"About the Albany Bulb"
from the Share the Bulb website [sharethebulb.org]:
* Amber Whitson (Bulb resident) [510-978-8850] [email@example.com]
* Root Barrett [405-556-1930] [firstname.lastname@example.org]
* Lesley Haddock [707-293-3253]
The Albany landfill is an undeveloped spit of land, densely carpeted with vegetation, that pokes a little over a mile into San Francisco Bay from its east shore. Shaped like a tree that has fallen in the water, it begins as a broad elevated plateau, thins to a narrow neck, then widens out at the end to form what is known as “The Bulb.” Looking out from the Bulb on a clear day the eye can sweep in a wide arc from the Bay Bridge and the skyline of San Francisco in the south, to Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge and the headlands of Marin. Overhead a huge sky. Far behind the freeway clogged with cars, and the cities of Albany, Richmond, and Berkeley.
The landfill opened for business in 1963 when the City of Albany signed a contract with the Sante Fe Railroad Company “for the purpose of creating usable land.” Prior to 1975, the operators of the landfill accepted garbage and refuse. But the landfill was intended for “demolition debris” and over time the garbage was buried under tons of concrete rubble, rebar, wire mesh, corrugated tin, steel, iron, coke, slag, asphalt, glass, plastic and excavated dirt. The first years of dumping created the plateau. When the mesa of rubble reached its peak the trucks began dumping their loads further out into the Bay. The finger of fill narrowed to create the neck, then widened at its tip and kept widening until December 1983 when the landfill was closed. In 20 years over 60 acres of new land had been created by the dumping of approximately 2 million cubic yards of waste to an average depth of 40 feet.
There is nothing “natural” about the origin of the landfill. It was not shaped by glaciers, the movement of tectonic plates or the persistent pummeling of wind and water. Nature had little to do with its creation, but when the dumping stopped nature saw its chance.
Over the past three decades, Nature and a particularly resourceful group of homeless people have reclaimed the Bulb as a wild space and a community space. The combination of reclaimed nature, community, and outsider art have made this former dump one of the most beautiful peninsulas into the San Francisco Bay, and has attracted daily dog-walkers, day-strollers, curious wanderers, picnickers, and others to an amazing place that reminds us of the many ways humans need the wild.
Albany Bulb's Freeman's Library is destroyed (2014-01-12) [link]
Pertinent quote: "Acting under guidelines by the city council, the police department exercises enforcement discretion when dealing with Bulb residents, with the caveat being all California penal codes are enforced to ensure health and safety", from
"Homeless Task Force Meeting (12-20-12) Report Prepared for Waterfront Committee (1-2-13)", reproduced here:
Guest speakers Albany Police Chief Mike McQuiston and Sgt. Chris Willis (primary contact with Bulb residents) – The chief emphasized current municipal policy “encourages homelessness,” a socio-economic problem the police department cannot “fix.”
Unfortunately, the department remains the city's primary point of contact with this population.
He said anecdotal evidence suggests the majority of Albany's homeless population fall into a so-called “resistant/will not” category, which is defined as those who choose to live in what some might consider a non-traditional or non-conformist way. (The category is one of three found within the San Luis Obispo annual census, the others being approximately 20 percent who are considered “ready” homeless for fewer than two-and-a-half years; another 40 percent who are “unable/cannot” homeless for more than two-and-a-half years but find change difficult due to challenges of mental illness, addiction, etc.)
The chief called the city's approach in 1999 an initial “success” that was backed by strong “political will” but eventually derailed by a lack of long-term planning and funding.
In contrast, he defined “sustainability” as “letting the police enforce” with stronger links to social service resources and, possibly, a more effective point of contact.
Typically, the police department receives four or five calls a day from businesses/residents about an estimated two or three homeless people who drift within the city proper but most contacts are with Bulb residents.
About half of the calls to the department are simply expressions of “concern for welfare” of the person involved, meaning most people just want to make sure the person is not having some kind of medical emergency.
Acting under guidelines by the city council, the police department exercises enforcement discretion when dealing with Bulb residents, with the caveat being all California penal codes are enforced to ensure health and safety.
