On the 100th anniversary year of Ronald Reagan’s birthday, museum exhibits and educational programs are now being commissioned to share our 40th president’s legacy. In San Diego, we cross Reagan’s footprints every day, a unique civic distinction that is worth memorializing.
It is rare for an American figure with such global stature as Reagan to have strong historical ties to our region, but Reagan’s connection to San Diego spanned decades. It could be said that Reagan’s journey with Nancy Davis, the future first lady, began in San Diego. The only film that starred both of them was filmed here – 1957’s “Hellcats of the Navy.” Ron and Nancy Reagan would later make many drives back to America’s Finest City for family vacations and trips to the beach.
Our region also played host to many of the significant moments in the professional life of Ronald Reagan, including speeches and events at UCSD, the El Cortez Hotel, the Embarcadero and the San Diego Concourse.
Most famously, Reagan nicknamed San Diego his “lucky city.” He carried San Diego County in the 1966 and 1970 gubernatorial elections, as well as the 1980 and 1984 presidential elections.
Now, as elected officials and national devotees search for ways to honor Ronald Reagan during his centennial celebration, there is a small window of opportunity to advance new state legislation to preserve his local legacy. One idea is to modify the official name of the “San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge” to the “Ronald Reagan-Coronado Bay Bridge.”
Residents should be aware that there are compelling reasons for this name change proposal, which respects the identity of the bridge as a Coronado treasure. The bridge was selected because it is emblematic of Reagan’s leadership. As governor, Reagan took an active role in quickly fixing planning and administration problems with the bridge, despite initial skepticism of the project and lingering opposition from some residents. In doing so, Reagan demonstrated his core belief in a government that “(keeps) pace with the changing needs of our state and its people” and fulfills “its legitimate obligations.”
By the time Reagan took office as California governor in January 1967, the revenue bonds for the bridge had been sold. However, it was discovered that the bond proceeds did not cover all construction costs, nor were the construction plans for the bridge complete. Through the leadership of the Reagan administration and its appointees on the California Highway Commission, construction funds were added to cover bridge lighting, offramps and safety railings, and the connection to southbound Interstate 5.
The bridge was a crowning achievement for San Diego and a defining moment for Ronald Reagan. Altering its name would be a fitting tribute to a man who gave so much to our region over three decades of public service.
VINCE VASQUEZ is the director of the Ronald Reagan-Coronado Bay Bridge Project.