A cab sits outside the international terminal at San Francisco International Airport on Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SFO departures hall to be named after Mayor Ed Lee — but not the International Terminal itself

Airport Commission decision comes after a year of lobbying from Chinese community members

It’s official: The San Francisco International Airport will name a facility after the late Mayor Ed Lee.

The San Francisco Airport Commission voted Tuesday to approve naming SFO’s International Terminal departures hall after Lee.

The decision falls short of the Chinese community’s initial request to name the entire International Terminal for Lee.

Former Mayor Willie Brown condemned the partial gesture Tuesday afternoon.

“I think Ed Lee deserves every honor Ed Lee should deserve,” Brown told the San Francisco Examiner. “I am disappointed anyone thinks there should be a limit.”

Signage on the SFO International Terminal’s departures wall will read, “Mayor Edwin M. Lee International Terminal Departures Hall,” according to airport commission documents.

SFO staff will also work with the San Francisco Arts Commission to commission a statue of Lee for the space, according to airport commission documents. A plaque near the statue will commemorate Lee and feature a video screen so people can see and hear about his contributions to The City.

The proposal to rename the International Terminal met with a lukewarm reception from airport officials last May when it was first introduced.

More than 60 Asian American community organizations joined together to petition the airport to name the International Terminal after Lee, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce previously told the Examiner. The chamber also voted to approve the idea and to advocate for it within The City.

Chinese community members argued that Lee played a key role in establishing economic ties between China and San Francisco, and that his position as the first Chinese American mayor of San Francisco should be celebrated with the international community.

One year later, feelings at the airport have changed, somewhat — and one of the most vocal proponents of the renaming, Malcolm Yeung, was appointed to the commission by Mayor London Breed earlier this year. Yeung recused himself from voting on the name change since he was previously a proponent, but he said Lee’s family accepted the changes.

“Ran it by the family and community committee,” he wrote in a text message, “Everyone felt good about where we ‘landed.’”

This isn’t the first time SFO has resisted naming proposals. Airport commissioners also resisted pressure from the Board of Supervisors to name Terminal 1 after gay rights activist and former supervisor Harvey Milk, prompting supervisors to eventually pass legislation dictating even the size of Milk’s name on the terminal signage.


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