Updated September 2013 to reflect actions
by the California State Legislature
The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge should be named to honor its original 19th-century visionary — not turned into a modern-day political spoil.
The San Francisco eccentric, Joshua Abraham Norton (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 advocate for women's suffrage; a defender of the people; and a general ambassador of San Francisco who embodied the values 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 "span," or crossing, 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 Assemblyman / Speaker and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown.
At the level of history, this move was compromised from the start, given that Willie Brown has no connection to the concept, design, construction or popular understanding of the Western crossing — a fact that ACR 65's backers made no attempt to finesse, as the resolution text itself (see Resources section below) mentions no connection between the crossing and Mr. Brown.
Indeed, Leah Garchik of the San Francisco Chronicle reported on 14 August (see Resources section below) that
"Brown himself told [San Francisco press agent] Lee Houskeeper that he isn't interested in the half-a-bridge honor. He's in favor, he said, of naming the whole thing after Emperor Norton, who 141 years ago had proposed such a span."
But the problem with ACR 65 is not only a problem of history.
The resolution also is in direct violation of the policy for naming roads 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 the 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 represents 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 comes from organizations and individuals who are part of the advocacy and support network of the California NAACP, which is the sponsor of the resolution. Also, there have been numerous Bay Area editorials critical of ACR 65. And, in signing this petition, more than 4,600 citizens so far — mainly from the Bay Area — have "voted" for a different name for the Bay Bridge.
This is not to dispute Willie Brown's many contributions to California and to San Francisco.
It is to recognize that the Committee's rules for naming are good rules, and to insist that these rules be followed rather than flaunted to clear the path for what appears to be a special-interest campaign without broad support.
In short: ACR 65 never should have been considered — much less, voted upon and passed — by the California State Legislature.
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There now is a lawsuit, Planthold v. State of California, to block ACR 65, based on legislative abuses of process and rules.
This lawsuit is a righteous cause that is strongly supported here.
The Governor of California should do nothing with respect to ACR 65 until Planthold is decided.
Thereafter, he should give strong consideration to using his executive powers to direct Caltrans (the California Department of Transportation) not to "erect...signs," as "requested" in the resolution.
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But here's the thing. Winning the lawsuit against ACR 65 — in effect, overturning the decision of the California State Legislature to name the Western crossing of the Bay Bridge for Willie Brown — is not a necessary condition of naming the whole bridge system for Emperor Norton.
These are two related — but separate — things.
Indeed, it's worth noting that the advocates of ACR 65 don't appear to have suggested that the successful implementation of ACR 65 would — or should — signify the end of the "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
Put another way: Those calling to put up "Willie Brown" signs on either end of the Western crossing are not saying that all the existing signs for the Bay Bridge would have to come down.
This strongly suggests that, even if, ultimately, ACR 65 does advance and the Western crossing is named for Willie Brown...
That would be, in effect, only one "subtitle" of the larger 2-bridge 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" — would remain.
It is this main title — specifically, recasting it to honor Emperor Norton — 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 140-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 — 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 recognizing, too, the powerful hold that the familiar term "the Bay Bridge" has had, and will continue to have, on so many...
This petition calls on the California State Legislature to name the entire two-bridged San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge for Emperor Norton.
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This petition is the impetus for a new organization launched in September 2013
THE EMPEROR'S BRIDGE CAMPAIGN
Web site — http://www.EmperorsBridge.org
Facebook — http://on.fb.me/1fdQfIB
Twitter — @EmperorsBridge
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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) —
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
Emperor Norton's 1872 "Bridge" Proclamations (as originally published)
6 January 1872 — http://bit.ly/1dJC3Gs
23 March 1872 — http://bit.ly/1fssp6D
21 September 1872 — http://bit.ly/15wuWXR
Articles on Emperor Norton
Short Documentary Film on Emperor Norton
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
Leah Garchik's 14 August column in the
San Francisco Chronicle (see second item)