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Bridging San Francisco Bay
“Emperor” Joshua A. Norton is often credited with the idea of bridging the bay between San Francisco and Oakland. His most famous decree—March 23, 1872—which ordered construction of a bridge between Oakland Point and Goat Island, was apparently based upon concepts outlined in several newspaper articles during the early 1870s. Norton was, clearly, a close reader of the local newspapers. There were plans to construct a railroad bridge from San Francisco to Oakland, and a “Bay Bridge Committee” was hard at work during early 1872 attempting to resolve political problems with the Central Pacific Railroad, as well as San Francisco and Oakland interests, to build such a bridge. The April 1872 issue of the San Francisco Real Estate Circular contained a small item about the Board of Supervisors’ committee investigating the potential of bridging the bay:
Complimentary to Selby, Ralston and Otis.

The Bay Bridge Committee lately submitted its report to the Board of Supervisors, in which compromise with the Central Pacific was recommended; also the bridging of the bay at Ravenswood and the granting of railroad facilities at Mission Bay and on the water front. Wm. C. Ralston, ex-Mayor Selby and James Otis were on this committee. A daily newspaper attempts to account for the advice of these gentlemen to the city by hinting that they were afraid of the railroad company, and therefore made their recommendations to suit its interests. This must be highly gratifying to the parties named, particularly to a self-made and independent man like Selby. He was the first person here, too, in his official capacity of Mayor, to recommend the granting of aid to the Thirty-Fifth Parallel (opposition) road. He does not now howl with the crowd, however, therefore suspicion must be cast upon his unselfish recommendations, and the most sordid and cringing motives attributed to him.
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