Regional Update: California Ports

The Port of Hueneme. Photo courtesy of the Port of Hueneme.

Data show that in 2023, maritime cargo numbers at most California ports started to stabilize to pre-pandemic levels, and officials have zeroed in on key priorities.

Last year, the state’s ports were awarded millions in grant funding for projects focused on infrastructure, the supply chain and environmental goals. Ports kicked off projects, installed equipment and implemented new public programs. For some, cargo volume numbers grew and they prepared to compete for more business.

This year is set to continue that momentum as seaports all along the Golden State’s coastline have ambitious plans already in place. Pacific Maritime reached out to large and midsize California seaports to recap 2023 and find out what’s in store for this year.

What’s happening at the state’s seaports is an important part of the bigger picture, California Association of Port Authorities President Kristine Zortman explained in an email.

 “As the state’s economic engine and a leader in environmentally sustainable maritime practices, California’s seaports play a vital role in driving commerce, supporting our local communities and getting goods moving across the global supply chain,” said Zortman, who’s also executive director of the Port of Redwood City.

 Zortman noted an historic investment in July by the state to build a more efficient, sustainable and resilient supply chain. That month, the California State Transportation Agency awarded $1.5 billion in grant funding for port and freight infrastructure projects statewide that aim to upgrade and increase the capacity to “move goods throughout the state’s global trade gateways,” according to a news release from Gov. Gavin Newsom.

 “With intense competition from Eastern and Gulf Coast ports, California must continue to advance policies and support initiatives that will allow our supply chain to thrive,” Zortman said.

Los Angeles

The busiest seaport in the western hemisphere, the Port of Los Angeles, was awarded $233 million in grants from the CalSTA program aimed at infrastructure and supply chain projects.

The $198.2 million improvement and expansion project for the Maritime Support Facility, which provides storage for all 12 container terminals at the San Pedro Bay port complex, (which includes the adjoining Port of Long Beach), is just one of the POLA’s projects supported by the grant funding.

Plans call for the area to be improved and expanded from 30 to 71 acres. Improvements include utilities, drainage, sewage, power and water supply, as well as a paved perimeter roadway.

In his “State of the Port” speech on Jan. 10, POLA Executive Director Gene Seroka noted that cargo traffic was down in almost every category at ports all around the world last year. Global trade is now “edging up” and he anticipates a return to more normal cargo volume levels in the year ahead.

(Note: for more on the volumes, see the article on the LA and Long Beach ports’ “State of the Port” speeches elsewhere in this issue.)

Seroka also noted several capital projects for 2024 and reaffirmed the port’s lofty environmental goals.

After two years of increased emissions during the pandemic, Seroka reported that the port’s air quality scores are once again improving. An air inventory released Sept. 7 shows that emissions in 2022 were down in all port-related sources due to both a reduction in ships at anchor and the port’s ongoing environmental initiatives.

The port has said that it has surpassed its 2023 targets.

Seroka also noted during his speech that the POLA is partnering with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power in 2023 on a $300 million Zero Emission Port Electrification and Operations Program.

“We’ll work closely with the DWP on the design and build-out of all the critical infrastructure that we’ll need to support electric-powered zero emission operations,” Seroka said.

The program consists of a couple of key components: construction of a fourth rack at the Los Angeles DWP power receiving station in Wilmington, and separate projects to construct distribution lines and other electrical infrastructure from the receiving station to the Outer Harbor, West Basin and Terminal Island.

Construction is expected to start in 2025.

Long Beach

The holiday shopping season in the fourth quarter of 2023 boosted cargo action at the Port of Long Beach for several months, partly due to ongoing efforts to recapture market share, according to the port.

In November, dockworkers and terminal operators moved 731,033 TEUs, up 24.2% from the same month last year. Imports increased 37% to 355,339 TEUs and exports declined 13% to 108,798 TEUs. 

Empty containers moved through the port were up 30.6% to 266,896 TEUs.

“We are recapturing market share, online shopping is on the rise and retailers are keeping the shelves stocked to meet rising consumer demand for the holidays,” POLB CEO Mario Cordero said in a statement.

According to officials, during the first 11 months of 2023, the port moved 7.3 million TEUs, down 14.9% from the same time in 2022, with cargo flows on pace with pre-pandemic levels.

The port is also focused on its Pier Wind project, a proposed floating offshore wind facility. The 400-acre terminal would be the largest facility at any U.S. seaport specifically designed to facilitate and support the manufacturing and assembly of offshore wind turbines. 

Once the project is complete, the assembled turbines, generators and accompanying floating foundations would be towed by sea from the port to offshore wind farms in Central and Northern California.


