Of all the people who decried a state assembly bill to name the western span of the Bay Bridge for San Francisco's erstwhile Mayor Willie Brown, Bob Planthold was among the most dogged.
Shortly after the Brown Bridge resolution passed through both houses, Planthold -- a good government activist and former Ethics Commissioner -- filed a lawsuit alleging that state legislators had violated their own rules and procedures. Among those rules: bridges have to be named after dead people, and Brown, for all we can see, is still alive. Also: the resolution wasn't co-signed by a lawmaker who represented the Bay Bridge's district. And, perhaps most importantly, it lacked widespread support from the community.
Former Board of Supervisors Presidents Aaron Peskin, Quentin Kopp, and Matt Gonzalez had pushed those arguments in a letter submitted to Senator Darrell Steinberg, requesting that San Francisco not besmirch a venerable piece of transit architecture. But evidently, both the letter and the lawsuit fell on deaf ears.
Today, a San Francisco Superior Court Judge ruled against Planthold and upheld the Brown Bridge name.
In his opinion, Judge Ernest Goldsmith said he wasn't in a position to rule on legislative procedure, and that the court complaint required him to make a political decision about the merits of Willie Brown. Planthold roundly disagrees, and argues that he's merely urging state lawmakers to follow their own procedures.
That said, it's very hard for a private citizen to hold a state government accountable, even through a legal avenue. Many experts cast doubt over the suit shortly after it was filed. After all, if it were that easy for ordinary people to enforce house procedure, we'd see a whole rash of suits over ordinary rule waivers, according to Los Angeles-based legal scholar Robert Stern.
Thus, yesterday's decision wasn't entirely surprising.
Planthold says that he and his attorneys will scrutinize Goldsmith's opinion before deciding whether to file an appeal. He's still resolute about the complaint, but hesitant to pursue it too obstinately, given that he's single-handedly bankrolling the effort.
For now, the Willie Brown Bridge stands. It may go down in history as San Francisco's most widely disputed vanity project.