The chief acknowledged a natural “ideological” opposition to the idea of redefining homelessness, saying he was “doubtful it would succeed” but supported the city's desire to address the issue by creating a task force.
Other items of note:
1) City staff members Ann Chaney and Isabelle Leduc reviewed a preliminary meeting a representative at Everyone Home, county agency dedicated to homelessness and housing issues. Staff members are researching federal and local social service agency funding opportunities and, with support from the task force, will make recommendations in the coming months.
2) The task force reviewed a draft report outlining its activities to date. The report will be presented to the city council later this month.
Video showing Illegal Police Destruction of Personal Property -
2013-12-10 from Amber Whitson (Bulb resident) with [sharethebulb.org]:
This video was shot yesterday morning. This illustrates the truth, or lack thereof, to the city's statements, regarding yesterday's events: "Contrary to the inaccurate claims made on independent websites including
Indybay.org, the City is removing only materials associated with abandoned encampments. No evictions are occuring[sic] at this time." The man in the video, whose house the demolished and whose belongings day through in the dumpster, is disabled. He is unable to stay in the shelter, due to the fact that he requires a service dog.
"Latest Round of Curfew Violation Notices Given to Bulb Residents"
2013-12-05 from Amber Whitson (Bulb resident) with [sharethebulb.org]:
Earlier, I sent all of you copies of the curfew violation notice, that I received, last night. I received one of these notices from three Albany police officers, who came to my gate and called out my name: Sergeant Willis, Officer Constenbader, and the larger dark haired cop (whose name I never remember to check for). They were quite polite. And assured me that the bugs have been smoothed out of the process that people go through, when trying to check into the shelter.
My question is: How is BFHP still "identifying individuals interested in a housing subsidy program" when the cutoff date for when you had to be signed up by (via housing readiness assessment), was October 7th?
Are we gonna travel back in time? Or, is the criteria, for the housing subsidy program, being changed ?
Thanks, [signed] Amber.
Note: This makes no sense. One is from the last curfew notice that they handed out.
And, the second one is from last night...
"Hundreds of Activists Camp at the Albany Bulb to Prevent Eviction"
2013-11-18 from "Share the Bulb!":
ALBANY, CA -- On Monday, November 18th, residents of the Albany Bulb and East Bay community members gathered outside the Albany City Council meeting, opposing the city’s decision to evict the Bulb’s 60+ residents this week. After speaking against the eviction during the meeting’s public comment section, demonstrators marched to the Bulb to begin a community protection encampment, preventing Bulb residents’ homes from being destroyed.
The Bulb is a unique space for public art and community involvement. It is also a safe home for its low-income residents, many of whom are elderly or disabled. Over the next few days, activists say they will be participating in trainings, hosting workshops, and planning more actions targeting the City of Albany, as well as the Sierra Club and Citizens for East Shore Parks, recreationalist organizations that are sponsoring the eviction.
Last month, Bulb residents and protesters successfully delayed the eviction, scheduled for October, collecting thousands of petition signatures and hosting a public concert at the Bulb, a documentary screening outside the Sierra Club, a campout on Solano Avenue, and other events.
Despite the public response, the Albany City Council recently passed a $500,000 plan to evict residents in November. Half of that money has been used to set up two trailers in the Bulb’s adjacent parking lot that will supposedly host residents temporarily. The trailers can only hold 30 people, half the number of current Bulb residents, and will also be open to non-residents. After 6 months, those using the trailers will be turned out onto the streets. The other half of the money will go towards evicting the residents and disposing of their belongings.
Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, along with the East Bay Community Law Center and the Homeless Action Center, filed a lawsuit against the city last week in an attempt to prevent the eviction, citing the City of Albany's lack of affordable housing and insufficient shelter resources, as well as the dangerous environments in homeless shelters and on the streets, as reasons to preserve the Bulb as a haven.
“Turning people out of their homes and onto the streets in the middle of winter is dangerous and inhumane,” says Amber Whitson, Albany Bulb resident. “The City of Albany is destroying a vital East Bay community asset, and putting people’s lives at risk at the same time.”
