Updated September 2013 and April 2014 to reflect actions by the
California State Legislature and the San Francisco Superior Court
The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge should be named to honor its original 19th-century visionary.
The San Francisco eccentric, Joshua Abraham Norton (c.1818–1880) — the self-styled "Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico" — was indeed an eccentric. Some considered him certifiable.
But Emperor Norton also was a visionary. He was a champion of racial and religious unity; an adversary of political corruption; an advocate for fair labor practices; a supporter of women's suffrage; a defender of the people's right to fair taxes and basic services, including well-maintained streets and streetcars; and a general ambassador of his adopted city, who embodied and heralded the values of tolerance and the common good that came to be identified with San Francisco, Oakland and the Bay Area.
In January 1872, Emperor Norton issued a proclamation that declared, in part:
"Whereas, we observe that certain newspapers are agitating the project of bridging the Bay; and whereas, we are desirons of connecting the cities of San Francisco and Oakland by such means; now, therefore, we, Norton I, Dei gratia Emperor, do hereby...order that the bridge be built from Oakland Point to Telegraph Hill, via Goat Island [now Yerba Buena Island]."
In a second proclamation, in March 1872, the Emperor specified that the bridge should be a suspension bridge [emphasis added]:
"The following is decreed and ordered to be carried into execution as soon as convenient: That a suspension bridge be built from Oakland Point to Goat Island [now Yerba Buena Island], and then to Telegraph Hill; provided such bridge can be built without injury to the navigable waters of the Bay of San Francisco."
He repeated this decree with a third proclamation, in September 1872
"ordering the citizens of San Francisco and Oakland to appropriate funds for the survey of a suspension bridge from Oakland Point via Goat Island; also for a tunnel...."
[See all three proclamations, as they originally appeared in The Pacific Appeal newspaper, in the Resources section below.]
In adding, for consideration, the possibility of a cross-Bay tunnel, Emperor Norton anticipated by more than a century the 1974 opening of the Transbay Tube, which carries four of the five lines of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system under the Bay.
In essence, the Emperor's vision for a cross-Bay bridge came to pass in 1936, with the opening of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, known as "the Bay Bridge."
In fact, the "bridge" is a bridge system composed of two bridges. The monumental Western crossing, or "span," connecting San Francisco to Yerba Buena Island, is a suspension bridge, as the Emperor specified. The original Eastern crossing, connecting the island to Oakland, was built as a more conventional (at the time of its construction) cantilever-and-truss bridge.
The new Eastern crossing that opened in early September 2013 is a different kind of suspension bridge than the Western crossing.
But, in its way, the new crossing brings to full flower Emperor Norton's original vision of 1872, and makes it an especially appropriate time to finally name the entire Bay Bridge for him.
BUT, WAIT, DIDN'T HALF THE BAY BRIDGE JUST GET NAMED FOR WILLIE BROWN?!!
Well, yes and no.
Certainly, it's true that, on 12 September 2013 — following an earlier 68-0-10 vote by the California State Assembly — the California State Senate, on a 26-7-6 vote, passed a nonbinding resolution (Assembly Concurrent Resolution No. 65, or ACR 65) to name the Western crossing of the Bay Bridge for former California Assembly Speaker and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown.
Unfortunately, this resolution was in direct violation of the policy for naming state-owned highways and structures (like the Bay Bridge) that was adopted in April 2013 by the California State Senate Transportation and Housing Committee — one of the legislative committees that must approve any such resolution in order for it to move forward. (For a link to the policy, see the Resources section below.)
According to the policy [emphases mine], "The committee will not consider any measure proposing to name or designate a state highway or highway structure unless the measure meets the following conditions," including:
"b) The person being honored must be deceased." But Willie Brown is alive.
"d) The author or co-author of the measure must represent the district in which the facility is located...." But neither ACR 65's author (Assemblyman Isadore Hall, who represents the 64th Assembly District, south of Los Angeles) nor any of the resolution's co-authors represented the Assembly or Senate district in which the Western crossing of the Bay Bridge is located.
