Table of Contents | Next Chapter >

League of Women Voters of Oakland
Waterfront Study

Chapter 1. Oakland- The Bay Area's Premier Waterfront City

 Most of the world's great cities are on waterways because transportation is critical to a city's economic vitality.

 Historically, a site on a major river or bay created a point of access between inland goods and distant markets. Port cities eventually became manufacturing centers, due to the convenience of assembling components obtained from several different locations. Trading also made the early ports into commercial and banking centers and major cultural influences on their hinterlands. The location of the early American cities was also dictated by access to global markets, and these cities also quickly emerged as the nation's first manufacturing and commercial centers.

Manufacturing and banking activities no longer gravitate to modern ports as they once did. Efficient ground transportation has reduced the need to locate manufacturing operations adjacent to port terminals, and advances in communications allow trading to occur at distant locations. Modern ports now serve as intermodal gateways, where products and materials are drawn from wide areas and transferred between water and land-based transportation.

Oakland's position among waterfront cities is especially advantageous. Not only is it situated on one of the Pacific Ocean's best located and protected bays, but Oakland also holds the premier position on the bay. Hence, although San Francisco housed the region's first port facilities, they soon moved across the bay due to Oakland's superior land connections. Oakland's port facilities are complemented by the Oakland International Airport, offering opportunities to link water, ground and air transportation. This nexus has attracted regional distribution centers, including the United Parcel Service, Federal Express and the United State Postal Service facilities.

Oakland is one of America's most important gateway cities. In 1990, port facilities transferred nearly 15,000,000 revenue tons of cargo between water and land vehicles, and the airport conveyed 457 million pounds of air cargo.

The conjunction of transportation modes at Oakland's Waterfront is vital to our nation's ability to compete in international trade. However, as crucial as our Waterfront is to mining in Nevada, pulp producers in Northern California and the farms of the heartland; it is less clear how the advantages of being a Waterfront city can be used for the betterment of Oakland.

Tapping Our Waterfront's Full Potential

It is estimated that the Port of Oakland's maritime activities support nearly 300,000 jobs in the region. Few of these jobs are from operation of the Port. Most are with industries which rely, to some degree, upon the availability of transportation facilities. It is not clear how many of these jobs are within Oakland.

The two military installations on the Waterfront are also sources of employment. Last year the community organized to oppose closure of Bay Area military bases, including the Naval Supply Depot consisting of over four hundred acres in the marine terminal area. The Oakland Army Base, while not on the current base closure list, may ultimately also be threatened. Given the threat to these bases and their great potential for a variety of other uses, is not too soon to consider the alternative uses of this land for the benefit of Oakland.

As the first step in planning for the future, we must develop better information about how the Waterfront impacts Oakland's economy. This would include such information as:

What are the types and relative numbers of jobs provided by Waterfront transportation facilities and the industries which rely upon these facilities?

What major businesses and industries reside in our area due to the availability of Waterfront transportation facilities?

What small business opportunities exist due to Waterfront-related industries?

We also need a clearer understanding of the competitive advantages derived from Waterfront transportation facilities and how we might use these advantages in our economic strategic planning. For example:

What types of industries have a reed to locate near intermodal transportation facilities such as on Oakland's Waterfront?

How can we attract and accommodate enterprises for whom the Waterfront offers a competitive advantage?

How can education, training and apprenticeship programs be designed to increase the likelihood that Waterfront industries would hire locally?

How can we increase local, small business opportunities associated with the Waterfront?

Finally, there should be discussion of public access to Oakland's shoreline. Along the nineteen miles of shoreline in Oakland, there are few points at which the public can reach the water. Housing is virtually excluded from the Waterfront, and recreational opportunities are extremely limited. Oakland is a waterfront city, but is virtually locked from contact with the shore.

Rediscovering Oakland's Waterfront

As Oaklanders we are justifiably proud of our harbor. However, in our fascination with the mighty cranes and the modern container vessels, we have lost sight of the many other opportunities which a Waterfront offers.

Of all the Bay Area's cities, Oakland has the longest and most varied shorelines. Oakland's heritage as a Waterfront city has also been lost, and with it the recognition of the historic role which Oakland has played in California.

The following chapters explore these many dimensions, including its history, economic potential, recreational and cultural opportunities. The report also attempts to address institutional opportunities and barriers, and describe the Port of Oakland, City/Port coordination of land use decisions and the future of the military bases.

A lack of space and time limits the contents of the reports to definition of issues and general discussion. However, it is the hope of the committee that by treating the many dimensions of the Waterfront in a single booklet, we can begin to recognize the full potential available to Oakland as a Waterfront city.

 Table of Contents | Next Chapter >