“Swell Of Opposition” Cited By Lawsuit Seeking To Block Plan To Name Bay Bridge Span After  Willie Brown

The state Legislature’s renaming today of the western span of the Bay Bridge after former state Assembly Speaker and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown has already prompted a lawsuit by a local ethics watchdog.

The western span of the bridge, connecting Yerba Buena Island to San Francisco, was officially renamed the Willie L. Brown, Jr. Bridge via a 26-7 vote by the state Senate this morning.

The state Assembly previously voted 68-0 in favor of the resolution, which does not require the governor’s signature.

The lawsuit, which seeks to block the legislation from going into effect, was filed in San Francisco Superior Court by Bob Planthold, who has served on the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance Task Force and the city’s Ethics Commission.

Lee Hepner, an attorney representing Planthold in the lawsuit, said the state Legislature bypassed several of its policies to fast-track the approval of the resolution and bypass adequate public oversight.

Hepner said there has been a “swell of opposition” to naming the bridge after Brown and “with the additional time afforded and public comment … maybe some of these representatives would have had their minds changed.”

The lawsuit alleges that the Legislature disregarded its rules for naming highways or structures, including that it must be named after someone already deceased and that the resolution must be authored by a legislator whose district encompasses the bridge.

The resolution was authored by Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, while the only two state legislators whose districts include the bridge are state Sen. Mark Leno and state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, according to the lawsuit.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, was the lone Democrat to oppose the proposal, saying that it is “a decision that should be made locally” and not “by a bunch of politicians in Sacramento.”

San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos has also opposed the resolution, saying if the bridge is renamed, it should be after eccentric San Francisco historical icon Joshua Abraham Norton, also known as Emperor Norton, an early advocate for a bridge across the Bay.

Mayor Ed Lee said earlier this week that he supports naming the bridge after Brown, but acknowledged that critics have blamed him for some of the delays and high costs associated with the construction of the Bay Bridge’s new eastern span, which opened just last week.

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 branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is leading a private fundraising effort to pay for signs that will be erected at the entrances of the western span of the bridge.

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

Hepner said the lawsuit against the bridge is tentatively scheduled to have a court hearing in early February, while the next step in the renaming process is for Caltrans to assess the cost of new signage for the bridge.

“Our hope is the lawsuit will delay that process,” he said, adding that he hopes the suit “will at least make sure that they’re very deliberate in the next steps.”

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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