Cartographer William Rankin’s splendid 2006 project mapping city income donuts across urban America did not perfectly pan out into concentric circles of wealth he invited readers to entertain; but the donuts do suggest the wedded nature of the bay’s shore with lower incomes, reflecting the deep historical association–outside Marin, but only partly–of the bay’s shore with heavy industry and piers.

The trend is most certainly completed by the concentration of the highest incomes at the greatest remove from the shorelines that were associated with commerce and shipping–the peninsula–the deepest red of the region, and the similar remove of the Piedmont and Oakland hills.  Tiburon be damned:  to withdraw to lofty peaks far away from the commerce of the shoreline seems to be the distribution of the most desirable land.  (Tiburon, if an outlier to this region, itself stands at such remove from the commercial shorelines of the bay to confirm the trend–Marin City is of course the bit closest to the bay as we know it.)  The economic panorama of the Bay Area makes some sense of region’s socioeconomic distribution and settlement that reflects its industrial past, even though that industry–with the exception of some shipping and oil reserves–is less present in the region than it once was.  Is this a ghost or a legacy?  This mapping makes a sense of the Bay Area’s social topography:  it both clearly privileges panorama, but somehow doesn’t like to look at the bay around which it lives.

William Rankin's Income Donut of the Bay Area (2006)

Donut Distribution Income Scale

One can see the same income distribution echoed in the map of those buildings in San Francisco whose residents were recently cleared by legalized evictions, based on the Ellis Act that permits landlords to issue legal eviction notices to the tenants of multi-unit buildings, very few of whom lived–or rented–residences that faced or were even near to the East Bay:

Ellis Act Evictions

Rankin’s elegant donut mapping of local incomes glosses the odd historic relation to mapping the distribution of incomes around the San Francisco Bay–a neglected area partly defined by landfill–and later residences–but also by proximity to a body of water that was never that desired.   San Francisco Bay extended the county past Treasure Island so that it brushed lightly against the island of Alameda, for some odd reason of territorial jurisdiction, that predates the Flea Market, the naval station at Point Alameda, peculiarly carved out for reasons little to do with military bases, left a sliver of landfill on Alameda cut off from Alameda County, and lying in San Francisco–not the city, but the County, probably protective of its water and air rights.  The Office of the Surveyor of Alameda helped in inscribing a line “southwesterly in a direct line to a point in San Francisco Bay, said point being four and one-half statute miles due southeast of the northwest point of Golden Rock (also known as Red Rock); thence southeasterly in a direct line to the point on which the lighthouse on the most southerly point on Yerba Buena island bears south seventy-two degrees west, four thousand seven hundred feet,” reads the Senate Journal of 1919.  And so it still appears, in something of an artifact of geodata, outlived its time as a basis for negotiating shoreline and sea.

But the area by the water was an area for piers, rather than the elegant Victorian townhouses that lined the Fillmore or Noe Valley.

Sliver of Alameda


That extension of San Francisco county to a tiny sliver of the Naval Base airfield created the large brown swath of (low-income) water in the San Francisco Bay within the American Community Survey, of which Rankin’s distribution is in some extent a forbear:  in the ACS, the city of San Francisco and Oakland Hills are flush with green:  there is, however, as if by a perverse computer glitch reflecting county lines, an odd mismapping that extends low incomes over across the Bay.  The area of course has few residents or renters, other than birds, but somehow takes the cake as the greatest continuous low-income area, even if uninhabited, by a software responding to fixed county lines:

ACS SF Median Income

When did the odd division of the San Francisco Bay arise that included a slice of Alameda in its scope?  The area was excluded from the naval airstrips on the northern end of the island, but reflect a line drawn across San Francisco Bay, a triangulation from small rock outcroppings on the Bay drawn from the almost-island “Red Rock,” and still visible in the OSM mapping of the corner of Alameda that enters into San Francisco County’s parsing of the bay, and the resulting odd mapping of Oakland’s boundaries that left it with limited water rights.

Alameda in OSM


The lost history of the settled bayshore, before the redefinition of the shore as a center of industry that constituted the built periphery of the land, is evident in the layered archeology of the bay’s history in early maps, that offer the possibility of recovering a narrative of the idiosyncratic bounding of the bay shores.  A few early printed maps preserve traces of the redrawing of the bay shore, and note that region where the water intersects with land and probably also lines of county taxation are drawn around the bay’s islands and shores.

