The Emperor's Bridge Campaign



The "Emperor Norton Bridge" By 2022

On 10 May 2016, The Emperor's Bridge Campaign's newsletter to supporters and followers included the following President's Letter from Campaign president John Lumea. The target year of 2018, set out in the original letter, has been revised to 2022; and minor revisions have been made to reflect this new target.

The Emperor's Bridge a.k.a. the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Photo  ©    2016 by Jon Rendell.  

The Emperor's Bridge a.k.a. the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Photo © 2016 by Jon Rendell. 


Help Us Make Good on the Original Promise of The Emperor's Bridge Campaign

Hi, everybody!

At our recent May Day picnic, someone asked me, as they occasionally do: "So, what's with the name 'The Emperor's Bridge Campaign'?"

Those of you who have been following the Campaign from the beginning will know that we launched in September 2013 to carry forward the call of my petition, that summer, for the State of California to name the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge for Emperor Norton.

It was the Emperor who set out the original vision for the bridge in 1872.

The petition attracted some 3,800 signatures in its first six weeks and another 600 or so in the six weeks following the state legislature's September 2013 passage of a joint resolution to name the western crossing of the Bay Bridge for former state Assembly speaker and former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown. It now stands at nearly 5,400.

Much as the Campaign continued to believe in the importance of getting Emperor Norton's name on his bridge, we quickly saw that the larger need was for an organization that would work on a variety of fronts — research, education, advocacy — to honor the life and advance the full legacy of the Emperor.

In building out this broader cultural-historical mission, we positioned the bridge-naming project as more of a "campaign within the Campaign."

We kept the name — in part, to keep the flame of the idea that brought the Campaign together.

Perhaps it is unavoidable that many who have signed the petition have done so, in part, to register their disapproval of the person the state legislature chose to honor in naming the Bay Bridge's western crossing.

The Campaign has not taken a position on this. Indeed, we always have maintained that the case for naming the Bay Bridge as a whole for Emperor Norton stands on its own — and must be seen to stand on its own, if any Emperor Norton name for the bridge is to have staying power.

Given this, here's what we knew: To have pushed forward with the Emperor Norton bridge-naming project in the wake of the state's naming of the western crossing would have risked branding the Norton effort as a reactive, spiteful and politically motivated game of "tit for tat." It also would have invited supporters of the Norton project to become involved for the wrong reasons.

This would have been counterproductive.

So, for the last couple of years, we've been relatively quiet on the bridge-naming front.

Now is the right time to re-engage.

Emperor Norton published his three bridge Proclamations in 1872.

So, 2022 will be the 150th anniversary — the sesquicentennial — of the Emperor's original call for a great bridge linking Oakland and San Francisco via Yerba Buena Island. This provides a wonderful opportunity to frame, in its own positive terms, the call to name the Bay Bridge for the Emperor — and to imbue this call with what every successful project of this kind needs: a concrete goal with a deadline.

The Emperor's Bridge Campaign proposes that, in 2022, the Bay Bridge be additionally named the Emperor Norton Bridge.

We invite you to join us in helping to make this so!

Indeed, we need your help to make it so.

We think so.

Many assume that, in naming the Bay Bridge's western crossing, the state has nullified the name "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge" — leaving the eastern crossing as the only other "naming opportunity."

In fact: Even as the State of California recognizes "Willie L. Brown, Jr., Bridge" as the name of the western crossing, the state continues to recognize "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge" as the name of the entire bridge system from Oakland to San Francisco.

For naming purposes, in other words: The state places these two things — (1) the bridge system as a whole and (2) the system's constituent parts ("spans" and tunnel) — on separate and independent planes.

In continuing to recognize the name "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge," the state's message is this:

The name of any "span" is a "subtitle" of the bridge.

But the bridge's "main title" remains.

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NOTE: The next two sections get "down in the weeds" to address two of the main concerns that we've heard about the idea of naming the Bay Bridge for Emperor Norton. By all means, if these are not your concerns and you wish to avoid the weeds — i.e., if you just want to get to "the action" — fast forward by scrolling down to the section that begins "Getting It Done."


Today, the state of California has a dozen or so bridges with multiple main titles.

Following this precedent, it should be possible to simply add an official "Emperor Norton" name — say, "Emperor Norton Bridge" — to stand alongside the "Bay Bridge" name. This could be memorialized with a single prominent overhead sign on either end of the bridge and perhaps other such signs at a handful of key bridge approaches around the Bay Area.

As illustrated below, such a naming would leave in place all current namings for the bridge, including the longtime unofficial name "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge" for the entire bridge system and the name "Willie L. Brown, Jr., Bridge" for the western crossing. (The schematic hazards a guess that, at some point, there will be an effort to separately name the eastern "span.")

It simply would "add a layer" — as one does when walking along the Bay.

A possible framework for the namings of the system and "spans" of "the bridge across the Bay." Even with the addition of the name "Emperor Norton Bridge," the existing names would remain in place.

A possible framework for the namings of the system and "spans" of "the bridge across the Bay." Even with the addition of the name "Emperor Norton Bridge," the existing names would remain in place.

Of course, the Campaign understands that people will continue to call the Emperor's bridge "the Bay Bridge" for many years to come. The bridge's original designation has been — and will continue to be — a powerful shaper and forger of the identity and the communal memory of the Bay Area.

