Sorry, Emperor Norton: Legislators OK Plan To Name Western Span Of Bay Bridge After Willie Brown

State legislators today approved naming the western span of the Bay Bridge after former state Assembly Speaker and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown.

The state Senate voted 26-7 this morning in favor of the proposal, which was put forward by Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, and drew criticism from some current and former San Francisco legislators.

The Assembly previously voted 68-0 in favor of the resolution, which does not require the governor’s signature. The span will now be named the Willie L. Brown Jr. Bridge.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, was the lone Democrat to vote against the proposal today.

“I think this is a decision that should be made locally,” Hill said. “It shouldn’t be named by a bunch of politicians in Sacramento.”

State Sens. Mark Leno and Leland Yee and Assemblyman Phil Ting supported the resolution, while Assemblyman Tom Ammiano abstained from voting.

Last month, three former presidents of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors criticized the proposal in a letter written to state Senate president pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

The letter by Aaron Peskin, Matt Gonzalez and Quentin Kopp argued that the resolution was in violation of Senate rules specifying that it must be authored by a legislator whose district encompasses the bridge and be named after someone already deceased.

Current Supervisor John Avalos has been critical of the plan as well, and argued that it should be named after eccentric San Francisco icon Joshua Abraham Norton, also known as Emperor Norton.

Critics have noted that Brown played a role in delaying the construction of the Bay Bridge’s new eastern span, which just opened last week.

However, Hall, the author of the legislation, said in a statement that Brown deserves of the honor because of his history as the first black Assembly Speaker and his tenure in various leadership positions.

Brown was a member of the Assembly from 1965 to 1995, and served as Speaker from 1980 until the end of his tenure. He then served as San Francisco’s mayor from 1996 to 2004.

“Willie Brown personifies the California Dream: that with hard work, fearless determination and faith, anything can be accomplished,” Hall said in the statement. “This designation is only a small token of respect and gratitude to one of California’s greatest sons.”

The California NAACP is leading a private fundraising effort to pay for signs to be erected at the entrances of the western span of the bridge, which connects Yerba Buena Island to San Francisco.

The signs are expected to be in place sometime in 2014, according to Hall’s office.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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