Willie Brown Bridge Is Falling Down

Posted: Sep 10, 2013 12:01 AM

Will the California Legislature point a giant middle finger at Bay Area commuters by naming the western span of the Bay Bridge after San Francisco Chronicle columnist Willie Brown even though, as San Francisco's mayor, Brown unconscionably delayed reconstruction of the seismically challenged eastern span and helped drive the project's cost from $1.5 billion to $6.4 billion?

Will Sacramento name a bridge after a politician whose antics risked the public safety of his constituents?

In June, Assemblyman Isadore Hall III introduced a resolution to name the western span the Willie L. Brown, Jr. Bridge "to honor and commemorate his many contributions to California."

Hall may have meant well, but he broke two Sacramento rules. He tried to rename a bridge not in his district. And because he didn't know the political lay of this land, Hall broke a bigger rule by picking a name that angered the locals. As an Assembly analysis warned, "the proposed designation arguably lacks community consensus, as demonstrated via critical media editorials." The Chronicle editorialized against naming the span after Brown -- to nearly universal applause from letter writers.

Assemblyman Phil Ting helped Hall get around the first rule by becoming a co-author; the measure sailed through the Assembly 68-0. Not one lawmaker opposed the resolution during the floor vote. Not a single Republican voted no. A GOP aide explained that "the measure had strong support from a coalition of statewide civil rights groups, and there are no state costs associated with its passage."

Hall, you see, was acting at the behest of state NAACP President Alice Huffman, who thought it would be nice for California to honor its first African-American Assembly speaker by naming a postcard landmark after him.

Hall and the NAACP screwed up; they picked the wrong edifice. They picked the bridge against which Brown had built roadblocks. And Brown, I surmise, never warned them away from this reckless act of tribute.

It appears that Sacramento is wising up to the fact that Bay Area voters are looking toward the Capitol with darts in their eyes. It's bad enough that residents have to pay much higher tolls for a new span held together by dubious bolts. But voters get really angry at the prospect of Sacramento's naming half the bridge after one of its biggest cost drivers.

Having served on the committee that approved the single-anchored suspension design, state Senate Transportation and Housing Committee Chairman Mark DeSaulnier likes to portray himself as an injured party in the bridge debacle. DeSaulnier has lamented that if he knew in 1998 what he knows now, he would not have approved the project as it is.

There are signs the Senate leadership has figured out that naming an inch of the Bay Bridge after Brown would be a singular mistake. Nonetheless, DeSaulnier voted Monday to waive the rules to allow Hall's bill to proceed.

Hall's bill doesn't need the governor's signature, so it's up to the Senate to decide. Already the new span is a monument to the dysfunction of local politics. As the Willie Brown Bridge, the old span could serve as a testament to state politicians' arrogance.