Hold it: Harvey Milk was an occasional SFO foe 

click to enlarge Although some current supervisors are pushing to rename SFO to Milk Airport, Supervisor Harvey Milk passionately fought against pricey bonds for the venue. - AP FILE PHOTO
  • AP File Photo
  • Although some current supervisors are pushing to rename SFO to Milk Airport, Supervisor Harvey Milk passionately fought against pricey bonds for the venue.

The proposal to change the name of San Francisco International Airport to Harvey Milk San Francisco International Airport raises a number of questions. One is whether the airport is the appropriate landmark to name after Milk. Sadly, he was only in office for 11 months. But to inform the debate, let’s take a look at his legislative record.

On his first day in office with the Board of Supervisors on Jan. 9, 1978, Milk voted to prevent the issuance of airport bonds that voters had narrowly passed in November 1977. Specifically, he voted against allocating $350,000 to pay the legal costs of issuing airport revenue bonds, which had the practical effect of stopping the issuance of $90 million in airport bonds.

The ballot proposition enabling the bonds was Proposition C, which claimed the funds would be used to construct an airport waste treatment plant, repair piers and rebuild the customs area.

At the time, progressives were opposed to the bonds, angered by the fact that in 1976, the Board of Supervisors had already approved $143 million in revenue bonds for the airport. In opposing Prop. C, the San Francisco Bay Guardian said, “The Airport Commission refuses to take seriously the proposals by various regional bodies that Bay Area air traffic should be increased at Oakland and San Jose airports because continued expansion and centralization of the traffic at SF International simply will create more traffic, more pollution and more noise in an already heavily overburdened mid-Peninsula area.”

Milk signed the argument against Proposition C in the 1977 voter guide, and along with supervisors John Molinari, Carol Ruth Silver and Ella Hill Hutch, he voted to halt the bonds.

Flabbergasted that the bonds endorsed by voters did not get the required supermajority at the board, board President Dianne Feinstein requested an opinion from the city attorney about what to do if the four supervisors did not change their minds. The city attorney’s advice: The Airport Commission would have to sue The City to force the bond sale.

After the Jan. 9 meeting, Airport Commission President Mo Bernstein engaged in “spirited” lobbying of the four holdouts. According to the Bay Guardian, “Silver said Bernstein’s initial comments to her were ‘unprintable.’”

At any rate, when the board met again Jan. 16, one of the four — Hutch, who was rumored to be getting pressure from construction unions — changed her vote so the bonds could be issued.

Milk’s relationship with the airport was not always contentious. In his all-too-brief tenure on the board, he voted to allow the airport to purchase rescue vehicles, hire additional staff and accept federal money for improvements, and he encouraged BART to extend service to the hub.

But Milk remained concerned about the size and revenue practices at the airport, requesting a charter amendment “which would provide that San Francisco airport pay into the general fund all revenues realized from operation of the airport.” He also had a letter sent to the airport director “inquiring as to what plans have been made in connection with recent increases in routes and flights approved for San Francisco International Airport.”

Melissa Griffin’s column runs each Thursday and Sunday. She also appears Mondays in “Mornings with Melissa” at  6:45 a.m. on KPIX (Ch. 5). Email her at mgriffin@sfexaminer.com.

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Melissa Griffin

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