Oakland port's new out board member is forging ahead

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Wednesday November 1, 2023
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LGBTQ elected and appointed officials and others took a ferry tour of the Port of Oakland October 27. Gay port Commissioner Michael Colbruno, in sailor shirt, helped organize the gathering. Photo: John Perry/Port of Oakland
LGBTQ elected and appointed officials and others took a ferry tour of the Port of Oakland October 27. Gay port Commissioner Michael Colbruno, in sailor shirt, helped organize the gathering. Photo: John Perry/Port of Oakland

The Port of Oakland's newest out commissioner is excited to be part of the body that oversees one of the Bay Area's economic engines.

Jahmese Myres, a queer Black woman, joined the board in July after she was appointed and sworn in by Mayor Sheng Thao. During a ferry tour of the port October 27, Myres joined around 45 other East Bay LGBTQ elected and appointed officials and others on the late afternoon trip. Michael Colbruno, a gay man who's served on the port commission for nine years, helped organize the gathering.

The Port of Oakland not only oversees the seaport, but also Oakland International Airport and the commercial real estate at Jack London Square, where the port has its offices. Danny Wan, who was the first openly gay man to serve on the Oakland City Council when he was appointed in 2000, currently serves as executive director of the port.

During an interview with the Bay Area Reporter aboard a Blue and Gold Ferry, Myres said she's so far attended three commission meetings.

"I'm really excited," she said of her new role. "It's a really important time at the port with all the environmental work happening."

In early October, the port announced it would be receiving up to $1.2 billion in federal funding for hydrogen projects. The port is part of the Alliance for Renewable Clean Energy Hydrogen Systems, a statewide public-private partnership, and will be designated as a hydrogen hub, according to a news release.

During his remarks, Wan thanked lesbian at-large City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan for helping to secure the federal funding.

"She's been a great advocate," Wan said.

Kaplan, who also attended the event, noted she's a member of the Alameda County Transportation Commission, which worked on the funding.

Others on hand included gay San Leandro City Councilmember Victor Aguilar Jr., whom Colbruno said was his "partner in crime" with coming up with the idea of the ferry tour; queer District 4 Oakland City Councilmember Janani Ramachandran; gay District 4 Berkeley City Councilmember Terry Taplin; gay Alameda school board member Ryan LaLonde; and lesbian Alameda County Superior Court Judge Tara Flanagan.

Myres said the port is on the "cutting edge not only on environmental work but also community benefits." She worked on the latter before joining the commission in a community organizing role when she served as campaign director and deputy director at the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy.

"I want to be a leader on" those things, she said.

And she noted that the LGBTQ community "has a long history of sharing resources."

Prior to being appointed to the port commission, Myres served on the Oakland Planning Commission from 2014-2020.

Colbruno said he's happy not to be the only out member on the body.

"It's nice to have a comrade in arms on the commission," he said.

Myres currently works as leadership development director at Powerswitch Action, which supports social justice leaders across the country to make bold change, according to the port's website. She lives in East Oakland with her partner, Elyse Rivas, and their 20-month-old baby.

Colbruno talked about his interest in revitalizing an affinity group for out port commissioners and staff around the state. In 2014, as the B.A.R. reported, such a group was formed due in part to how homophobic and closeted the culture was at maritime facilities. At the time, Leslie Katz, a lesbian, served as a commissioner for the Port of San Francisco. (https://www.ebar.com/story.php?244389) Katz, who now lives in Oakland, is on the executive board of EQCA, which helped sponsor the recent ferry tour.

"We're going to start going to ports again," said Colbruno.

New Port of Oakland Commissioner Jahmese Myres, left, and port Executive Director Danny Wan took in the view during the October 27 port ferry tour. Photo: Cynthia Laird  

The Port of Oakland
On the tour, Wan pointed out Howard Terminal, which was recently the site of a proposed ballpark for the Oakland A's. (A's owner John Fisher is now focused on moving the team to Las Vegas.) The seaport is a container port, Wan explained. Back in the 1960s, there was a debate about the best way to ship items in the most efficient way, via containers or in bulk. Containerization took off, Wan said, and the Port of Oakland was the largest container port in the nation for awhile. Today, Howard Terminal is "much too small," Wan said, and the water is only 42 feet deep, which is too shallow for today's huge container ships.

The Port of Oakland seaport, established in 1927, is currently the nation's ninth largest, according to Marine Insight and the port. The Port of Los Angeles is in the top position.

In the outer harbor of the port, the water is 50 feet deep, Wan pointed out, meaning it can handle the larger ships.

The Port of Oakland provides about $175 million in economic impact in the region. The seaport loads and discharges more than 99% of the containerized goods moving through Northern California, the website stated.

In 2022, about 74% of Oakland's trade was with Asia. Europe accounted for 17%, Australia/New Zealand and other Pacific islands about 3%, and other foreign nations about 1%. About 5% of Oakland's trade is domestic (primarily Hawaii), according to the website. Wan said that the Matson Terminal, located along the Oakland Estuary, provides "lots of shipping to Hawaii."

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