The Legislative Options
Typically, in California, pieces of state-owned transportation infrastructure like the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge are named via non-binding joint resolution of both houses of the state legislature. This is the approach currently being pursued by The Emperor's Bridge Campaign.
Another possibility — more arduous but also more appealing, in some respects — is to go directly to the people with a state ballot initiative, which, if successful, would have the force of law.
Either way, The Emperor's Bridge Campaign now intends to sponsor or co-sponsor a legislative effort to name the Bay Bridge for Emperor Norton either in 2019, the 160th anniversary of Joshua Norton’s original Proclamation declaring himself Emperor on 17 September 1859, or in 2022, the 150th anniversary the Emperor's proclamations setting out the original vision for the bridge in 1872.
Whether by resolution or by proposition, naming legislation would seek simply to add "Emperor Norton Bridge" as an honorary name for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge system. This "co-name" would stand alongside the original name. It would not seek to "rename" the bridge. Nor would it seek to remove either the names "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge," for the bridge as a whole, or "Willie L. Brown, Jr., Bridge," for the bridge's Western crossing.
Each legislative path has its strengths and its liabilities.
THE RESOLUTION PROCESS is organized around securing the specific support of state lawmakers representing the congressional district(s) where the bridge is located.
The process of getting legislation passed by elected officials is notoriously whimsical — and subject to being derailed by political priorities that have nothing whatsoever to do with the matter at hand.
But, if it were possible to put together a coalition of lawmakers that would support an Emperor Norton Bridge resolution, this would be much faster; much less complicated on the paperwork side; and certainly less expensive.
THE INITIATIVE PROCESS, with its take-it-to-the-people petition-gathering phase, may afford the greatest opportunity for educating citizens about Emperor Norton and building the larger Norton movement. And once the effort had gathered enough signatures to qualify a naming proposition for the ballot, its stands to reason that the remainder of the campaign would be waged primarily in the Bay Area, where there would be the greatest interest in the issue, rather than across the entire state.
Corollary to that, it seems likely that, once an Emperor Norton Bridge proposition got on the ballot, supporters would be more motivated than opponents — and that the proposition would succeed. There is something very satisfying about the prospect of the people themselves doing the naming.
But getting the requisite number of signatures to get the proposition on the ballot — at least 5% of the total votes cast for Governor in the last gubernatorial election (currently 623, 212 signatures) — would be a very heavy, and possibly very expensive, lift.
Also: Trying to effect a bridge naming via ballot proposition may be out of step with the current political mood in California, which has the electorate increasingly impatient with being asked to vote on propositions that are not seen as addressing the basic needs of the people.
To return to the Overview of our bridge-naming project, click here.