The advisory panel tasked with naming a terminal at San Francisco International Airport after gay icon Harvey Milk is leaning toward the under renovation Terminal 1 as well as naming the airport’s access road after Milk.
At the inaugural meeting this morning (Thursday, April 20) of the nine-person Airport Facilities Naming Advisory Committee, an initial consensus emerged among the eight members present that designating the first of the airport’s four terminals after Milk would present a unique marketing opportunity since Terminal 1 is currently undergoing a $2.4 billion remodel that will be unveiled in stages through 2024 and draw years of media coverage.
And by christening the airport’s access road as Harvey Milk Way, all four of the terminals as well as the airport itself would be attached to the former supervisor’s name, committee members noted. In November of 1977 Milk became the first openly gay elected official in San Francisco and California by winning a supervisor seat but was assassinated a year later.
Terminal 1 will be a “gleaming, new facility,” said Jon Ballesteros, a gay man who is currently vice president of public policy at San Francisco Travel, the city’s tourism bureau, but as of May 1 will be SFO’s chief external affairs officer.
The rebuild of the terminal will be heavily promoted in the press, noted Ballesteros, and christening it the Harvey Milk Terminal “adds to the scope and reach of the public impact that could have.”
Theresa Lee, formerly the deputy airport director for administration, added that the remodel of the terminal presents various opportunities to incorporate the name and story of Milk into the design.
“It is the first terminal people see picking up and dropping off passengers or parking at the airport,” said Lee.
Retired airport director John L. Martin, a gay man who was elected chair of the naming committee, suggested the front glass window of Terminal 1 could bear Milk’s name similar to how the airport’s name is emblazoned on the front of the International Terminal, which is the most visible of SFO’s terminals to those passing by on Highway 101.
“It is a great idea,” said Martin of selecting Terminal 1, who proposed having airport staff present the committee at its next meeting with ideas of “what potential things we can do” outside and inside the building to honor Milk.
Jim Lazarus, the senior vice president for public policy at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, first broached the Milk road naming idea as something the committee should consider in addition to selecting a terminal to name in his honor.
“If you look at the airport’s address it is a PO Box; it is not a street address,” said Lazarus, who was a deputy city attorney when Milk was in office. “It is something I would like us to consider as well. If you look at Google’s map, it is listed as Airport Access Road. There is some opportunity at the street level as well we can consider.”
Having worked for U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) when she was the city’s mayor in the 1980s as executive deputy mayor for finance and administration, Lazarus admitted that he is “a little prejudiced on the international terminal,” suggesting it should be named after Feinstein. He pointed out it was rebuilt during her time as mayor.
“Few people have had as large an impact on the modern airport than Dianne Feinstein,” said Lazarus, adding that she has fought for federal funding for SFO while in Congress.
As the B.A.R.’s Political Notebook reported in today’s paper, gay former Supervisor David Campos would like to see the international airport be named after Milk. In light of the recent reports about gay men being rounded up in the Russian republic of Chechnya, as well as the ongoing global fight for LGBT rights, Campos believes a Harvey Milk International Terminal would send a powerful message.
“Given what is happening with Chechnya and in other countries, the International Terminal becomes more significant and more appropriate,” he said. “It is the first thing people who travel from all over the world see when they come into San Francisco.”
The airport naming committee arose from Campos’ initial proposal in 2013 to rename all of SFO after Milk. But it would require voters passing a charter amendment, and Campos was unable to secure the necessary votes at City Hall to place the idea on the ballot.
Mayor Ed Lee and Campos ended up striking the compromise to name just a terminal after Milk. They proposed forming a naming committee and tasked it with recommending to the board and mayor which of SFO’s four terminals should bear Milk’s name.
Yet the panel had sat dormant because of Lee’s snail’s pace in naming his five appointees to the nine-person body. It was only recently, as the B.A.R. reported Monday, that the mayor appointed Lazarus, Therese Lee, and Renel Brooks Moon, the public address announcer for the San Francisco Giants, to the panel.
He also named two gay appointees: Joe Goldman, who is the public affairs and civic engagement manager at the Jewish Community Relations Council, and Alfredo Pedroza, who is a senior vice president at Wells Fargo and the bank’s West Region director of local government relations. (Pedroza was unable to attend today’s meeting.)
Ballesteros and Martin are board appointees, as are Alex Walker, a gay man who now works for state Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), and Maggie Weiland, deputy director of the Entertainment Commission and a volunteer with the Harvey Milk Foundation, co-founded by her mother, Anne Kronenberg, who was a campaign consultant and legislative aide for Milk.
Weiland said that her first preference would be to recommend naming the International Terminal after Milk due to the persecution LGBT people face across the globe.
“What we are seeing in other countries and in our own country is disheartening,” she said.
Walker, a former board member of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, also said that “coming into the room” he was inclined to support naming the International Terminal after Milk. But he later said he could see the merits of choosing Terminal 1.
“I am intrigued with the Terminal 1 idea,” he said, “and with the new construction being able to incorporate elements about Milk into what is being built now.”
Goldman, whose partner works for Virgin America airline, said he was “leaning towards” Terminal 1 because the media attention on its rebuild would “magnify awareness” of having it be named in honor of Milk. It would also signify that the fight for LGBT equality in America is far from done, added Goldman, who serves on the board of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club.
“We are a city that is a model internationally but also at home,” he said.
The committee has three months to vote on a Milk terminal and can opt to remain meeting for an additional 15 months in order to recommend names for the other three terminals and additional airport facilities. It voted this morning to first focus on selecting a Milk terminal and then decide if it would continue to meet or disband.
Its next meeting will likely be held on Monday, May 22, which is Harvey Milk Day and would have been Milk’s 87th birthday. Otherwise, it is looking to meet Tuesday, May 23 to hear from airport staff.
It would likely then schedule one more meeting where it would vote on its recommendation for the Milk terminal.