Feb. 23 2011 10:25 AM

Protecting the good name of a local landmark

The San Diego Coronado Bay Bridge
Photo by Rajender Tella
Have you heard about the effort to rename the San Diego Coronado Bay Bridge after Ronald Reagan? When I found out about it at the beginning of February, I decided to make damn sure it would never happen.

What's in a name? I know, the stakes are pretty low. If it were the “Ronald Reagan- Coronado Bay Bridge,” as proponents wish, Reagan wouldn't rise from the grave to cut funding for AIDS research, and the bridge wouldn't collapse under the weight of his contentious legacy. Yes, there are bigger issues to fry. But I have an abiding interest in the rhetoric of the public sphere, in the way naming things shapes how we think and feel about the time and space through which we move.

When I see the name Ronald Reagan, I can't help remembering nuns being murdered by right-wing death squads in Central America in the '80s, thanks to Reagan's tough-on-commies policies. If you aren't old enough to remember any of that or believe it was merely unfortunate Cold War collateral damage, you might not be bugged by the name. But I am, and I don't want to see his name every time I hit Interstate 5 South.

But it's not just about Reagan. I really don't want the bridge renamed, period—not even after that late, great Coronadoan, Orville Redenbacher (how did he get his kernels to pop up so fluffily every time?). Seems to me that the San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge” (or often just “Coronado Bridge” to us locals) is a perfectly good name.

Call my campaign a discursive experiment. It's a textbook case on authorship. After all, names are words and phrases. If Vince Vasquez, director of the Reagan project, gets his way, he literally becomes the author of the bridge, erasing its current name and writing it a new one. All the bridge-related signage, tourist websites and brochures would have to be rewritten.

Vasquez is a policy analyst at a National University conservative think tank. He decided that renaming the Coronado Bridge after Reagan would be a terrific way to honor his 100th birthday this month. What a coincidence that this renaming effort coincides with a nationwide “Reagan Legacy Project,” whose stated goal is to rename landmarks in every county in the country after The Gipper. At the end of January, Vasquez set up a website, Facebook page and online petition.

Then he contacted the local media, and next thing you know, he's being interviewed at his desk wearing a suit and tie on multiple local news broadcasts, saying stuff like, “Reagan attended the bridge's inauguration!”

See how news happens? You don't need an outpouring of bodies into the streets to be considered newsworthy. All you need is an audacious mission and a complicit media.

It felt like a steamroller to witness all the Reagan-worship and one-sided reporting. The only visible opposition to the idea was in the comment threads of the online stories.

So here's what I did: I set up a Facebook page called “I do not want the Coronado Bridge named after Ronald Reagan” and an online counter-petition. Even though my page went live almost a week after Vasquez's, mine soon had more “likes” than his.

The day after my petition went up, I contacted the local mainstream media and told them what I was up to. Next thing you know, I'm being interviewed by 10 News. My 30 minutes got boiled down to a two-second sound bite: me in my Padres jersey standing in Chicano Park saying, “If it ain't broke, don't fix it,” sandwiched into another celebratory piece on Reagan, with Vasquez again at his desk saying how strong the connection is between Reagan and the bridge.

I also got a bit of print and online press: The Union-Tribune did a piece and so did City News Service, but only the La Jolla Light picked it up. Clearly, the media in general felt that the effort to rename the bridge after Reagan was more newsworthy than the effort to stop it. Vasquez was even given space in The Reader to write about his campaign. It's sure nice to have CityBeat and the forum of Presently Tense to respond.

So, who's winning?

Our Facebook page has more than 1,000 “likes.” Theirs, fewer than 90. Our petition reached 1,000 first, and we maintain the lead. The U-T's reader poll resulted in 79 percent of respondents opposing the name change. Even the conservative U-T editorial board came out against naming the bridge after Reagan. By any measure available, it's apparent the majority of San Diegans do not want the bridge's name changed.

I also want to mention that the moderator of Vasquez's Facebook page called our page “crap” and flamed it with a link to their page. Shame on the name-changers. Though I haven't censored harshly critical comments about Reagan from our page, I have personally left the pro-Reagan page alone. I have tried to be fair.

Fortunately for our side, to actually change the name of the bridge requires a concurrent resolution approved by the state Assembly, Senate and governor. The California Highways website (cahighways.org) says the Senate Transportation Committee includes the following criteria in the renaming of a state highway (the Coronado Bridge is a section of State Route 75):

“The dedication must reflect community consensus and have no local opposition.”

Sorry, name-changers. Looks like we win.

My 1,000-plus posse and I are going to have a big barbecue party near the San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge to celebrate. As a consolation, I'll be labeling the ketchup served at our picnic, “Ronald Reagan Memorial Ketchup.” Makes as much sense as naming a bridge after him.

Write to dak@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.

Sign my petition at ipetitions.com/petition/coronadobridge


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