The artificial slivering of the island Alameda in the late nineteenth century is echoed long before the building of the Naval Base, in a Leipzig engraving of the early 1890s, attributed to James Blick, San Francisco und Umgebung, in which the island of Alameda is cut by a secant of railroad track at the point.


Leipzig San FranciscoWikimedia Commons


The jurisdictional division of San Francisco Bay postdates the complex settlement of the shores in the East Bay recorded in this openly acknowledged apparent official settlement which evokes a treaty between San Francisco and Oakland.  Derived from surveys that Theodore Wagner compiled  c. 1894, which George Sandow so eloquently engraved, the comprehensive map of the bay charted the oyster beds that Indians had long cultivated, and are still remembered in Emeryville’s Shellmound Road, now home to Best Buy and P.F. Chang’s, as a site actively contested and divided by prospectors of oysters, which must have constituted a very important micro-economy of aquaculture for Oakland even in the end of the age of its rancho, at a time shortly after when the city’s amalgamation was formalized.


Oyster Plots on Map

If it is eery that the same shores, so long fertile with the shellfish that sustained the Pomo and Ohlone, were almost filled with landfill, and almost so readily sacrificed, as per the so-called Reber plan, it’s also humanizing to look back at the shore divided by oyster prospectors.

Shell Heaps

By Daniel Brownstein

Reber’s 1941 plan never adopted but contemplated:  it suggests that the region was seen, after the boom of commerce in the 1950s, as little more than a source for some marine traffic that could be effectively built or beaten back to the Bay itself–that is, before being beaten back itself by a Save the Bay group, ancestor of the current Save the Bay that, way back in 1961, crystallized, momentarily, priorities of the current San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission.  The particularly compelling image of the waters threatened to be lost compelled such collective resistance–long before the civil rights movement–in a wave of ecological awareness that exploited the power of maps for all they were worth to resist the proposed complex of dams, transportation corridors, and landfill suggested by Reber’s plan–drafted at wartime, when the local beds of oysters were no doubt no more, and the Bay had become something of a city of industry.  Reber imagined that its lines could be readily redrawn, purged of estuaries and irregularities, lined with multiple shipping piers and docks that might receive commerce, and, if adopted, make something of a mockery of the Bay Bridge’s first span.


The landfill on which the Naval Supply Center, Army Terminus and Naval Air Station lie had indeed gained new prominence after World War II in defining the areas topography.  But San Francisco County defined the Bay, and that slim corner of Alameda, drawn here as if at the convenience of a surveyor’s line that ran from Red Rock, sliced a sliver off of Alameda County, almost as if foretelling the later line of the toll-crossing on the Bay Bridge

But the line itself seems more fortuitous in placement, perhaps reflecting the vagaries of lines of marine jurisdiction, judging from this section of a 1915 map, where Red Rock fails altogether to appear.

1915 SF Bay Map

In the Wagner-Sandow map, the waters of the coasts of Richmond and San Pablo were similarly clustered with oyster beds, a micro-economy at the Rancho San Pablo.  The history of the lots of oyster-beds in the East Bay may be even more forgotten, but their mapping seems to unveil a lost tie to the ecology of the estuaries and shallow waters that blessed the region, making it a popular site of native congregation, just before the industrialization of Point Richmond’s or Oakland’s shore.

Mapping Oysters in East Bay--Wagner

Oyster Foraging

The once-living shorelines remembered in the lithographic engraving show a lost site of commerce, but of sociability, one determined and experienced by the rising and the falling of the tides, in ways that captured a knowledge of landscape we no longer share, but from which the money, flying from commerce and industry, seems to have fled, until the shore might be restored to not only a habitat for birds, but something more than the washing up of detritus along its sandy shores.

Rancho San Antonio

The way that public transit system of the Bay Area bridges land and sea is, to an extent, commemorated in the simple “BA” logo of the seventies, where “B” and “A” interlock and overlap, whose overlap, as parts of a Venn Diagram, offers something like a cognitive map of the bridging of land and water on the edges where land and water meet–the ecotones of the Bay Area that the Rapid Transit can bridge.  The iconic lexeme maps the region, if in abstractly oversimplified form, indicating the ecotonal mix by the smooth font of the registered trademark and copyrighted logo–although it erases the far more complex history of negotiations with the shores we have lost.


The maps above open an area of the muddy shoreline, although that still seems a barrier for the city’s own far less fluid income divides.


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