The Albany Bulb has been home to hundreds of otherwise homeless individuals over several decades, and currently houses about 60. The land was originally a solid waste landfill, but the hard work and artistic contributions of the Bulb residents and allied community members has turned the place into one of the most physically and psychologically safe places for low-income people to make homes in the Bay Area, as well as a much-loved hub for art and alternative culture. Many Albany residents have fond attachments to the art and the people at the Bulb.
Part of the news script for The News, 2013-11-14 [link]: Update from the Northbay MDS Defense Committee for the liberated zone at the Albany Bulb!
Amber, a registered resident from the Albany Bulb (she is officially registered to vote as a resident), and one of the coordinators for the defense, writes:
The residents have engaged in a door-to-door was for a City Council meeting that occurred in weeks past. We had an overwhelmingly supportive response. The council disregarded it.
Instead, the Albany City Council has made plans for two tiny non-co-ed trailers designed to hold 15 people each. (There are 55 "homeless" Albany residents on the Bulb, alone) And the dogs will be kept in kennels, right on on the other side of the generator from where the people will be sleeping. And there are no accommodations for cats. We are all accustomed to sleeping with our dogs or cats, accommodations that keep us separate will not work.
My partner Phyl (pronounced Fill) has been the FNB contact for the Bulb for 6.5 years. And, this community of hermits is peaceful. Contrary to the dangerous thugs with attack dogs that the city tries to portray us as.
One of our residents, who had been dying from congestive heart failure for 2+ years, passed away on October 17th at the age of 46. He was loved by all. He came home to the Bulb on the evening of October 16th, to die at Home. He had the dogs of the single resident, who provided him with the necessary hospice care, on his lap and at his feet. Patrick Leach died peacefully at 5:41am after spending the last hours of his life talking and laughing with friends. We like to say "He won." Because he got to die at home, on the Bulb.
And, heartbreakingly, Albany PD came out and shot and killed one of our community's puppies on October 28th. When the people who participate in "Pee Walk" (a daily off-leash romp, for resident dogs) were still inside getting ready, a lone cop came and shot Amoré.
Amoré spent his days going on walks with dog walkers and their dogs. He was the friendliest puppy you could ever imagine. His death sent waves of grief through the community, both residents and non-residents.
The "official" story, released by the city was that 2 dogs attacked 2 cops, with one of the dogs managing to bite one of the cops. But, the people inside the tent that this happened outside of, heard it all. Three short chuffs of greeting from Amoré and then 5 rapid gunshots from a cops gun, and Amoré was suffering multiple critical wounds.
When the people rushed outside they saw one cop, uninjured, with his gun still drawn, who told them that he had to shoot Amoré because "he lunged at" him.
Since only the cop saw what happened, the city maintains their story. And is holding it against our community, as an "incident" and as justification for our removal.
Immediately following the incident, a cop was already trying to tell people that events were not as they were witnessed to be.
But, we took it as what it was: The cops can come in and kill us or our dogs, at will. And the city will put whatever spin on it that they want to. And, their story trumps the truth.
"Albany Landfill Evictions Affect Berkeley"
2013-10-24 by Daniel J. McMullan III [http://berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2013-10-26/article/41567?headline=Albany-Landfill-Evictions-Affect-Berkeley--By-Daniel-J.-McMullan-III]:
In 1999 I was asked by some of the then long time residents of the Albany landfill to come out to the bulb and advocate for those who were being evicted, some them after living there for over 10 years or more.
At the time the City of Albany had no services whatsoever for the homeless and their only design, that became very clear by the end, was to dump their homeless problem on the City of Berkeley. The residents of the landfill then as they are today came from places all over the state and country.
I watched the City of Berkeley spend 100's of thousands if not millions of dollars on the people they ejected from the landfill, most of whom eventually died on our streets. With the help of a non-profit they paid a nominal $13,000 they shifted their responsibility to their homeless to Berkeley.
Now they are in the process of doing it again. In the 14 years since the last big dump upon our City, Albany has done nothing. Still not a single penny has been spent on any program or plan to deal with its homeless.(Unless you want to count the very recent plan to put it's responsibilities on the backs of the Berkeley taxpayer)
To keep the heat off themselves they permitted their homeless to occupy the landfill again but now they want to pull another people dump at our expense. Every item in their plan is the same except that this time instead of employing conservation corps members to tear out the foliage. They have employed goats. I like goats and to use these noble creatures to serve their hateful plan is very disturbing.
