Chapter 9. Renewed Horizons
Waterfront cities are unique. Only at such
places do land and sea transportation converge, offering opportunities
which are not available elsewhere. The shoreline also inspires with
visions of distant lands and natural life. The Waterfront is not just a
physical horizon; it is also a horizon for the human spirit.
Oakland has always offered new horizons. In the
late 1800's the City was the horizon for the continent. As the terminus
of the intercontinental railroad, Oakland was the end of the westward
journey to California. The bustle of the Waterfront excited the
imaginations of writers and adventurers like Jack London and Bret Hart.
Later the Bay Area's first trans-Pacific airport made Oakland the
horizon for Doolittle, Earhart and other early aviators.
Early this century the Waterfront also provided
a different kind of horizon. The western railroads offered new
opportunities and so by 1930 the first major labor union open to Blacks,
the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, found a home in Oakland. Later
the War-era shipyards gave birth to forces which would change the role
of racial minorities and women in American society.
Oakland's Estrangement from its Waterfront
Oakland has more than nineteen miles of
shoreline; stretching from San Leandro Bay, along a busy estuary and a
powerful harbor, and beyond the Bay Bridge. This is the longest bay
front of any city in the Bay Area. It is also one of the most varied
shorelines in the world, ranging from a massive cargo cranes to natural
Until the middle of this century, the bay
shoreline was central to Oakland's existence. The Waterfront contained
the terminus of intercontinental railroads, a bustling harbor, dry-docks
and fishing wharves. Industries developed near the docks because goods
from many different places could be combined and traded there.
The West Oakland community thrived on the harbor
and grew rapidly with the expansion of the ferry terminals. By the
19301s thousands of people traveled daily through West Oakland to the
ferries and to jobs at shoreline industries. The Waterfront was the
heart of the East Bay, pumping life through the arteries which radiated
Beginning late in the 1930's, though, four major
forces reshaped Oakland, turning it inward from the bay:
National Security: During World War n the
federal government established the Oakland Army Base and Naval
Supply Depot in West Oakland and converted the Oakland Airport to
military use. These bases excluded the public from the Waterfront
for reasons of national security.
Death of the Ferries: With the opening of
the Bay Bridge, commuter rail lines were diverted from West Oakland.
The loss of commuter traffic pulled the commercial underpinnings
from West Oakland.
Industrial Change: Industries, such as
manufacturing plants, fisheries and the shipyards vanished from the
shore and were replaced by highly mechanized cargo handling
facilities which employ far fewer workers.
Physical Isolation: Freeway construction
imposed an awesome physical barrier between the residential
community and the water.
Misconceptions which Bolster the Isolation
This physical separation has been strengthened
by common misunderstandings about the nature of tidelands and the role
of the Port of Oakland in its operation. These common misconceptions can
be summarized as:
The tide/ands may only be used for
narrowly defined purposes. Much of the Waterfront is subject to
a public tidelands trust. It is commonly believed that this trust
restricts use of the tidelands to a few, narrowly-prescribed
maritime activities. The range of allowable uses, however, is not
limited to marine transportation. The terms of the trust also
promote recreation and conservation and, in some cases, permit many
types of commercial and residential development. In fact, a large
section of Oakland's shoreline, especially from San Leandro Bay to
Jack London Square have very little value as shipping terminals and
great potential for publicly oriented uses.
Increasing cargo volumes is the same as
"economic development". The airport and marine terminals are
highly mechanized facilities, creating relatively few jobs per acre.
The great majority of the jobs attributed to these terminals are not
in the operation of the facilities themselves, but in secondary
industries which use them. These secondary industries include
agricultural, manufacturing, distribution and trading firms. The
vast majority of these secondary industries reside outside Oakland.
Therefore, while increasing the volume of cargo passing through the
terminals is an important goal; this alone will not produce many
local jobs. Only by attracting secondary industries can Oakland make
the Waterfront transportation facilities the powerhouse that they
should be in the local economy.
The Port's use of tidelands is dictated
by private market forces. The Port of Oakland is often viewed as
a business driven by the same incentives as private enterprise. In
fact, the Port's land is not subject to holding costs which motivate
private owners to develop their land, nor does the Port calculate an
internal rate of return on its investments as do private businesses.
