California 7th District
The journey inward from the Pacific Ocean to the vast flatness of California’s Central Valley passes through a wondrous variety of terrain. The traveler starts at the Golden Gate Bridge, with the lush green Presidio on one side and the bluffs of mountains in Marin County on the other. The journey continues through the San Francisco Bay, through the narrow Carquinez Strait to Suisun Bay, with its sloughs and marshes and ships ready for scrap, and finally past the mountains, to the flat, fertile expanse of California’s great interior. This is not a journey most tourists make, but it was a familiar route to the first Americans in California, and it passes by much of the industrial base of the Bay Area. On the east side of the bay is Richmond, developed almost instantaneously during World War II when Henry J. Kaiser built a shipyard in its deep-water port and 91,000 people from all over the country were put to work building ships for the Pacific theater. What became known as Rosie the Riveter Memorial Park is now a national park. The city is attracting high-tech spin-offs, despite a downtown that has seen better days. Chevron, with its local refinery, pays one-third of the city’s revenues.
2008 Presidential Vote
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Across Carquinez Strait is Vallejo, named for a Mexican general and member of the first California Senate, the site from 1853 to 1996 of the giant Mare Island Naval Shipyard, where 41,000 worked during World War II. In May 2008, the city filed for bankruptcy, which was caused in part by the closing of the shipyard and in part by huge public employee salaries and pensions—292 of 411 city workers earned more than $100,000 a year. Farther up the bay, to the south, is Concord, the largest city in Contra Costa County, whose city officials were unique in that they lobbied the Pentagon to close the mostly unused Concord Naval Weapons Station. They wanted to use the land for business and residential development, which is banned beyond the urban limit that county voters imposed in 1990. The Defense Department complied and included about half of the site on the 2005 base-closure list, with plans under way for mixed-use development near a rapid-transit station. This is the industrial part of the Bay Area, with tank farms and refineries. The towns are among the most ethnically diverse in the country, with large percentages of African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and Filipinos.
The 7th Congressional District includes most of this territory, from Richmond to Vallejo, Hercules, Martinez, and Pittsburg. It also proceeds inland through the mountain interstices of Contra Costa County to include part of Concord. Northeast of Vallejo, it includes Vacaville on flatland beneath Vaca Mountain. Politically, this industrial area was blue-collar Democratic back in the days when San Francisco, with its larger white-collar population, often voted Republican. Today, it remains heavily Democratic, but not as leftist on cultural issues as other San Francisco areas. John Kerry won the district 67%-32% over George W. Bush in 2004, and Barack Obama won it 72%-27% over John McCain in 2008.