The governor should reject the state Legislature's request to rename the western span of the Bay Bridge after former Assembly Speaker and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown.

Brown has been perhaps the most influential African-American politician in state history. He deserves recognition for his contributions. But renaming the span after him is insulting.

After all, it was Brown's selfish actions that prompted delays in the construction of the new eastern span for two years and cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in supplemental studies and inflationary costs.

Former San Francisco Mayor and state Assembly speaker Willie Brown arrives for new Bay Bridge grand opening ceremony Sept. 2. A controversial plan to name
Former San Francisco Mayor and state Assembly speaker Willie Brown arrives for new Bay Bridge grand opening ceremony Sept. 2. A controversial plan to name the old Western span of the Bay Bridge after Brown has passed both houses of the state Legislature. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

While right-thinking people were concerned about replacing the seismically unsafe span that broke in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, Brown and others promoting the city's development of former Navy property on Yerba Buena Island attacked the new bridge's design and alignment for their own purposes. The delay ended only after White House intervention.

As former state Business, Housing and Transportation Undersecretary Robert Wolf, who dealt with Brown on the bridge project during Gov. Pete Wilson's administration, told our investigative reporters back in 2002, "Willie Brown was playing games with people's lives."

Gov. Jerry Brown, the former mayor of Oakland, last week expressed his clear displeasure with the renaming, but for a different reason. Sidestepping the issue of Willie Brown's delay of the bridge construction, the governor made a more global argument that iconic structures like the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge should not be dubbed with an individual's name. He's right.

Unfortunately, the requirements for naming roadways and bridges are not spelled out in state law. The transportation committees of the Senate and Assembly have recommended non-binding policies that the state Department of Transportation generally follows.

But in this case the Legislature ignored its own committees' policies -- most notably that "the proposed designation must reflect a community consensus and be without local opposition" -- when it passed a resolution calling for tacking Willie Brown's name onto the western span.

The opposition has been loud and clear. Even the newspaper for which Brown writes a column, the San Francisco Chronicle, opposes the idea. While Willie Brown was much-revered by many San Franciscans, he certainly was not, and is not, universally loved within his own city, and certainly not beyond its borders.

The Bay and Golden Gate bridges are regional, national and international symbols for the entire Bay Area. They link together disparate communities, and should help unify, not divide.