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Lawsuit Filed To Block Legislature’s Decision Naming Bay Bridge For Willie Brown

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A view of downtown San Francsisco and the western span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge on September 8, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A view of downtown San Francsisco and the western span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — State legislators Thursday approved naming the western span of the Bay Bridge after former state Assembly Speaker and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, but a lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court sought an injunction to block the move.

The lawsuit, brought by San Francisco resident and former city ethics commission member Bob Planthold, claims lawmakers slipped the vote through the legislature without following proper procedures.

Among the allegations in his suit, Planthold contends that the resolution passed by lawmakers was in violation of state Senate rules specifying that it must be authored by a legislator whose district encompasses the bridge and be named after someone already deceased. The proposal, which was adopted Thursday, was put forward by Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton.

The state Senate voted 26-7 Thursday in favor of the resolution, which had previously passed in the Assembly by a vote of 68-0 — although Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, whose district includes the bridge, abstained from voting.

“I think this is a decision that should be made locally,” said State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, one of the seven senators who opposed the measure. “It shouldn’t be named by a bunch of politicians in Sacramento.”

The lawsuit noted that many critics oppose naming the iconic structure after a political figure as polarizing as Brown and argues that it should instead be named after eccentric San Francisco icon Joshua Abraham Norton, also known as Emperor Norton – who is credited with conceiving of a bridge over the San Francisco Bay back in 1872.

However, Hall, the author of the legislation, said in a statement sent to reporters that Brown deserves of the honor because of his history as the first black Assembly Speaker and his tenure in various leadership positions. Brown was a member of the Assembly from 1965 to 1995, and served as Speaker from 1980 until the end of his tenure; he then served as San Francisco’s mayor from 1996 to 2004.

“Willie Brown personifies the California Dream: that with hard work, fearless determination and faith, anything can be accomplished,” Hall said in the statement. “This designation is only a small token of respect and gratitude to one of California’s greatest sons.”

Gov. Jerry Brown has also come out against naming the bridge after Willie Brown, but there appears to be little he can do about it. California’s governor does not have veto power for non-binding legislative resolutions and the re-naming is not tied to any public funding.

The California NAACP is leading a private fundraising effort to pay for signs to be erected in 2014 at the entrances of the western span for the Willie L. Brown Jr. Bridge, which connects Yerba Buena Island to San Francisco.

Willie Brown on Thursday was taking the whole bridge naming controversy in stride, quipping: “A guy comes up to me and says, ‘You know what Willie Brown? I don’t like you very much. But I damn sure think they ought to name that bridge after you.’ I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘So I can run over you everyday.’”

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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