In 1990, the San Francisco Bay Area was home to a robust military community. Soldiers of the 6th Army marched at the venerable Presidio of San Francisco. Navy aircraft carriers and their support fleet sailed to the Western Pacific from their homeport at Naval Air Station Alameda. Steelworkers and pipefitters plied their trade at Mare Island, the Navy's oldest West Coast shipyard. P-3 Orion submarine hunters patrolled the Pacific from their homebase at Naval Air Station Moffett Field.
A significant support infrastructure including two military hospitals, commissary, and exchange facilities at several of the military installations, and more than 5,000 DoD housing units met the quality of life needs of servicemen and women and their families.
Fast-forward to 2000. Base closures in 1991, 1993, and 1995 have closed nearly every military installation in the Bay Area. The Presidio has been annexed into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The carrier piers at Alameda are empty except for one vintage carrier (USS Hornet). The steelworker's torch at Mare Island has been turned off. The P-3 squadrons from Moffett Field are gone.
Management of most of the bases has been turned over to local redevelopment authorities for their ultimate clean up and disposal. At Moffett Field, the runways and operations area have been transferred to NASA Ames Research Center, and 803 units of housing have been transferred from the Navy to the Air Force.
But even after all of the base closures, there remains a population of some 1,400 military families in the San Francisco Bay Area. This community includes recruiters, ROTC instructors, servicemembers in graduate school, active duty servicemembers in reserve units, and small commands like South Pacific Division and San Francisco District. And nearly 1,800 are assigned to Coast Guard units in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The San Francisco Bay Area has been a home to the Navy for over a century, and the community depended on the Navy for large amount of its economic activity. The complete naval withdrawal from the San Francisco Bay Area follows the closure of several bases, including Mare Island, NSY Hunters Point, NAVSTA Treasure Island, NAVMEDCEN Oakland, NAS Alameda, FISC Oakland, and further south, NCEL Port Hueneme. These closures are in addition to several other major relocations taken since the end of World War II, at which time San Francisco was one of the primary west coast naval facilities. All five naval facilities in the bay area would shut down, punishing the entire region's economy and throwing tens of thousands of people out of work. The largest number of jobs lost would be due to Alameda Naval Station, with 19,500 direct job losses, and 31,000 indirect.
With its existing installations built to accommodate a 600-ship cold war fleet, the Navy's 320 ships and submarines are concentrated in `megaports' in Norfolk and San Diego, at the expense of closing installations in Orlando, Charleston and the San Francisco Bay area.
Vessel Traffic in San Francisco Bay has increased from approximately 87,000 movements in 1987 to an estimated 97,900 in 1995. Ferry vessel traffic represents approximately 68 percent of this total.
The Ports and Waterways Safety Act of 1972 authorized the US Coast Guard to establish, operate, and maintain vessel traffic services for ports, harbors, and other waters subject to congested vessel traffic. As a result, in 1972 the Coast Guard established the Vessel Transportation Service (VTS) for San Francisco Bay and designated traffic lanes for inbound and outbound vessel traffic, specified separation zones between vessel traffic lanes, and set up rules to govern vessels entering and leaving ports. The VTS, which is located on Yerba Buena Island, controls marine traffic throughout the Bay Area. Although some small and private vessels are not required to coordinate their movements by contacting the VTS, the Coast Guard monitors all commercial, Navy, and private marine traffic within San Francisco Bay and local coastal waters.
West of the Golden Gate Bridge in the Gulf of the Farallones, approach lanes to the entrance of San Francisco Bay have been established from the north, west, and south. Each approach lane from seaward is composed of a 1-mile-wide inbound traffic lane and a 1-mile-wide outbound traffic lane with a 1-mile-wide separation zone between the traffic lanes. Outside these lanes, the US Navy has designated areas for submarine operations within which barge operations are precluded.
Piloting in and out of the Bay and adjacent waterways is compulsory for all vessels of foreign registry and US vessels under enrollment not having a federally licensed pilot on board. San Francisco Bar Pilots provide these services for vessel movements to and from all terminals in the Bay and tributaries to the Bay, including the Carquinez Strait. Ships bound for the San Francisco Bay and the Port of Oakland proceed in an easterly direction toward the Golden Gate Bridge through a narrow channel, which consists of inbound and outbound traffic lanes with a separation zone between them. These traffic lanes are 600 yards wide with a separation zone of approximately 150 yards.
Within San Francisco Bay the US Coast Guard has established RNAs (Regulated Navigation Areas) to increase navigational safety by organizing traffic flow patterns; reducing meeting, crossing, and overtaking situations between large vessels in constricted channels; and limiting vessel speed.
The greatest hazard to vessel navigation is other vessel traffic. Large commercial and naval vessels are required by US Coast Guard regulations to use designated traffic lanes when traveling in inland waterways. Smaller commercial vessels (i.e., tugboats, ferryboats, and private vessels) often do not navigate within specific traffic lanes, but rather travel in the most direct route. These vessels can pose hazards to navigation, particularly if other circumstances such as fog are present. Fog occurs much of the time during the summer months, blowing in through the Golden Gate in the late afternoon and typically burning off by late morning.
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