At a February 2023 “State of the Port” address, Port of Oakland Executive Director Danny Wan focused on modernizing infrastructure, implementing green projects and building for the next generation.

“It is a future port that not only moves more cargo, carries more passengers and attracts more visitors, but that growth will be achieved with zero emissions technology,” Wan said.

The Oakland seaport is working on increasing the container cargo market share lost during the pandemic and electrification to support greener operations, he noted.

The port also championed a variety of green-focused efforts last year aimed at achieving the goal to transition its operations to zero emissions.

 “The year 2023 launched more than a dozen comprehensive environmental initiatives and activities at the Port of Oakland,” Director of Environmental Programs and Planning Colleen Liang said. “We are not stopping there.”

“In 2024, the port is cutting emissions through hydrogen-fuel and battery-electric trucks and equipment, building a microgrid that will provide reliable electricity at the seaport,” she stated.

The port has also received some financial assistance for its efforts. In June, the California Transportation Commission awarded the port a $42 million grant for green improvements to the microgrid. In July, CalSTA awarded the port a $119 million grant, earmarked for infrastructure improvements.

The CalSTA funds are to support various projects, including plans for the marine terminal modernization, which will launch the port’s outer harbor terminal green redevelopment to provide container capacity relief and electrical utility upgrades, particularly for refrigerated exports.

“Ninety-nine percent of containerized goods in Northern California flow through the Port of Oakland, and with these much-needed infrastructure updates we can continue to improve the flow of goods through our seaport,” Port of Oakland Maritime Director Bryan Brandes said.

“Implementing these projects,” he added, “will mean we can also address port-related supply chain congestion while continuing to ensure that we have modern, green and efficient maritime facilities for the benefit of our customers, tenants and local residents.” 

Regarding container volumes, overall import volumes continued to hover around 70,000 TEUs per month after falling from the extreme highs seen during the pandemic, according to port data. Export volumes have stabilized around 60,000 TEUs per month in 2023, helped by the improvement in on-time performance for container ships.

However, the Port of Oakland didn’t see its usual late summer and early fall spike in import cargo volumes, the data show.

“Consumers continue to spend, and our local economy is growing, so the lack of an upswing in cargo volume is likely because retailers are working though excess inventory,” Brandes explained.

San Francisco

In 2024, the Port of San Francisco plans to focus its efforts in four main areas: resilience; diversity, equity and inclusion; economic recovery, and maritime, POSF Director of Communications Eric Young said.

In January, the port released a draft plan to build the city’s defense against sea level rise and earthquakes. The release launched the start of a 60-day public comment period, after which the draft plan would be further refined.

From there, the port is expected to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to bring the updated plan forward for regulatory and environmental reviews needed before the city and federal government can endorse moving forward.

Separately, the Port of San Francisco is continuing near-term work on early projects, using funds from the 2018 Prop A bond to begin construction on important seismic and flood resilience projects to protect port property.

To continue economic recovery at the port, Young said the POSF plans to seek grants to improve the southern waterfront facilities for future maritime uses, including offshore wind, cruise ship berthing and electrification.

Also on the southern waterfront, the port plans to make public realm improvements for recreation, events and art.

In July, CalSTA awarded the port $21.5 million in grant funding that would “allow the city to increase cargo shipping, boost jobs and economic activity and build a greener southern waterfront,” according to a port press release.

Like Long Beach, San Francisco also has plans related to offshore wind.

The POSF has been identified by the state as a potential offshore wind manufacturing and fabrication site given the port’s available land (nearly 100 acres), deepwater berths and access to the San Francisco and Bay Area workforce (both Central and Northern California wind energy call areas).

In 2022, the California Energy Commission adopted a report that established a goal to deploy up to 5 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind energy by 2030 and 25 GW by 2045.

“The state has set ambitious targets for offshore wind in California,” Young noted. “Ports are critical to the launch of the offshore wind industry in California; it will take a multi-port strategy to the meet the state’s goals.”

Redwood City

The Port of Redwood City saw its fair share of accomplishments and economic growth last year, and its 2024 priorities show it is on track to continue.

“The Port of Redwood City serves as a crucial economic driver within the greater Silicon Valley and south San Francisco region,” Zortman said in an email. “Over the past several years we have witnessed record breaking revenues enabling our investment into community events, a new ferry terminal, infrastructure and environmental initiatives.”

Fiscal year 2022-23 was a record economic year for the port. In FY 22-23, the port saw $10 million in total revenue and handled 1.82 million metric tons of cargo. In fact, every year since the pandemic has seen record growth.

According to the port’s mid-year financial report, released in March, gross revenues were up by 13% when compared year over year, from $4.5 million to $5.1 million. A bump in cargo operations (up about 11% over the previous period) and overall improved fiscal management practices are credited for the increase.