Albany has already hired a willing Berkeley non-profit to do their fakery. And the rest of their non-plan is rolling along. I ask the Mayor and City council to direct the City attorney to put a stop to this in and by any and all means available to us.
We have been hard at work with our own responsibilities,The Homeless Task Force, the revitalization of our SRO's and creating movement in that system among many, many other things.) And now Albany wants to throw another 70+ people on our streets and into our programs and services?
Albany has one plan. One Action
Dump all its problem's and expenses on us, on Berkeley.
"The Sierra Club and the Albany Bulb"
2013-10-24 by Lydia Gans [http://berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2013-10-26/article/41565?headline=The-Sierra-Club-and-the-Albany-Bulb--By-Lydia-Gans]:
The backlash against the Sierra Club for joining with Citizens for East Shore Parks in lobbying to incorporate the Bulb into East Shore State Park is not surprising. The San Francisco Bay Chapter, in the May issue of their newspaper, the Yodeler, states the rationale for their action. It gives a very troubling image of the group. The story is titled “Changing the Albany Bulb – creating a bright spot on the East Bay Shoreline”. Apparently in order to “create a bright spot” the first step requires evicting the people who are camping there, people for whom the Bulb is their home. Why is this Sierra Club chapter participating in evicting people? The mission of the Sierra Club is the maintenance and protection of the environment for the enjoyment of the people. It does not mean only certain people, only the“right kind” of people.
In going over some of the Bulb history, the Yodeler article says; “In the 1990's people started camping illegally on the Bulb, and in 1999 the city and the Park District removed that camper population, but the land was again left unprotected …” From what, or from whom did the land need to be protected? From people who cared for it as their home, who planted trees, made trails, worked at mitigating rebar and concrete hazards on the site?
Protected from people who created works of art out of found materials, set up and operated a free lending library?
Over the years the police occasionally sent homeless people from the streets out to the Bulb but otherwise the city of Albany pretty much ignored the camp. Some churches and community organizations and local citizens who enjoyed the place regularly brought food and supplies to the campers. The Sierra Club never took an interest in them. Other than contract with Berkeley Food And Housing Project to provide “Outreach and Engagement” the city has done nothing for the campers. Albany has no homeless shelters and apparently little or no affordable housing – only one of the 60 or so campers has been housed.
One might ask the question, why now? Why do the Sierra Club and Citizens for East Shore Parks demand the Bulb incorporated into the Park at this time? The Bulb juts out from the shoreline and would not be an integral part of the Park nor would any section of the Bay trail go through the Bulb. With a few amenities such as toilets and running water and possibly some help in getting rid of the rebar and concrete it could continue to serve as a campground - at least until Albany can provide proper housing for homeless.
"Allies Camp on Solano Avenue to Protest Impending Bulb Eviction"
2013-10-07 from [sharethebulb.org]:
ALBANY, CA -- On Monday, October 7th, residents of the Albany Bulb and local community members will rally outside Albany City Council's bi-monthly meeting and speak during the public comment section in defense of the Bulb, a unique space for arts, community, and haven for those who have nowhere else to go. The gathering will then leave the meeting and march down Solano Ave to set up a one night encampment, demonstrating what the thoroughfare will look like if the Bulb’s 60+ residents are evicted from their homes.
The City of Albany, along with the Sierra Club and Citizens for East Shore Parks, is trying to evict more than 60 people who call the Albany Bulb home in order to go through with plans to develop a park, without providing any alternative housing solutions in the face of the coming winter. Those fighting to prevent the eviction cite the City of Albany's insufficient shelter resources, as well as the dangerous environments in homeless shelters and on the streets, as reasons to preserve the Bulb as a haven.
The Albany Bulb has been home to hundreds of otherwise homeless individuals over several decades, and currently houses about 60. The land was originally a solid waste landfill, but the hard work and artistic contributions of the Bulb residents and allied community members has turned the place into one of the most physically and psychologically safe places to be homeless in the Bay Area, as well as a much-loved hub for art and alternative culture. Many Albany residents have fond attachments to the art and the people at the Bulb.
