February 12, 2014

This is pretty low on the list as far as the world’s outrages of the week, but still, can anyone name a valid reason why the old western span of the San Francisco Bay Bridge was named for Mr. Willie Brown other than the fact that Mr. Brown was a longtime speaker of the California State Assembly from San Francisco, former mayor of that city, and is now a friend and supporter of the monied interests of the state?

I’ll wait while you come up with an answer.

It’s not as if Mr. Brown was behind getting the bridge rebuilt after the collapse during the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. The bridge was going to be rebuilt, no matter who was in office. And folks seem to forgotten that in fierce lobbying to have the Yerba Buena/Treasure Island off ramps switched to favor a development on Treasure Island in which he had an interest, Mr. Brown caused some of the early delays in the building of the bridge that eventually helped lead to the massive cost overruns for which the citizens of California will have to pay for many years coming.

For this he deserves the honor of the bridge-naming?

To be fair, I’ve never been much in favor of naming public works projects after living political officeholders, and I’m not that crazy about the practice even after the politicians’ deaths. There are so many members of the public who deserve such recognition, and yet so many of these buildings and public works seem to go to that small circle of people who get themselves elected to public office (in Oakland see, for example, the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building and the Elihu Harris State Building).

As for the as yet unnamed newly-built eastern span of the Bay Bridge, my suggestion would have be the Anamafi Moala Memorial Bridge. That was the name of the young Oakland nurse’s aid who died when her car plunged over the gap in the bridge after the ’89 quake in one of the most iconic images of Loma Prieta. Naming it after Mr. Brown, instead, says a lot about the character and priorities of our society. Or, at least, the character and priorities of the people in power to make the decision over the naming of our bridges and buildings, anyways.

NOTE: This column has been edited to reflect that it is the original western span, not the rebuilt eastern span, that has been named for Mr. Brown. The newly built eastern span has not yet been given a formal name.