There also has been a lot of movement with the Port of Redwood City’s ferry terminal project, which is currently in a phase focused on regulatory entitlement and California Environmental Quality Act studies.

On March 22, Redwood’s Port Commission selected CDM Smith as the consultant firm to conduct the required environmental impact studies and lead the project through the CEQA process.

Plans call for Redwood City to be the southernmost hub for the San Francisco Bay Ferry system, connecting the mid-Peninsula to San Francisco and the East Bay.

The ferry project is expected to strengthen the port’s Federal Emergency Management Agency designation as a federal staging area and serve as a key piece of the region’s emergency response infrastructure.

Following a major earthquake or other disaster, first responders would rely on the ferry to be deployed to the impacted area to evacuate the public and transport victims. The project also creates an alternative transportation option, to improve commuter travel around the Bay Area and help reduce emissions.

The proposed project is slated for a 2026 completion.


In the Port of Hueneme’s 2023 end-of-year newsletter, CEO & Port Director Kristin Decas recapped last year’s accomplishments and highlighted how the port has grown.

“We have experienced a tremendously prosperous year at the port and are all excited to see what comes next,” she said.

Decas noted that the port was recently awarded nearly $80 million in CalSTA grant funding “for projects that will modernize and expand port capacity, generate social and economic equity, as well as transform the port into a zero-emissions hub.”

According to a July 9 statement from the port, the funds will focus on the Port Action, Climate and Environment Development, or PACED, project. PACED removes dilapidated, obsolete buildings, installs zero-emission plug-in units for containers and builds hydrogen fuel cell technology infrastructure, Decas explained.

“Further, the project brings efficiency and safety improvements with the deepening of berths that will also allow for the renourishment of local beaches with clean dredged sediment,” she added. “Of utmost importance, the funding supports shoreside power and emission control systems that make vessels zero emission while in port and provides for portwide crane electrification and the procurement of zero-emission cargo handling equipment.”

Decas also said the port worked extensively in 2023 toward its robust environmental goals, with the aim of becoming a leader in green port efforts.

In November, the port was awarded a $2 million federal grant for planning activities related to constructing a green parking structure to serve as the transfer point between ocean-going vessels and the rail or trucks being used to transport automobiles off port. 

Hueneme, said to be the sixth-largest auto processing port in the U.S., imported and exported more than 375,000 vehicles in the 2023 fiscal year. That represents a 31% increase over 2022 and about 10% above its 2019 pre-pandemic numbers.

San Diego

The Port of San Diego has a lot planned for the upcoming year, as noted by Principal,  Maritime Business Development, Greg Borossay in a statement to Pacific Maritime.

“The Port of San Diego will experience several firsts in 2024,” Borossay stated. “As a port of firsts and a port of communities, we are proud to lead the way in the modernization of cargo terminals.” 

The port’s two fully electric mobile harbor cranes are expected to become operational in early 2024, opening the door for cleaner air for the surrounding community and new business in the hydro, solar, wind energy and heavy lift sectors in the coming years, Borossay said.

The two new all-electric Gottwald Generation 6 Mobile Harbor Cranes from Konecranes were delivered to the port’s Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal last summer. According to a July 17 statement from the port, the new cranes are the first of their kind in North America and will help improve public health and air quality by replacing a diesel crane.

“These all-electric mobile harbor cranes are a game changer for public health, the environment and our regional economy. It’s a win-win-win,” Board of Port Commissioners Chairman Rafael Castellanos said.

The new cranes, with an increased maximum lift capacity of up to 400 metric tons, also help the port compete for more heavy-lift business. The system offers the heaviest lift capability of any crane system currently in place on the West Coast. The port location also connects to both long-distance rail and truck routes.

San Diego is also working on upgrades at the port related to the West Coast M-5 Connector project, which will use a barge to move building materials, lumber, containers and general cargo along a West Coast north/south route to strengthen supply chain resiliency and help address regional delays.

Construction is set to begin this fall and is estimated to take 18 months.

The POSD was awarded $5.5 million in October 2022 from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration under a program aimed at expanding marine highway services on the nation’s navigable waterways to “reduce congestion, alleviate supply chain bottlenecks, and move goods more quickly from ships to shelves.”

The Port of San Diego handled 2.5 million metric tons of cargo in fiscal year 2022-2023.  

Sara Hall has 15 years of experience at several regional and national magazines, online news outlets, and daily and weekly newspapers, where coverage has  included reporting on local harbor activities, marine-based news, and regional and state coastal agencies. Her work has included photography, writing, design and layout.