Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

Breaking: Terminal, not airport, to be named for Harvey Milk


Supervisor David Campos (Photo: Rick Gerharter)
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Rather than naming San Francisco's entire airport after slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk, the city is instead looking at naming a terminal for him.

When first proposed in January by gay District 9 Supervisor David Campos, the idea to rename SFO as Harvey Milk San Francisco International Airport immediately met with fierce resistance. The LGBT community itself was divided on the matter, with some questioning if the tribute to Milk was necessary while others embraced it as a powerful message that could resonate around the globe.

Others feared having to fight over the proposal at the ballot box in November. Campos had said it would require voters passing an amendment to the city's charter in order to rename SFO. In an editorial the Bay Area Reporter warned such a political fight could divide the city along racial lines.

For months Campos has been short the sixth vote he needed to pass the charter amendment at the Board of Supervisors. And Mayor Ed Lee went on record as questioning the merits of the idea, as any number of former and current city leaders could be honored by having the airport named for them.

Facing such criticism and division, Campos has worked with Lee to come up with a compromise. Under the new proposal, a committee would be appointed to recommend which of the airport's terminals should be named after Milk, the city's first gay elected official who was killed inside City Hall in 1978 along with then-Mayor George Moscone by disgruntled former supervisor Dan White.

The board would name four people to the panel and the mayor would name five members. It would be given three months to present its recommendation to the board and could also recommend names for all of the airport's terminals, as well as boarding areas and control towers. There are three domestic terminals and an international terminal.

"Everyone does agree we need to honor Harvey Milk. It is an important legacy there that should be recognized," Campos told the Bay Area Reporter in an exclusive interview Tuesday, May 7. "The second point is that many people believe that in the process of honoring Harvey Milk we need to make sure we do it in a way that brings the entire city together."

In a press release issued late this afternoon, Mayor Ed Lee voiced his support for the creation of the Airport Facilities Naming Advisory Committee.

"San Francisco will honor the life and accomplishments of former Supervisor Harvey Milk through a process that includes robust public discussion and community input," stated Lee. "The renaming of a terminal at SFO will serve as a reminder to all those traveling through the gateway of San Francisco that we embrace diversity for all."

As a gay man who is Latino, Campos said he understands the concerns people from the city's various communities have voiced to him over the last four months about who the airport is named after.

"We started thinking how can we take the proposal and modify it to meet those objections and of bringing people together and honoring Milk," he said.

While he said there is a compelling argument to name the international terminal after Milk, Campos said he is open to hearing the suggestion and reasoning from the naming panel.

"I think I want to hear what the public has to say," said Campos, who plans to introduce the new ordinance at the May 14 board meeting.

The board's other gay member, District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, had endorsed the initial idea to name the entire airport after Milk. He said the change to naming only a terminal for Milk would be easier to pass at the board.

"It is a much easier proposal to get behind for some of my colleagues who were conflicted about the measure," said Wiener.

He does not think the switch is a lesser honor for Milk.

"I think it is still quite meaningful to name a terminal," said Wiener. "Many people pass through these terminals every day, so naming a terminal is still quite significant."

Like Campos, Wiener said he did not have a preference for which terminal is named after Milk. But he did note that Terminal 1 will be remodeled in the coming years and it would make sense for Milk's name to be incorporated into the new design.

"I don't have a strong preference among the terminals," said Wiener. "There is something to be said for Terminal 1 to be the one because you can incorporate the name into the planning for the design."

It is now estimated that the signage for naming a terminal would cost less than $100,000. And the decision would not need to be approved by the voters but merely voted on by the board and signed into law by the mayor.

In light of the initial airport naming idea, the airport commission had created its own committee to review naming its facilities. But Campos said the board and mayor have that authority.

"The airport commission under the charter doesn't have the authority to name any facilities," said Campos. "This ordinance reaffirms the fact that the power to name facilities at the airport rests with the Board of Supervisors."

Airport officials, however, plan to move forward with their process to determine procedures for naming facilities at SFO, airport spokesman Doug Yokel told the B.A.R. late Tuesday afternoon.

"The airport plans to follow its process, which starts next Monday 5/13 with a public hearing to get feedback from the community on the airport renaming subject," wrote Yokel in an emailed response.

The meeting next Monday will begin at 2 p.m. in Room 300 at the Department of Public Health headquarters, 101 Grove Street. The airport's naming panel had attracted support from Lee as well as airport director John Martin, a gay man.

Yokel referred the B.A.R. to an April press release about the panel created by the airport commission when asked about the new proposal from Lee and Campos.

It quotes Martin as saying, "The Committee represents a broad cross-section of San Franciscans, and its members will help lead the discussion about an important public policy issue. There are a number of worthy points of discussion, and we look forward to a spirited debate."

This November 27 will mark the 35th anniversary of Milk's and Moscone's deaths. Should the board and mayor adopt the revised proposal, as Campos expects, it is likely the Harvey Milk Terminal at SFO could be approved in time for the Milk and Moscone commemoration ceremony held on or near November 27 each year.

"Our hope here is to have a recommendation to the board and there will be a resolution in a short period of time," said Campos.

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