One of the Bay Area's most famous stretches of roadway is on the verge of being named after one of its most well-known and controversial politicians -- but not if Gov. Jerry Brown has anything to say about it.
The western half of the Bay Bridge would be named the "Willie L. Brown, Jr. Bridge," after the charismatic former Assembly speaker and San Francisco mayor.
After the Assembly voted 68-0 to pass the resolution three weeks ago, the Senate is expected to give the plan its final approval by Thursday.
The governor is one of the few Sacramento politicians not on board. Although he must sign bills before they become law, he does not have the direct power to stop a resolution naming a new road. Regardless, the governor -- who says he has nothing against Willie Brown -- hopes Bay Area residents will continue to refer to the span as simply the Bay Bridge, his office said.
"Governor Brown believes that the iconic Bay Bridge should keep the name it has had for nearly 77 years, a name that lives in the hearts and minds of all Californians," Brown's spokesman, Evan Westrup, said in a statement. "And he feels the same way about the Golden Gate Bridge."
Critics say it's not fitting to name the two-mile-long span, which opened in 1936 and was retrofitted in 2004, after a politician they say shares the blame for the delays and problems on the eastern half of the bridge. They note that Brown played a key role in planning the Oakland side of the span, which opened last week -- 24 years after a section of the roadway collapsed in the Loma Prieta earthquake -- after its cost skyrocketed five-fold, during a decade of planning, to $6.4 billion.
But supporters, led by the NAACP, say decades of work by Brown -- an African-American -- merit the honor.
"He is a state icon -- and even internationally," said the author of the resolution, Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, who has not spoken to Brown about the measure.
"It's bigger than Willie Brown," he said. "He's irrelevant as it relates to why I did it -- himself the person. What we are really celebrating and recognizing is the work he has done."
Legislative staffers have dutifully pointed out to lawmakers that the plan violates four of the Legislature's own seven policy requirements for naming a span after somebody, including the fact that Brown is not dead.
But the guideline that has proven most difficult for supporters to deal with is the lack of a "community consensus" for the new name.
On Sunday, San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos sent legislators a letter saying "there is a great deal of opposition" and urged them to scrap the idea. He joined three former presidents of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors -- Aaron Peskin, Matt Gonzalez and Quentin Kopp -- who previously raised a stink about the proposed name in a letter to lawmakers.
An online petition has gained more than 3,700 signatures urging the Legislature to reject the idea and instead name the western span after Joshua Abraham Norton, the self-proclaimed Emperor Norton I, who some credit with coming up with the idea for the bridge in the 19th century.
The anonymous person behind the @SFBayBridge Twitter account on Monday tweeted a letter to its 7,000 followers -- and lawmakers -- urging a "no" vote on the Willie Brown idea.
"I happen to like my name as it is, because it's descriptive and functional," the "bridge" wrote, adding the new name "feels as wrong as someone driving westbound on my lower deck."
Even the San Francisco Chronicle, for which Brown writes a column, editorialized against the plan.
Willie Brown on Tuesday did not return calls requesting comment.
Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705. Follow him at twitter.com/RosenbergMerc.