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Politics & Policy

San Francisco airport to rename international terminal after Feinstein

Sen. Dianne Feinstein stands up.
Former San Francisco Mayor and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who died at the age of 90 last year, will soon have her name on the international terminal of San Francisco's airport. | Source: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Airport commissioners signed off Tuesday on a proposal to rename San Francisco’s international airport terminal in honor of the late Dianne Feinstein, the longest-serving woman senator in U.S. history and the first woman to serve as mayor of the city.

Multiple city officials previously told The Standard that the Airport Commission’s vote Tuesday to rename San Francisco International Airport’s overseas terminal after Feinstein would sail through, although there will be more meetings to discuss what kind of displays will be installed to recognize her legacy. The commission’s vote on renaming the terminal does not require any additional approval from the mayor or supervisors.

Talks of honoring Feinstein have been discussed for years, but those discussions ramped up after her death at the age of 90 in September. Former Mayor Willie Brown has been part of the group advocating for renaming part of the airport after Feinstein along with Jim Lazarus, who served as her deputy mayor, and Jim Gonzalez, a chief aide to Feinstein who was later elected to the Board of Supervisors.

Brown cited Feinstein’s work in developing San Francisco’s airport as part of her key accomplishments as mayor. 

“The development around the airport is part of what she was most effective at, if not most effective, of all the other things that she did,” Brown told The Standard.

In 2018, San Francisco’s airport renamed Terminal 1 in honor of Supervisor Harvey Milk, an LGBTQ+ rights icon who was assassinated at City Hall in 1978 along with Mayor George Moscone. Feinstein’s legacy is closely tied to both men, as she was the person who found Milk’s body and she was elevated from president of the Board of Supervisors to acting mayor as a result of Moscone’s death.

After spending more than nine years as mayor, Feinstein lost a race for governor in 1990 before winning a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1992. She went on to become one of the most powerful members of Congress, overseeing the Senate Intelligence Committee that revealed CIA torture tactics. She had a reputation as a stern but pragmatic leader, and one of her key pieces of legislation was an assault weapons ban. That legislation sunsetted after a decade in 2004 due to lobbying by the NRA.

Declining health in her final years limited Feinstein’s ability to fulfill some of her duties, but she was widely revered by San Francisco’s political establishment. She is consistently mentioned as a mentor to many women who have followed her path in public service.

Next week’s vote may be the first in a slew of Feinstein renamings. The New York Times reported that other places to honor the late senator could include a bicycle trail along Lake Tahoe, Diamond Valley Lake in Southern California and the Elk River Trail in Humboldt County.

Tuesday’s vote was not be the first time the international terminal has honored a former elected official. In 2019, the city renamed the terminal’s departures hall after late Mayor Ed Lee, who died from a heart attack while still in office in 2017.

What Happens Next

With the adoption of the resolution to rename the International Terminal for Dianne Feinstein, SFO will begin work with the Dianne Feinstein 100-plus Committee to develop an approach for implementation. This will include collaboration on locations, design, and content to celebrate the legacy of Senator Feinstein relative to both SFO and the City of San Francisco. There is no defined timeline for this activity, but the goal is to ensure the finished result captures the intent which led to the naming campaign.

Josh Koehn can be reached at josh@sfstandard.com