The Emperor's Bridge Campaign




Model Letter to Decision Makers

The Emperor's Bridge Campaign seeks to persuade the houses of the California State Legislature to adopt a joint resolution that would add "Emperor Norton Bridge" as an official "co-name"  for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in 2022 — the 150th anniversary of Emperor Norton's three “bridge Proclamations” of 1872, setting out the original vision for the Bay Bridge.

This effort will succeed only as a grassroots enterprise. 

We need for lots of people who believe in this idea to send lots of letters, to make lots of phone calls and to have lots of personal conversations with (a) key decision makers, with (b) those who have the ear of these decision makers and with (c) others who have influence in shaping the opinions of these decision makers and — important — the opinion of the California public.

BELOW IS A MODEL LETTER that includes all of the key messages that The Emperor's Bridge Campaign has been using to advocate for making the Emperor Norton Bridge a reality.

Please feel free to copy and adapt this as a personal letter to any and all of those mentioned in the informational section below the letter. Remember that letters typed, printed, signed in ink and delivered by post stand out more — and thus can be more effective.

The key procedural messages are:

1) The goal is not to rename the Bay Bridge — but simply to add a name.

2) The State of California already employs bridge-naming practices — at the Bay Bridge and in general — that support the possibility of adding "Emperor Norton Bridge" as a parallel / tandem name for the Bay Bridge. Specifically:

  • The state continues to recognize "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge" as the "main title" of the entire bridge system .

  • The state has at least 30 bridges for which it has provided multiple "main titles" for the same bridge. (See here.)


Before sending any letter(s) or otherwise asking officials and other public leaders to support this proposal, please scroll below the letter for important information and recommendations about who to write to; when to write to them; and what not to say.

Hello, [Name].

We are in the midst of a season of anniversaries pertaining to the 19th-century California eccentric and visionary, Emperor Norton (1818-1880). The Emperor's 200th birthday was on 4 February 2018. This year, 2019, marks the 160th anniversary of Joshua Abraham Norton's original proclamation declaring himself Emperor on 17 September 1859.

And 2022 will mark the 150th anniversary — the sesquicentennial — of Emperor Norton’s three “bridge Proclamations” of 1872, setting out the original vision for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

I'm writing to add my voice to the thousands of others — including thousands of California voters — who are calling upon the California State Legislature to use the opportunity of this commemorative moment to adopt a joint resolution to add "Emperor Norton Bridge" as a name for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge system in 2022.

Not to rename the bridge, but simply to...

Add "Emperor Norton Bridge" as an honorary name for the bridge system — a "co-name," as it were — leaving in place all existing names and signage for the system and its constituent elements ("spans," tunnel, pedestrian/bike path, etc.) . 

The State of California already employs bridge-naming practices — at the Bay Bridge and in general — that support this approach:

1) The state continues to recognize "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge" as the unofficial name of the bridge system as a whole. 

2) The state has some 30 bridges for which it has passed resolutions authorizing two or more names for the same bridge. The state has been doing this since the early 1960s. (See here.)

Based on these practices, the state legislature can authorize a name like "Emperor Norton Bridge" for the Bay Bridge system independent of both (a) the "Bay Bridge" name for the system and (b) the names given separately to the bridge's constituent elements.

An official "Emperor Norton Bridge" name could stand alongside the name "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge" — just as the name "John F. McCarthy Memorial Bridge" stands alongside the name "Richmond-San Rafael Bridge."

Depending on the availability of private funds, highway signage for the name could be implemented with one sign at the San Francisco end of the bridge, one sign at the Oakland end and possibly other signs at key access points around the Bay Area.

The existing names and signage for the bridge and its parts could remain as is.

This "both-and" approach to placing Emperor Norton's name on his bridge has been developed and championed since 2013 by The Emperor's Bridge Campaign, a California nonprofit that works on a variety of fronts — research, education, advocacy — to advance the legacy of Emperor Norton.

