SACRAMENTO -- Ready to drive across the Willie L. Brown, Jr. Bridge?

The state Senate on Thursday voted 26-7 to give final approval to name the older, western span of the Bay Bridge after the celebrated but controversial former San Francisco mayor and state Assembly speaker. The Assembly had previously voted 68-0 to approve the plan.

But whether the name will actually come to pass remains a mystery.

Gov. Jerry Brown is opposed, saying he wants to keep the "iconic" name the bridge has had for 77 years. Normally, Brown can veto legislation, but because the bridge-naming plan is a nonbinding resolution, it will not reach the governor's desk.

FILE - In this Dec. 14, 1999 file photo, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown smiles while greeting friends for dinner at Fisherman’s wharf in San
FILE - In this Dec. 14, 1999 file photo, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown smiles while greeting friends for dinner at Fisherman's wharf in San Francisco. (Ben Margot/AP file)

Still, the measure "requests" Caltrans, which Brown oversees, to put up signs declaring the new name, an action the governor has the power to overrule. Brown's office declined to comment.

Supporters say the NAACP -- which sponsored the plan to honor Willie Brown, who is black -- is leading an effort to pay for the signs and hopes they go up some time next year.

Willie Brown said in an interview after Thursday's vote that he was "blessed" and "deeply honored" by the recognition but did not seek it.

"It's an inspirational symbol to young people -- in particular, young people of color," Brown said, calling it the most significant government project named after an African-American in state history.

He said he does not expect the governor to stand in the way of the signs but also does not expect people will call the span anything other than the Bay Bridge. Even still, he takes the "bevy of opposition" to the plan to heart.

"It's all personal. It's the only way you can take it as an ordinary human being. Like any human being, I'm supersensitive," said Brown, 79. Still, he couldn't resist pointing out that the Legislature's vote was a rare defeat for Gov. Brown.

While most legislators were eager to pay tribute to one of their own, opposition emerged among current and past San Francisco supervisors, the editorial boards of Bay Area newspapers and thousands of people who signed an online petition. One San Francisco activist on Thursday even filed a lawsuit trying to overturn the new name.

Critics said Brown shared the blame for the problems of the eastern span, which opened last week after years of delays and huge cost increases. The name of the eastern span will not change, although it was unclear whether signs will inform drivers headed from San Francisco to Oakland that they will be leaving the Willie L. Brown, Jr. Bridge and driving on the Bay Bridge once they reach Yerba Buena Island in the middle.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who represents the district that includes the bridge's western span, voted for the new name along with several other Democrats and even a few Republicans. Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, voted against it.

Sen. Roderick Wright, D-Los Angeles, compared Brown to everyone from Michael Jordan to Barack Obama. If the new sign is put up, when drivers cross the bridge, "I hope that you'll think about a kid who came here with nothing but a pillowcase with stuff in it," Wright said.

Republican Bill Emmerson, of Redlands, also spoke admirably of Brown, saying the former speaker always stood by his word.

Sen. Joel Anderson, R-San Diego, was the one lawmaker to speak against the measure, saying he was concerned that the Legislature was breaking four of its seven guidelines for naming roads after people, including the fact that Brown is still alive.

As is the case with many renaming proposals, lots of Bay Area locals were not pleased.

"It has become a landmark, and to have something that spectacular named after Willie Brown? I just don't see it," said 82-year-old Los Altos Hills resident Carol Phy, who was a child when the bridge opened in 1936, two years after Brown was born. While the plan "offends me terribly," she thinks most people "will probably keep calling it the Bay Bridge."

Scott Farray, a 59-year-old Redwood City resident, said he'd prefer to think of the bridge being named after the Hall of Fame ex-Oakland Raiders player of the same name.

"If only our state legislators could apply themselves with the same zeal over issues that truly impact the state," Farray said.

A towering California political figure who is both revered and reviled, Brown was the Assembly's first black speaker and the longest-serving speaker in state history, presiding over the 80-member house from 1980 to 1995. His tenure, political acumen and ironclad grasp on one house of the Legislature made him the most powerful state politician of his time.

Later, the Texas native served as San Francisco mayor from 1996 to 2004.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705. Follow him at twitter.com/RosenbergMerc.