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SF threatens to sue Oakland over ‘San Francisco Bay’ airport renaming

City officials aren't happy about a proposal to add 'San Francisco Bay' to the Oakland airport's name

An airport waiting area with passengers and view of parked planes through windows.
Oakland officials are considering changing the airport's name to "San Francisco Bay Oakland International Airport" to boost awareness of its location. | Source: Camille Cohen/The Standard

San Francisco officials are seriously annoyed about Oakland's plan to rename its airport San Francisco Bay Oakland International Airport. Now, ahead of a key vote, City Attorney David Chiu says the city may file a legal challenge to stop the name change from moving forward.

In a letter Monday, Chiu accused the Port of Oakland, which owns and operates Oakland's airport, of infringing on San Francisco's trademark of San Francisco International Airport and said the proposed name change would confuse travelers—particularly those coming from abroad.

"While the proposed new name is very likely to cause confusion and mistakes broadly, the problem will be particularly acute for an audience of international travelers who may not speak or read English," Chiu wrote.

The Port of Oakland Commission is expected to vote on the renaming plan at its Thursday meeting.

"The proposed name modification will clarify, not confuse. The new name identifies where OAK is actually located, which is on the San Francisco Bay," a spokesperson for the Port of Oakland said in a statement. "If the proposed name modification is approved by the Board, the Port will take all appropriate measures to defend its right to use this accurate geographic identifier."

The port released survey results indicating that 55% of Oakland residents and 51% of broader East Bay residents were comfortable changing the name of the city's airport. The Oakland airport's official name is Metropolitan Oakland International Airport.

Roughly two-thirds of respondents said they were comfortable with it after reading information about the how the name change could boost demand at the Oakland airport and generate more flights. The survey included interviews with 1414 registered East Bay voters and was conducted last year by FM3 Research.

Oakland officials argued that the name change could help the airport sustain more routes. Last month, when the Port of Oakland announced the proposed name change, Port Commission President Barbara Leslie said the change would "to boost inbound travelers’ geographic awareness of the airport’s location on the San Francisco Bay.”

San Francisco officials denounced the planned name change, saying it would cause chaos and inconvenience for travelers who may believe they're flying into San Francisco.

Mayor London Breed joined the opposition to the planned name change, advising Leslie in a letter to grow the Oakland airport's services rather than appropriating San Francisco's name to attract travelers.

"[Oakland] does not need the name San Francisco as part of its airport to stand out," Breed wrote.

The Oakland airport is a roughly 21-mile drive from downtown San Francisco. SFO, which is located south of the city, is about 15 miles from downtown.