Renaming the airport doesn’t require a citywide vote. It can be done with a simple ordinance at the Board of Supervisors.
In 1995, it was the board that changed Army Street to Cesar Chavez Street. A ballot initiative to reverse the change was rejected by voters later that year.
So why is Supervisor David Campos insisting that voters weigh in on his proposal to change the name of San Francisco International Airport to Harvey Milk San Francisco International Airport?
On the one hand, the City Charter contains the term “San Francisco International Airport” exactly one time, in reference to the fact that the Airport Commission must repay any city bonds issued for the improvement of San Francisco International Airport (remember that Milk himself was against airport bonds), and changing that reference would require a charter amendment. But that is a ridiculously flimsy argument. The charter otherwise refers to SFO as “the Airport,” which needs no clarification. Anyway, Campos himself has assured everyone that Milk will be an add-on to the current name of the airport and not an entirely new name.
Allow me to offer an alternate answer: Six months after the Milk airport ballot measure, Campos himself will likely be on the ballot in the primary to take over Tom Ammiano’s seat in the state Assembly. Ammiano is termed out, and Campos has made no secret of his interest in running to represent Assembly District 17.
Campos is popular in his supervisorial district, but outside of District 9, he is perhaps best known for being one of four supervisors who reinstated Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi after the sheriff admitted to bruising his own wife.
By keeping the Milk airport proposal as a ballot measure instead of a simple ordinance, Campos will be able to raise unlimited amounts of money for a campaign that is ostensibly supporting a beloved city figure, Harvey Milk, but that shows Campos’ own name and face. Campos will thus increase his citywide recognition right before his bid for Assembly and do so without campaign contribution limits.
Remember that Campos was one of the supervisors who tanked an effort to let voters weigh in on whether we should keep ranked-choice voting. Clearly Campos is interested in the sanctity of the “will of people” when it suits him.
In fact, by keeping it as a ballot measure to increase his own stature, Campos might actually doom the renaming to failure. Historically, San Francisco voters aren’t too keen on renaming structures. A proposal to rename Candlestick Park as O’Doul Stadium (after Lefty O’Doul) was rejected by voters in 1970, as was an attempt to rename the Oceanside Water Treatment Plant after President George W. Bush in 2008.
Aside from the aforementioned failed attempt to overturn the change of Army Street to Cesar Chavez Street, voters have only endorsed one other ballot measure involving official naming: to prevent a name change. In 2004, fearful that The City would sell naming rights to the Stick, voters endorsed Proposition H, ensuring that the “stadium at Candlestick Point” would always be known as Candlestick Park.
Members of the Board of Supervisors who say they support adding “Harvey Milk” to the name of the airport should just introduce a bill to do it without the fanfare. It would probably have a better chance of becoming law and it would stop Campos from continuing to milk Harvey Milk.
Melissa Griffin’s column runs each Thursday and Sunday. She also appears Mondays in “Mornings with Melissa” at 6:45 a.m. on KPIX (Ch. 5). Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.