"f) The proposed designation must reflect a community consensus and be without local opposition." But, according to the analysis of ACR 65 by the State of California's nonpartisan Office of Legislative Counsel (see Resources section below), virtually all of the "registered support" for the resolution came from organizations and individuals who are part of the advocacy and support network of the California NAACP, which was the sponsor of the resolution. Also, there have been numerous Bay Area editorials critical of ACR 65. And, in signing this petition, nearly 5,200 citizens so far — mainly from the Bay Area — have "voted" for a different name for the Bay Bridge as a whole.
This is not to dispute Willie Brown's many contributions to California and to San Francisco.
It is to recognize that the California State Legislature's rules for naming state-owned highways, bridges and tunnels are good rules, and to insist that these rules be followed.
Had the rules been respected, ACR 65 never would have been considered — much less, voted upon and passed — by the Legislature.
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But here's the thing. Even the advocates of ACR 65 have not suggested that the passage and implementation of ACR 65 would — or should — signify the end of the larger entity known as the "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge."
Indeed, the 2013 Named Freeways, Highways, Structures and Other Appurtenances in California — the most recent edition of the authoritative listing produced regularly by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) (see Resources, below) — has separate and independent listings (p. 43) for both the "Willie L. Brown, Jr., Bridge" and the "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge"; the former is listed with a citation for ACR 65, the latter is listed as "Not Officially Named."
In other words: For naming purposes, the State of California places these two things — (1) the constituent "spans" of the Bay Bridge and (2) the bridge as a whole — on two separate planes. Which means that the naming of the Western crossing of the Bay Bridge for Willie Brown and the naming of the entire Bay Bridge system for Emperor Norton is not an either-or proposition — it can be both-and.
The Willie Brown name now functions as one "subtitle" of the larger landmark. (And even that could be "re-languaged" to replace the word "Bridge." For example: The Willie L. Brown, Jr., Crossing of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.)
But the main title of the landmark — "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge" — remains.
Addressing this main title — either by...
(a) "recasting" this title to honor Emperor Norton — in effect, renaming the bridge
(b) leaving the unofficial name "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge" in place (along with most of the highway signs for this name), but — following established state precedent — simply adding an official "Emperor Norton" name — say, "Emperor Norton Bridge" — to stand alongside the "Bay Bridge" name, with a single prominent overhead highway sign on either end of the bridge to memorialize the "Emperor Norton" name
— that is the opportunity and the imperative highlighted here.
WHAT THE EMPEROR'S VISION HAS DONE FOR THE BAY AREA
It's been widely recognized, since the opening of the Bay Bridge system in 1936, that the entire system — both Western and Eastern crossings, connected in the middle by Yerba Buena Tunnel — is a remarkable feat of architecture and engineering.
But it's not solely Emperor Norton's 1872 calls for the technical achievement of a Bay-spanning bridge connecting San Francisco with Oakland that better warrants the Bay Bridge system's bearing his name.
What must be kept firmly in mind is that, in calling for a cross-Bay bridge, Emperor Norton also was planting the seed of inspiration that would enable those after him to water and reap the deeper possibility of what such a bridge could do — namely, to nurture the two-way commerce of goods, ideas and influence between people on both sides of the Bay.
From this perspective, the Emperor can be seen as an early, if unwitting, visionary of the whole idea of a local "regional economy."
Indeed, whatever the Emperor's specific intentions in calling for a cross-Bay bridge 140-plus years ago, it seems undeniable that a major result of the Bay Bridge system has been to facilitate and nurture such an economy, to the benefit of people on both sides — and that, without a bridge system connecting San Francisco and Oakland, we would not mean the same thing by "Bay Area" as we do today.
Although, to be sure, Emperor Norton is identified as a San Francisco figure, the Emperor's prescient proclamations calling for a cross-Bay bridge have blossomed, in the hearts and minds of succeeding generations of Bay Area visionaries, into a profound recognition that Oakland needs San Francisco — and that San Francisco needs Oakland.