Recently, to mark Emperor Norton's bicentennial, The Emperor's Bridge Campaign forged partnerships with respected public and private institutions, including the California Historical Society, the San Francisco Public Library, the Mechanics' Institute and the Society of California Pioneers. At the Campaign's request, both San Francisco City Hall and Coit Tower were lit in gold for the Emperor's 200th birthday on February 4th, and District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin issued a Board of Supervisors proclamation declaring February 2018 to be Emperor Norton Month in the City and County of San Francisco.

To learn much more about the Campaign's bridge-naming effort, you can access the section of the Campaign's Web site that details the Emperor Norton Bridge project via:

::   ::   ::

Why Emperor Norton?

It was Emperor Norton who set out and popularized the original vision for the Bay Bridge with three newspaper Proclamations in 1872 calling for the design and construction of a great bay-spanning suspension bridge linking San Francisco and Oakland via Yerba Buena Island, then known as Goat Island.

This is but one example of how Emperor Norton was a visionary. Proclamations and other statements written and published by Emperor Norton in the 1860s and '70s show that — well ahead of his time — the Emperor was:

  • an adversary of corruption and fraud of all kinds — political, corporate and personal;

  • a persistent voice for fair treatment and enhanced legal protections for immigrants
    and racial / ethnic minorities
    — specifically, Chinese, African-Americans and Native
    Americans — and a supporter of women's suffrage;

  • an advocate for fair labor practices;

  • a religious humanist and pluralist who favored church-state separation and
    warned against the dangers of puritanism and sectarianism;

  • a defender of the people's right to fair taxes and basic services, including
    well-maintained streets, streetcars, ferries and trains; and

  • an exponent of technological innovations that advanced the public welfare.

Emperor Norton was known for his kindness. He was both passionate and whimsical. Not least, in asserting his own right to be heard, he stood for the outsider, the dreamer and for the idea that people should be accepted for who they are.

Emperor Norton not only called for a bridge. In all of these ways, he was a bridge — a reformer and a general ambassador of his adopted city, who embodied and heralded the values of fairness, tolerance, self-determination and the common good that came to be identified with San Francisco, Oakland and the Bay Area.

Placing the Emperor's name on his bridge would give those who live in — and love — the Bay Area a wonderful tool for telling the local story of these universal values . 

And it finally would imbue the name of the bridge with a sense of history and poetry and flavor that previously has been enjoyed only by the bridge's International Orange sister to the north.  

::   ::   ::

A Bay Area Figure

Worth noting: Although Emperor Norton often is identified as a San Francisco figure, he actually spent quite a bit of time and was well-known in the East Bay, making weekly ferry visits to Brooklyn, Calif. — present-day East Oakland, which he is said to have considered his "summer capital" — and to Berkeley, where, at the new University of California, he was warmly received by students; attended (and occasionally gave) public lectures; and routinely reviewed cadets.

The Oakland Tribune published Proclamations from Emperor Norton and reported on his participation in meetings of the Oakland City Council and the Alameda Board of Supervisors. Indeed, in a February 1875 editorial, the Tribune wrote approvingly of the Emperor as a political buffer — a kind of mayoral "figurehead...who can reside on both sides of the bay at once, and who would have no insignia of office to procure in case he were elected."

It was in May 1872, while staying in Brooklyn — soon to be annexed to Oakland — that the Emperor issued one of his most significant decrees, calling for

the cities of Oakland and San Francisco to make an appropriation for paying the expense of a survey to determine the practicability of a tunnel under water; and if found practicable, that said tunnel be forthwith built for a railroad communication.

An early forecast of the Transbay Tube.

::   ::   ::

I hope that you and your colleagues in the California State Legislature will agree that the honorary naming the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge after Emperor Norton is an idea whose time has come.