To question the conventional wisdom is not to
suggest that the Waterfront is being mismanaged or misused. On the
contrary, the marine terminal is one of the most efficient harbors in
the nation and is truly essential for the economic health of the Bay
Area. The Oakland International Airport is not only an increasingly
important passenger and cargo hub, but also has produced at least five
thousand subsidiary jobs in aircraft maintenance, distribution and
traveler services in Oakland.
However, only if we recognized the flaws in the
conventional wisdom and can we gain a more realistic picture of how the
Waterfront can once again become the centerpiece of Oakland's economic
and cultural growth.
Reconnecting Oakland's Waterfront
There are three aspects to restoring Oakland's
identity as a Waterfront city - by reconnecting the Waterfront to
Oakland physically, economically and culturally.
Physical reconnection depends upon the
establishment of linkages and gathering points.
Linkages are needed between inland
Oakland and the shoreline, such as extension of the bike/pedestrian
trail from Lake Merritt to Jack London Square and the completion of
a continuous pathway within the Waterfront, as contemplated by the
East Bay Trail. Important roadways such as Fruitvale Avenue, High
Street and Broadway also can help link inland neighborhoods to the
Gathering points are also important,
drawing people to the shoreline and making it a part of community
life. Commercial developments, promenades, vista points and publicly
oriented uses should be placed along the shoreline to feature the
natural waterway and diverse activities on the bay and estuary.
Above all, a master land use plan is needed for
the Waterfront. Presently, zoning decisions within the Waterfront are
divided between the City and the Port. The two agencies use different
land use policies and practices, even though in some areas, such as
Estuary Cove, Jack London Square and Hegenberger Road, Port land is
indistinguishable from City land. The two jurisdictions recently began
collaborating on land use planning, but inter-agency discussions are
infrequent and there is no common master plan for the Waterfront.
Two planning efforts are underway which will
affect land use planning within the Waterfront. The Port is currently
developing a master plan for land within its jurisdiction. The City is
also updating the Land Use and the Open Space Elements of its General
Plan. These efforts warrant public participation, with a vision to
making the Waterfront relate more directly to inland Oakland.
Economic reconnection is crucial if Oakland is
to tap the full potential of the Waterfront. This is important in two
Direct economic impacts: Economic
planning should be aimed at maximizing the local economic effects of
the transportation operations themselves, by using local small
businesses, creating employment and training opportunities for local
residents and mitigation of adverse effects of the facilities upon
Secondary economic impacts: A
strategy is needed for attracting industries which rely upon the
marine and air terminals. These secondary industries are the real
job producers, yet neither the Port nor the City has systematically
addressed this problem. The Port focuses on maximizing the tonnage
of cargo passing through the terminals; while the City, deferring to
the jurisdiction of the Port, directs its economic strategy
Finally, the Waterfront should be used as an
educational and cultural resource. Oakland has always been a special
place due to its Waterfront. This has attracted creative people and
great adventurers. The Waterfront can provide the same magic today, if
we treat it as an important community asset.
Education: Our Waterfront is a
laboratory. Arrowhead Marsh is perhaps the best example of marine
ecology in any Bay Area city and the marine terminals illustrate the
power of international trade and technology. What better way to
inspire children about the natural environment or world economies
than by allowing them to witness it personally?
Training: Local education and
training programs can target the economic opportunities which are
uniquely available on Oakland's Waterfront. Such programs as the
Aviation Academy can inspire students with tangible opportunities
and offer the best assurance that local residents will be prepared
for the jobs offered by the airport and harbor.
Esteem: The intercontinental
railroad, our military bases, the shipyards, the early international
airport and the transformation of our harbor have placed Oakland on
the cutting edge of the forces which have shaped our nation and
society. What better way to convey pride in our city than to realize
its historic importance?
Reaching for the Horizon
The Waterfront is an economic, recreational and
educational resource which makes Oakland unique. To realize this great
opportunity we must again reach for the horizon and restore the
Waterfront to a central place in the life of our community.
Previous Chapter |
Table of Contents
| Appendix >