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Especially with the opening of the new Eastern crossing as a suspension bridge, the 142-year-old vision that the larger landmark bridge system fulfills — the vision of a Bay-spanning suspension bridge that unites the people of San Francisco, Oakland and the East Bay via Yerba Buena Island — a vision that has shaped the lives of generations of the area's residents and visitors — this vision is specific to Emperor Norton.
If the Bay Bridge is to be named for anyone, it should be named for him.
In recognition of this — and whatever names might be given to the constituent sections of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge (the West Bay Crossing, the East Bay Crossing and Yerba Buena Tunnel)...
This petition calls on the State of California to name the entity known as the "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge" after Emperor Norton.
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This petition is the impetus for a new organization launched in September 2013
THE EMPEROR'S BRIDGE CAMPAIGN
Media coverage of this petition
SFist — http://bit.ly/12YCvfc & http://bit.ly/153c5Z9 & http://bit.ly/13Ok8YJ
SAN FRANCISCO BAY GUARDIAN — http://bit.ly/13kBiz3 & http://bit.ly/17DcBeE
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE — http://bit.ly/17nSr9K & http://bit.ly/16lnhCI
KQED — http://bit.ly/1dbjOWV
LOS ANGELES TIMES — http://lat.ms/1aqM2vy
LAUGHING SQUID — http://bit.ly/145wjfy
SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS (and others) — http://bit.ly/1c19SPb & http://bit.ly/1fX70mj
GOOD DAY SACRAMENTO (local CBS morning show) — http://cbsloc.al/17xdZ2B
JAMIE ZAWINSKI (Mozilla and Netscape co-founder) — http://bit.ly/1464u6P & http://bit.ly/14n6gVW
THE RAW STORY — http://bit.ly/14vGqud
MISSION LOCAL — http://bit.ly/1eHMCrA
Articles on Emperor Norton
Short Documentary Film on Emperor Norton
Named Freeways, Highways, Structures and
Other Appurtenances in California (2013)
Text of Assembly Concurrent Resolution No. 65
("The Willie L. Brown, Jr., Bridge")
Policy on Measures Naming Highways
or Structures | California State Senate
Transportation & Housing Committee
Analysis of ACR 65 by the State of California's
nonpartisan Office of Legislative Counsel
I'm writing to add my voice to the thousands of others — including thousands of California voters — who are calling upon you and your colleagues in the California State Legislature to name the entity known as the "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge" after the 19th-century eccentric and visionary Emperor Norton (c.1818-1880).
This naming can be done, independent of the name(s) given separately to any of the Bay Bridge's constituent elements, for example, the bridge's Western and Eastern "spans" and Yerba Buena Tunnel.
Also: Such an official naming either could replace the unofficial name "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge" or could stand alongside it.
In any of these scenarios, the "Emperor Norton" name given to the bridge as a whole would function as the (or a) "main title" of the bridge — as the name "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge" continues to do today — with the names of any of the constituent elements functioning as "subtitles."
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It was Emperor Norton who set out the original vision for the Bay Bridge with three newspaper proclamations in 1872, calling for the design and construction of a great bay-spanning suspension bridge linking San Francisco and Oakland via Yerba Buena Island, then known as Goat Island.
This is but one example of how Emperor Norton was a visionary. Well ahead of his time, the Emperor was a champion of racial and religious unity; an adversary of political corruption; an advocate for fair labor practices; a supporter of women's suffrage; a defender of the people's right to fair taxes and basic services, including well-maintained streets and streetcars; and a general ambassador of his adopted city.
In other words: Emperor Norton not only *called* for a bridge. He *was* a bridge who embodied and heralded the values of tolerance and the common good that came to be associated with San Francisco, Oakland and the Bay Area.
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Worth noting: Although Emperor Norton often is identified as a San Francisco figure, he actually spent quite a bit of time in the East Bay, especially Brooklyn, Calif. — present-day East Oakland, which he is said to have considered his "summer capital" — and Berkeley, where he both attended and gave public lectures, as well as reviewed the cadets, at the new University of California.
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To learn more, please visit:
I hope that you and your colleagues in the California State Legislature will agree that naming the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge for Emperor Norton is an idea whose time has come.