bridge for someone who is still alive, a violation of standing Transportation & Housing Committee policies.

MORE: Even Bay Bridge Bike Path Was Overbudget, Flawed

When asked, Brown expressed disagreement with that policy.

“You really ought to say thank you to people you think have done something, if you’re so inclined,” Brown said, “and I’ll be damned if you can hear dead.”

Then there's the contingent in support of naming the bridge in honor of Emperor Norton. In 2004, Robert Chandler convinced San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors to pass a measure calling for the bridge to be named for the eccentric Norton, who famously called for a bridge between Oakland and San Francisco back in the late 1800s. 

The idea of renaming the bridge was first put forward by politicians from Southern California, but gained momentum after the state NAACP signaled its approval.

The new signs which will identify the bridge as "Willie Brown" would be paid for with private money, and will not cost taxpayers.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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