Oakland is a major West Coast port city on San Francisco Bay in the U.S. state of California. It is the eighth-largest city in the state with a 2010 population of 390,724. Originally incorporated in 1852, Oakland is the county seat of Alameda County and is a central hub city for a region of the San Francisco Bay Area known as the East Bay. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 78.0 square miles (202 km2). 55.8 square miles (145 km2) of it is land and 22.2 square miles (57 km2) of it (28.48 percent) is water.
Residents of Oakland most broadly refer to their city’s terrain as “the flatlands” and “the hills,” which until recent waves of gentrification have also been a reference to Oakland’s deep economic divide, with “the hills” being more affluent communities. About two-thirds of Oakland lies in the flat plain of the East Bay, with one-third rising into the foothills and hills of the East Bay range.
The 2010 United States Census reported that Oakland had a population of 390,724. The population density was 5,009.2 people per square mile (1,934.0/km²). The racial makeup of Oakland is below:
Since the 1960s, Oakland has been known as a center of Northern California’s African-American community. However, between 2000 and 2010 Oakland lost nearly 25 percent of its black population. The city demographics have changed due to a combination of rapid gentrification along with many African-Americans relocating to Bay Area suburbs, or moving to the Southern United States. Though blacks never constituted a majority of Oakland’s population, they formed a strong plurality for many years, peaking in 1980 at about 47 percent of the population. Despite the decline, black residents maintain their status as Oakland’s single largest ethnic group as of 2010, at 27 percent of the population, followed by non-Hispanic whites at 26 percent and Latinos of any race at 25 percent.
Recent trends have resulted in cultural shifts, leading to a decline among some of the city’s longstanding African-American institutions, such as churches, businesses, and nightclubs, which has been a point of contention for some long-time black residents.
Oakland is a hub of political activity. In recent years, immigrants and others have marched by the thousands down Oakland’s International Boulevard in support of legal reforms benefitting illegal immigrants. In 2009, Oakland’s city council passed a resolution to create municipally-issued “Oakland identification cards” to help residents get easier access to city and business services, improve their civic participation and encourage them to report crimes to police. The following year, Oakland’s city council resolved to divert new municipal economic investment from firms headquartered in Arizona in the wake of that state’s attempt to control illegal immigration.
On October 20, 1991, a massive firestorm (see 1991 Oakland firestorm) swept down from the Berkeley Hills above the Caldecott Tunnel, killing 25 people, injuring 150 people, and destroying 4,000 homes. The economic loss has been estimated at $1.5 billion, and it was the worst such firestorm in American history. Many of the original homes were rebuilt on a much larger scale.
Oakland-area historical earthquake activity is slightly below California state average. It is 1345 percent greater than the overall U.S. average. The Loma Prieta earthquake occurred on October 17, 1989, a rupture of the San Andreas Fault that affected the entire San Francisco Bay Area. The quake’s surface wave measured 7.1 on the Richter magnitude scale, and many structures in Oakland were badly damaged. The double-decker portion of the freeway (Interstate 880) structure collapsed. The eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge also sustained damage and was closed to traffic for one month.
The number of natural disasters in Alameda County (14) is near the U.S. average (12).
Major Disasters (Presidential) Declared: 12
Emergencies Declared: 2
Causes of natural disasters:
Winter Storms: 3
(Note: Some incidents may be assigned to more than one category).6
The percentage of the population in Oakland affiliated with a religious congregation is 34.95 percent. Our research has identified 417 congregations and FBOs in Oakland. One interfaith coalition has been identified, Oakland Coalition of Congregations and one organization dedicated to disaster response and preparation which includes the faith community (Collaborating Agencies Responding to Disaster). Oakland’s religious landscape is diverse with a high number of Buddhist temples, synagogues, mosques and new religious movements.7
Oakland is an urbanized zone with a high population density. A majority of the population is economically disenfranchised and a number of marginalized groups and communities live within the city limits. Oakland is also known for its political activism. Oakland also tends to be a focal point for clashes between communities and law enforcement. A recent case of this is the Oscar Grant shooting, trial and community response.
Given the landscape, it is recommended that law enforcement agencies and government entities use a community-based civic approach to outreach with congregations. It is important for such agencies to work to gain trust and entry to these communities and invest in building healthy congregations outside of disaster work. Communities and congregations will need to buy-in to outreach attempts and feel as though their problems and concerns are being heard and addresses. Training programs should address areas of interest to faith communities and be dual-purpose.
Hebah Farrag is the assistant director of research of the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.
Richard Flory is the executive director of the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.
Brie Loskota is the former executive director (2016-2021) of the USC Center for Religion and Civil Culture.