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SF City Attorney warns legal action if Oakland Airport adds "San Francisco Bay" to name

San Francisco threatens legal action over Oakland International Airport name change
San Francisco threatens legal action over Oakland International Airport name change 01:14

SAN FRANCISCO – As Oakland International Airport considers adding "San Francisco Bay" to its name as it seeks to boost business, San Francisco's City Attorney is warning of potential legal action.

In a letter to commissioners at the Port of Oakland, which operates the airport, David Chiu urged them to abandon the proposal and consider a different name that doesn't include "San Francisco," saying San Francisco has "strong objections" to the idea.

Port commissioners voted early Thursday to move forward with the name change. The Board has scheduled a second reading and vote on the issue for the May 9th board meeting that would make the change official. 

"Should you continue in these efforts, I intend to pursue legal action to prevent your use of the proposed new name," Chiu said.

Chiu argued that proposal to change the official name of Oakland International Airport to "San Francisco Bay Oakland International Airport" would infringe on the trademarks of San Francisco International Airport.

"The City has held these registrations for such a long time that they have become incontestable under federal law," Chiu said. "Indeed there is and only ever has been one airport in the United States that uses 'San Francisco' in its name."

The city attorney also argued that a renaming would cause confusion for travelers.

"The current renaming plan appears intentionally designed to divert travelers who may be unfamiliar with Bay Area geography and lead them to believe OAK has a business relationship with SFO, which it does not," Chiu said in an accompanying statement Monday morning.

SFO Airport Director Ivar Satero, who previously voiced objections to the proposed name change, said he supports legal action if Oakland Airport moves forward with its plan.

"I urge the Port of Oakland not to proceed with this proposal and hope they will work to find a solution that provides clarity, not confusion, for the travelers visiting the Bay Area," Satero said.

In an interview with CBS News Bay Area, Chiu said he hoped a solution would be reached that would avoid going to court.  

"We're hoping that Oakland will figure out an acceptable name that works for Oakland but does not infringe on our trademark rights," Chiu said. "From our perspective, litigation is the last resort and we hope to avoid it, but we will resort to it, if we are forced to."

Oakland International Airport officials on March 29 said the change is needed, citing a lack of "geographical awareness" of the city's location in the East Bay among visitors, along with losing routes over the last 15 years.

"The name modification will use the main geographic feature of our region to identify its location, the San Francisco Bay," Craig Simon, the airport's interim aviation director, said in a statement on April 2. "This is not about the City and County of San Francisco, or San Mateo County, but about our region and creating jobs in Oakland and throughout the East Bay. No one owns the title to the San Francisco Bay."

Simon went on to say, "Modifying our name will help us compete for new destinations, which will benefit all travelers. There's no confusion; OAK has been located on the San Francisco Bay since 1927."

Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao said the "adjustment isn't just about signage — it's about inviting travelers to discover all that Oakland and the region have to offer."

Oakland Airport said the name change is being supported by political and business leaders in Oakland and the East Bay, along with airlines.

In an update Monday afternoon, Oakland Airport officials released results of a survey of East Bay and Oakland residents about the proposal, saying respondents want more flight choices and are comfortable with a name change if it achieves that goal. At the same time, respondents do not view the renaming as a high-priority issue.

"The results were clear that Oaklanders and residents throughout the region want a wider choice of national and international direct flights from their home airport," said Matt Davis, the port's chief public engagement officer. "Oaklanders by and large expressed their comfort with the prospect of the name modification at OAK to help achieve these goals."

If the name change is approved, the airport code OAK or its visual brand would not change.  

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