We believe that this history should be valued and preserved — which is one reason we are not calling for a wholesale renaming of the bridge.

Some believe strongly that the Bay Bridge's new eastern crossing is such a witch's brew of political ego, poor design, flawed construction and fiscal waste as to disqualify it from bearing the Emperor's name.

The Campaign understands and respects many of the critiques of the new eastern "span" — but we also believe that focusing on these problems is not the most productive way to view the naming opportunity before us.

Emperor Norton called for a bridge connecting the heart of Oakland to the heart of San Francisco via Yerba Buena Island. This vision — his vision — for a bay-spanning bridge is timeless — even if human efforts to express and preserve the vision are not.

For those raised in the Emperor Norton tradition, the Bay Bridge did not cease to be "the Emperor Norton" after its original eastern "span" failed and collapsed in the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989.

The point: Any bridge — however imperfect — that expresses the Emperor Norton vision is the Emperor Norton Bridge.

That is the truth that underlies this naming project.

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Another, slightly provocative way of asking this is: Shall we name the bridge through the politicians, or directly through the people?

Typically, in California, namings of state-owned bridges and roads have been done "through the politicians" — specifically, via non-binding joint resolution of the two houses of the state legislature.

In this scenario, one or more elected officials in either the Assembly or the Senate introduces a naming resolution, which then is shepherded through a series of committee and floor votes of both houses. If the motion advances and the resolution passes on the final floor vote, the new name is put into effect. The original citizen sponsors of the resolution are obligated to raise any and all funds needed to fabricate and install highway signs.

The Campaign is open to using this process to try to add a name like "Emperor Norton Bridge" for the Bay Bridge.

Personally, though, I have my doubts as to whether there ever would be enough elected officials in Sacramento (1) willing to "go to the mat" to make such a high-profile symbolic gesture for which there is no obvious political gain or (2) who — if not already kindly disposed to an Emperor Norton naming — would give an honest, open hearing as to why the Emperor deserves to be honored in this way.

I also would prefer that the success of the Emperor Norton naming proposal not hang so thoroughly — as these things so often do — in the balance of a hundred partisan political deals that are made outside the public view and that trade on political favors that have nothing to do with the Emperor.

This leaves...

There's no getting around the fact that this too would be a very heavy lift. Just qualifying a proposition for the state ballot would require that we collect and present at least 365,880 signatures of registered California voters. To get this many verified signatures, we probably would need to collect 400,000 or more — some 2.5% of the total of nearly 17.3 million registered voters in the state.

This would be an eccentric, even quixotic — some might say crazy — way to try to name the Bay Bridge for Emperor Norton.

Maybe this is exactly why we should do it this way!

Who knows? Perhaps it is only a "people's campaign" — a sustained, high-visibility, grassroots effort that draws its momentum and hinges its success on a galvanized corps of petition gatherers, signatories and voters who consider themselves subjects of the Emperor and citizens of his Empire — that can create the energy and excitement necessary to get the bridge naming done.

Can we find 400,000 California voters who at least are willing to say, "Why not?"

I'm bullish enough to believe that we can! Break it down this way: Some 4,300 of the 5,300 signatories were California residents when they signed. Each of these 4,300 would need to raise only 100 good signatures apiece to get us to the 400,000-plus we would need, in order to qualify a ballot prop.

A hundred good signatures apiece. That should be quite manageable — especially...

  1. if we are able to impress on folk that a signature is not a vote — just an affirmation that the idea deserves a vote;
  2. if we are able to assure them that they are not being asked to give up a name for the Bay Bridge that they already like; and
  3. if they can be helped to see that Emperor Norton — far from the wacky cartoon character they may have heard about — actually was an early champion of the values of openness and tolerance that they embrace and that are identified with California.

Through its many research and education efforts, The Emperor's Bridge Campaign is doing everything it can to lodge this truer picture of the Emperor into the public imagination.

Our upcoming book of selected Proclamations of Emperor Norton will be be a key tool in this enterprise.

Alas, The Emperor's Bridge Campaign can't claim credit for this excellent sign that went up next to the Bay Bridge's Fifth Street, San Francisco, onramp in February 2014. But we absolutely endorse the sentiment. Photo  © 2014 by Aaron Muszalski.  

Alas, The Emperor's Bridge Campaign can't claim credit for this excellent sign that went up next to the Bay Bridge's Fifth Street, San Francisco, onramp in February 2014. But we absolutely endorse the sentiment. Photo © 2014 by Aaron Muszalski. 

Six years is about exactly how long it is until the April/May 2022 deadline for submitting signatures to get a state prop to name the Bay Bridge for Emperor Norton on the November 2022 ballot.

The deadline that year for legislators to introduce a resolution to the same effect is February 2022.

Either way, it will take every day of the next six years to build the support necessary for this bridge-naming proposal to succeed.

And this effort needs early adopters now.

Whether or not the Campaign tries to accomplish this naming by legislative resolution, we will need political support at all levels.

We also will need the help of others in every sector: business, legal, artistic, academic, nonprofit, philanthropic and more.

We will need people with access, connections and, yes, money.

Can you help? Do you know those who can?

I'm looking for a full email box at

For links to much more information and background, see our page for this project here.

This will be a fun ride — and it will bring more people into the benevolent light of the Emperor.

Let's name a bridge, shall we?

Thanks and onward!

JOHN LUMEA, President
The Emperor's Bridge Campaign

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