Bay Bridge Had to be Dedicated to a Brown

In 1986, the Edmund G. Brown State Building on the corner Van Ness and Mcallister in San Francisco was dedicated. In attendance was the late governor, whom the building was named after. He was introduced by then California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown Jr.

Former Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, the father of current Gov. Jerry Brown, spoke at the dedication. “I knew cousin Willie would get this building named Brown one way or the other,” he joked.

Nobody laughed harder or louder than Willie Brown at the comment. The two are not related; but nobody worked harder than Willie Brown to get that building funded. But it is considered gauche to name a building after a current, sitting politician—so naming it after a figure with the same name is a bit genius.

On Thursday, the state Senate agreed to name the older, wester span of the Bay Bridge after Willie Brown. The new name passed out of the state Assembly on a 68-0 vote and state Senate 26-7. Gov. Jerry Brown, as Mayor of Oakland, had much to do with the final bridge development as Willie, who was Mayor of San Francisco.

Thus, the new name of the Bridge could just as easily have the name of Edmund G. Brown Jr. But it would certainly be unseemly for the governor to name it after himself while in office. Naming it for “cousin” Willie makes a whole lot of sense, and it is a nice gesture coming from this governor—not to mention a sign of genius.

There is no question that Willie Brown deserves the honor of having part of the bridge named after him, given his lifetime of service to the city and county of San Francisco. Considering the political heavyweights who share that last name, there isn’t an infrastructure project since 1958 that does not have a Brown imprimatur.

In San Jose, we have some important things named for politicians: the airport bears the name of Norm Mineta, the train station is dedicated to Rod Diridon, Susan and Phil Hammer have their names on the Rep theater, and the soon-to-be-completed renovation of the convention center will still feature Tom McEnery’s name in its official title.

Naming things after living beings is sometimes controversial. Former State Sen. Quentin Kopp once opined, “I don’t believe in naming anything after people who are living.” One might find such a sentiment ironic, as Kopp’s freeway sign adorns highway 380. He must have changed his mind.

But it is appropriate to name structures to honor those who have historically made a difference. It’s only a bonus if they live to see it.

Rich Robinson is a political consultant in Silicon Valley.

Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.


  1. It isn’t new span of the Bay Bridge that is being renamed after Willie Brown.  It is the WESTERN span, the older portion between Treasure Island and SF.

  2. Rich: “But it is appropriate to name structures to honor those who have historically made a difference. It’s only a bonus if they live to see it.”

    ME: No, you were right when you wrote, “But it is considered gauche to name a building after a current, sitting politician…”

    As you point out, politicians do this all the time and it just cheapens the concept of memorializing. No one begrudges all of the “JFK’s” and “MLK’s” because those folks are dead, but normal people fly to San Jose Airport, not Mineta Memorial Field.

  3. Progressive politics at every level is ultimately based on a “cult of personality”.

    Progressive ideas and policies are deemed to be superior in the eyes of progressives because the progressive is always “the smartest person in the room.”

    What is the evidence for this?

    In the progressive’s view, it is just obvious.  It is self-evident.  Everyone just KNOWS it’s true.  It DOESN’T NEED PROOF!

    In my mind, this progressive idiosyncrasy is not new; it is as old as politics.

    I trace it back to the ancient Greek school of sophist philosophers. Sophists focused on the mastery of rhetoric, which they believed equipped them to “make the weaker argument seem like the stronger.”

    By extension, “winning the argument” was regarded as the equivalent of discovering the “truth”.

    Hence, the best sophist, who won the most arguments won the coveted stature of “smartest person in the room” and was entitled to have bridges and everything else named after him.

    Other Greek philosophers suspected that the sophists were often cheating in their arguments by employing logical fallacies, leaving out evidence, cooking data, etc. Socrates pioneered the “Socratic method” by asking questions that revealed the flaws,  weaknesses, and UNtruthfullness in the sophists’ arguments.

    The sophists responded by forcing Socrates to drink hemlock. And, by NOT naming any bridges after him. And, undoubtedly, by having the state require that all school children in Greece be told that Socrates was an evil, awful person.

    In other words, the sophists responded as classical “progressives”.

  4. The writer of this article must have brown eyes because he is at least that full (up to his eyeballs) of crap to have the gall to post something like this.  What is it about politicians that make them think they know more about what is good for people than do the people themselves thus giving them the hubris to want to be a “public servant” in the first place?

    If Rich here had any real gumption he would write a piece on how much money some of these public servants manage to pull in (besides their salaries and fat bennies) while in office.  Obviously Willie couldn’t have dressed the sartorial role of big time deal maker on a public official’s paycheck.

    In these tough times wouldn’t it be nice to see a breakdown of income of our politicians and how they are getting by?  If there are sly deals going by w/ money changing hands it can’t be for the public good.  And then it’s OK to honor them with a public structure named after them?

    If one wants to make the “sacrifice” and go into politics for the public good that is noble. But to take up that role and come out far better off than when entering then we know the public has gotten the shitty end of the stick.  Then to have the media and hucksters like this writer play him like a highly decorated war veteran with the honor of a historic span being named for him?  There is something morally wrong here.  Shame, shame, shame.

  5. > There is no question that Willie Brown deserves the honor of having part of the bridge named after him, given his lifetime of service to the city and county of San Francisco.

    Thanks to Rich, I’ve updated my political lexicon:

    “lifetime of service”:  graft, corruption philandering, cronyism, and feathering your own nest at public expense.

    In this day and age, one has to have a current political lexicon at hand in order to decode the “news stories” that are spoon fed to the consumers of mass media, mass culture, and mass transit.

  6. Speaking of political lexicons, Rich, here is another euphemism that you need to start including in your narrative:

    “imposed encouragement”

    That is how a Los Gatos City Council Member described that city’s copycat ban on plastic bags.

    In a simpler, more honest era, lucid people would have simple called it “authoritarianism”.

    But that sounds so ugly and mean spirited.  And it’s not like progressives are actually threatening to use badges and guns and handcuffs to arrest people and take their property and put them in jail.

    The City Council’s plastic bag ban is just a “suggestion”, isn’t it?

    It is, isn’t it?  Rich?


  7. The Oakland Tribune got it right on the bridge renaming issue: “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.”

  8. It should be illegal to name bridges and other public projects after people who are still alive.  Take a page from San Jose’s own Tully Road…named after Marcus Tullius Cicero, nearly 1,900 or so years after his death.

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