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Bickering Over, Not Building, Bay Bridge

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
In his column Sunday, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown wrote that on Labor Day weekend, he'll be preening at the Bay Bridge opening ceremony, taking credit for obstructing plans to rebuild the Bay Bridge so that it could be the "the world-class wonder" he knows it will be.

"What gall," quoth Judge Quentin Kopp, the lonely Bay Area politician who actually pushed to rebuild the bridge quickly.

If I were Brown or one of his fellow local pols, I would be hiding my head in shame. When the new and improved Bay Bridge debuts, it will have been 24 years since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake shook a big chunk out of the bridge's eastern span. It will have been 17 years since experts, who weren't exactly in a rush themselves, announced that retrofitting the structure would not suffice and that the state should build a new span.

In any other part of California, taxpayers would have demanded that elected officials step on it and rebuild the bridge pronto. In any other locale, elected officials would have pushed for quick results. Not here. Da Mayor, Oakland Mayor (now Gov.) Jerry Brown and other elected luminaries contributed to the delays.

Willie Brown conceded Sunday that he held up bridge work as he demanded new ramps for Treasure Island.

Also, the Mayors Brown, with the mayors of Emeryville and Berkeley, put advisory measures on their ballots that supported studying the installation of a passenger rail line on the Bay Bridge. It was a harebrained notion that would have hogged 40 percent of the traffic lanes on the western span. Nonetheless, voters approved those measures.


The mayors also wanted a bike path -- originally priced at $50 million -- between the East Bay and Treasure Island. Their idea of world-class is: the bike bridge to nowhere.

Jerry Brown (Dao Mayor) demanded a design "that expresses the daring of human ingenuity and symbolizes the splendor of Oakland and the East Bay." But the real daring entailed driving on the old bridge.

In 1998, Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean famously proclaimed, "We don't need to rush." The Browns' edifice complex ultimately was rewarded, and they got their phallic design. For their part, the Browns' constituents got to watch the price tag balloon from about $1 billion to about $6 billion. Hence, tolls as high as $6.

Columnist Brown boasted that he and others spared the Bay Area from a "plain-brown-wrapper, cars-only bridge." He wants people to think there were two choices -- an ugly bridge fast or a "world-class" design built at a glacial pace with cost overruns.

It took Minneapolis a little more than a year to rebuild its downtown bridge that collapsed in 2007. Then-Gov. Pete Wilson oversaw the rebuilding of two bridges, destroyed in the 1994 Northridge quake, in 84 days. But there was no such champion to rebuild the Bay Bridge quickly because that's what voters deserved.


So here we are 24 years after Loma Prieta, about to celebrate a new, improved Bay Bridge. World-class? Yes, if a committee of swelled heads wants to give out awards for taking too long, the Bay Bridge takes the prize.

Maybe they can throw in a trophy for Bay Area voters in the category of "most likely to reward nonperformance with re-election."

When Bay Bridge 2.0 opens, Brown should celebrate. He and other pols will have dodged the bullet of a large earthquake's toppling the bridge and killing constituents before the new bridge was up and running. World-class luck.

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