Many thanks,
[Your Name]


The "key-est" of the key decision makers that we need to reach, in order to get an "Emperor Norton Bridge" resolution introduced in the state legislature, are the four state elected officials who represent the districts where the Emperor's bridge is located.

Joint naming resolutions flow through the transportation committees of both houses of the state legislature. According to the internal policies of these committees — Senate here; Assembly here — the resolution we are seeking must be sponsored or co-sponsored by one or more of the following:


Senator Scott Wiener — Senate District 11 — Member of the Senate Transportation Committee
San Francisco District Office
455 Golden Gate Avenue, Suite 14800
San Francisco, CA  94102

Tel 415 557 1300

Assemblymember David Chiu — Assembly District 17
San Francisco District Office
455 Golden Gate Avenue, Suite 14800
San Francisco, CA  94102

Tel 415 557 3013


Senator Nancy Skinner — Senate District 9 — Member of the Senate Transportation Committee
Oakland District Office
1515 Clay Street, Suite 2202
Oakland, CA  94612

Tel 510 286 1333

Assemblymember Rob Bonta — Assembly District 18
Oakland District Office
1515 Clay Street, Suite 2204
Oakland, CA  94612

Tel 510 286 1670

Please don't write to these four lawmakers just yet — unless you have a personal connection.

Here's why:

The Emperor's Bridge Campaign is advised by legislative staffers to these lawmakers that there is a path — a "sequence of support," as it were — that is most likely to lead these lawmakers to sponsor, and the legislature to pass, an "Emperor Norton Bridge" resolution.

Here's how it goes:

1) Line up the support of San Francisco's local elected officials first.

  • Members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors

  • Mayor of San Francisco

2) Use that local official support to seek backing from state lawmakers from San Francisco.

  • Senator Wiener

  • Assemblymember Chiu

  • Assemblymember Ting

3) Then — and only then — circle back to appeal to state lawmakers from Oakland, including

  • Senator Skinner

  • Assemblymember Bonta

to join in creating a unified "Bay Area front" with which to make the case to the entire legislature that 2018 — the bicentennial of Emperor Norton's birth — is the time to add "Emperor Norton Bridge" as a parallel name for the Bay Bridge system.

Others that we need to make strong connections to — and secure meaningful support from — include:

  • Members of the Oakland City Council.

  • Mayors of Oakland and other Bay Area cities.

  • Other members of the California State Senate and California State Assembly — with current outreach priority given to other members of the Transportation committees of each body. (Senate Transportation committee roster here. Assembly Transportation committee roster here.)

  • Governor and Lieutenant Governor of California.

  • Candidates for San Francisco mayor in 2019.

  • Influential editors, reporters, bloggers and others with big soapboxes.


We understand that many have strong feelings about the state legislature's decision in 2013 to name the Western section of the Bay Bridge for former California State Assembly speaker and former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown.

As a matter of policy, The Emperor's Bridge Campaign takes no position on this issue.

Plus: As a procedural matter, adding Emperor Norton's name to the Bay Bridge is not contingent on the presence or absence of any other name(s) for the bridge or for any of its constituent parts ("spans," tunnel, pedestrian / bike path, etc.). 

This is not an either-or issue — it can be both-and.


We strongly urge supporters of this effort NOT to mention Willie Brown in their letters or other advocacy, other than to say that this proposal to add "Emperor Norton Bridge" is not a challenge to any existing name for the Bay Bridge system or to the name any of its parts — and to affirm that, under this proposal, these names and related signage would remain where they are. 

The case for adding "Emperor Norton Bridge" as a name for the Bay Bridge stands on its own. 

Please help us allow it to do so. 


Have a connection to a decision maker or influencer that you think could be helpful to this project?

Have you reached out to one or more of these people — whether by letter, phone call or in person — about our "Emperor Norton Bridge" naming proposal?

Please let us know! The better informed the Campaign is about where potential support may lie — and about what outreach already has been done — the more effective our own advocacy will be.



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