If any of you class mates are ever in the SF/Oakland area with some time to spend on research, I have been very successful with the following locations mostly specific to SF/Oakland.
The California Genealogical Society and Library in downtown Oakland calgensoc.org is a great place to get info about the city and people. They have the actual city directories dating back to the 1800's and I was able to determine from them when my family actually changed their name from Madsen to Mathiesen, they also have the city voting registers which helped as well to pin it down. Another valuable to me research tool was the SF Chronicle newspaper on microfilm which helped me find an article about my Great Grandfather.
The staff is helpful but also lets you alone if that is your wish. They charge $5 for non members to use the library and they have the usual computer stations with access to various data bases. Saturday is the best time to go as parking in the lot across the street is free or it used to be. The building in which the library is housed is the restored Breuners Dept. store which is an art/deco structure. I remember it well as a child growing up in Oakland . The library is in the basement but it is still a great place to visit, check out their web site.
The next place that has been a real research bonanza for me is the SF Maritime Museum Library (J.Porter Shaw Library) located at historic Fort Mason on the SF Bay near Fisherman's Wharf http://maritimelibraryfriends.org follow the link to the library. You have to call in advance to make an appointment and the whole sequence of events leading up to actually getting an appointment is a little eerie ( who are you, what do you want?) which I attribute to the librarians spending way to much time indoors with their heads in books, but it is well worth it if you get in.....anything you want to know about SF Bay you will probably find out here. I found info about my Great Gandfather and and the ferryboat on which he was a skipper in the Bay, great stuff. Also an easy walk from Fisherman's Wharf or free parking in the Safeway lot across the street.
This only scratches the surface of research possibilities in the Bay Area, but I believe if anyone has research needs specific to this area, it would be a great start.
Good luck all!