Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Political Notebook: SFO panel not keen on Milk Terminal


The San Francisco Airport Commission's own panel on naming areas at the airport met for the first time this week.
(Photo: Courtesy Edgett Williams Consulting Group)
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A naming committee created by the city's airport commission is not keen on seeing a terminal be named after the late gay supervisor Harvey Milk or anyone else.

It is looking at drafting a policy that would recommend both the airport and its four terminals remain as is and not have a person's name attached.

If adopted by the airport commission, the policy would be counter to the proposal announced last week by Mayor Ed Lee and gay Supervisor David Campos to name one of the terminals after Milk, the city's first openly gay elected official. It is a compromise proposal after Campos's initial push to rename San Francisco International Airport after Milk met with extreme resistance.

The revised proposal, introduced at the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, May 14, would establish a nine-member panel tasked with recommending which of the terminals would carry Milk's name. It could also recommend other names for the three remaining terminals, as well as the airport's control tower and waiting areas.

Campos told the Bay Area Reporter last week that the airport commission, whose members are appointed by the mayor, does not have the authority to name any airport facilities. That power lies with the supervisors and mayor, he said, and the proposed legislation would affirm it.

However, there is a built in expiration date for what would be called the Airport Facilities Naming Advisory Committee. The legislation requires that a year after its first meeting it would be dissolved.

Noting that other city departments, such as rec and park, have adopted their own naming policies, airport commission president Larry Mazzola said this week that a similar policy is needed for SFO. He convened the first meeting of the airport naming committee Monday, May 13 in order to begin drafting such a policy.

"There have been numerous attempts to change the name of the airport. Most didn't get as much press as David Campos's last request," said Mazzola, who has served on the commission for 18 years. "I said to myself we should have a policy for how to name the airport, if we are to name the airport."

Mazzola, who chairs the airport commission-created naming panel, at one time had supported renaming the airport after former Mayor Joe Alioto, who created the airport commission. But he has since had a "change of mind" and believes it should remain known as San Francisco International Airport.

"I don't want this to be about Harvey Milk at all. This is about policy," he added.

Neither Lee nor Campos called him to discuss their new legislation regarding the naming of Terminals 1, 2, 3, and the International Terminal. He learned about it from media reports, said Mazzola.

"If they have their own committee, that is fine," he said. "The airport should have its own policy. We probably should have had it years ago."

Since 1985, 13 areas of SFO have been named after former airport commissioners, staff, and the late Congressman Tom Lantos, who represented San Mateo County. In 2010 the airport commission named the Terminal 3 Hub after Lantos, while the International Terminal check-in area between aisles 6 and 7 bear the name of Morris "Mo" Bernstein, who served as an airport commissioner from 1976 to 1991.

The most recent naming came in 2011 when the remodeled Terminal 2's Departure Level Concourse was named after William Coblentz, who served on the airport commission from 1970 to 1986.

"In the past we made these decisions after staff researched the ideas" and in consultation with the person's family, said former Airport Commissioner Caryl Ito, who asked for more facts about the proposed legislation. "Will they just tell the airport it's their jurisdiction to name anything at the airport?"

It prompted Mazzola to remark, "They think they trump everybody," though he added, "I wouldn't want to get hung up on what they're doing. They can ignore our policy at the end of the day. We will at least have our own policy."

Some of the questions the panel will grapple with is what criteria should be in place for determining if a person deserves to be honored at SFO with a named area and what parts of the airport, if any, should be off limits for naming purposes.

"Maybe we should decide if certain things are okay for naming and those things that are not," said Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White.

When the new International Terminal opened, SFO relabeled the other three terminals with numerals to make it easier for travelers to locate them. Several panel members voiced concerns that attaching people's names to the terminals could confuse travelers, especially those rushing to make their flights.

"If we start renaming terminals it might confuse our customers," said Lee Blitch, a retired vice president of San Francisco State University and former CEO at the SF Chamber of Commerce.

There already have been suggestions that the International Terminal be named after Milk. Similar terminals at the Los Angeles and Atlanta airports are named after people.

Mazzola voiced a desire, however, not to see the current signage adorning the building altered. Under the mayor's and Campos's legislation, that terminal would be renamed the Harvey Milk International Terminal if it is chosen.

"If we are naming the international terminal, to me that is part of the name, San Francisco International," he said. "If we do say we want to name buildings, I would want to keep the international title up."

The only committee member to express hesitancy toward seeing the terminals be off-limits for naming purposes was Pamela H. David , a National Gay and Lesbian Task Force board member and executive director of the Walter and Elise Haas Fund.

"Maybe because I have less of a connection to the airport, I see less of a problem with naming a terminal. To me that is not off the table," she said.

While Mazzola and others voiced a preference for honoring people with close connections to the airport, several others felt such a requirement was unnecessary.

"There should be a nexus to the airport but it doesn't have to be directly related to the airport," said David.

Pointing to Milk as one example, David said he was an exemplary San Franciscan who merits being honored at SFO even if his ties to the airport are tenuous.

"I don't believe he or others like him have to have a direct connection to the airport," said David, who knew Milk back in the 1970s.

The panel next meets June 19 to review the proposed list of areas deemed appropriate for naming and those facilities that should be off-limits.


Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check Monday mornings at noon for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column previewed today's (Thursday, May 16) planning commission vote to allow for the Castro's first CVS Pharmacy.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @

Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail

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