This action comes in the wake of a series of actions urging the city not to go through with their eviction plans, including a solidarity concert and potluck last Saturday, an encampment at the Bulb on Wednesday, and several independently organized actions targeting the Sierra Club and Albany City Council members.
Rally to Save Albany Bulb!
MARCH and CAMPOUT on SOLANO AVE!
Monday October 07
6:00 PM - 12:00 AM
Street Party at 1000 San Pablo Ave, Albany City Hall, Albany, CA
The City of Albany plans on evicting the residents of the Albany Bulb sometime this month. The Albany Bulb is home to over sixty residents who have made the Bulb a home and a community like nothing else in the Bay Area. If evicted, the residents of the Bulb will have no where to go but the streets of Albany, a city with next to no support for its homeless.
Rally at the Albany City Council this Monday at 6:00pm! At 6:30 we will participate in the public comments meeting and make sure everyone in Albany knows about the Bulb and whats at stake.
Afterwards there will be a march down Solano Ave. for an overnight camp out and demonstration.
Show your solidarity, lets save the Bulb!
Bring camping gear and tents!
"Protest 'Camp' on Solano Ave. Against Albany Bulb Eviction"
2013-10-07 by Charles Burress [http://albany.patch.com/groups/politics-and-elections/p/protest-camp-on-solano-ave-against-albany-bulb-eviction]:
About two dozen people were "camped" at Solano and Sante Fe avenues in Albany on Oct. 7, 2013 to illustrate what would happen if the city proceeds with its plan to remove the people living in makeshift shelters on Albany Bulb. Photo: Charles Burress
A prostest "camp" of about two dozen or so people was set up tonight, Monday, on Solano Avenue in Albany to illustrate what the protesters said would be the result of the city's plan to remove the inhabitants of the Albany Bulb.
About two dozen or two protesters were gathered on a Solano Avenue sidewalk tonight, Monday, for a "camp-out" to protest the planned removal of the longstanding illegal encampment on the Albany Bulb.
The protest – on the northwest corner of Solano and Sante Fe Avenue – was called to show city officials what it would be like if the Bulb's estimated 60 residents are evicted and forced to camp on the streets, said Lesley Haddock, one of the organizers of the event.
Haddock described the action in comments to the City Council earlier this evening, saying, "I ask you to look at that, not as a confrontation, but a question to you what you actually want – where do you want these people to go?"
She was one of more than a dozen speakers who asked the council either to leave the Bulb inhabitants alone or to give them more time to qualify for assistance and find alternative housing.
The group opposes the decision by the Albany City Council to ask police to begin enforcing the city's no-camping law sometime this month at the Bulb. The city's long-term goal is make the property part of the McLaughlin Eastshore State Park.
The activists' comments tonight came before the council moved into closed session to discuss legal matters, including a lawsuit filed against the city on Wednesday.
That suit, whose plaintiffs include Bulb resident Amber Whitson, accuses the city of violating state mandates to facilitate affordable housing and says the people living at the Bulb are evidence of the "chronic homelessness" caused by the lack of affordable housing in the city. The city so far has not issued a response to the suit.
The city meanwhile hopes the Bulb residents will relocate voluntarily and is working with the Berkeley Food and Housing Project to offer them assistance in securing social services and alternative housing. The two agencies co-hosted a "Services Fair" for the homeless next to the Bulb on Thursday. The city has also established a "Homelessness in Albany" web page about the city's policies at the Bulb.
Protests intensifying -
Opponents of the removal of the Bulb dwellers have held a number of gatherings and protests in the past week, including a nighttime demonstration outside the home of the one of the leading advocates for making the Bulb part of the Eastshore Park.
Several protesters gathered about 9 p.m. on Saturday night outside the home of Albany lawyer and former Mayor Robert Cheasty, who is president of the non-profit Citizens for East Shore Parks, one of the leading groups in blocking development of the East Bay shoreline in favor of parklands and nature reserves.
Contacted by Patch about the incident, Cheasty said about eight or nine demonstrators gathered at his home and chanted loudly, waking up small children, including a baby, at the home of a neighbor.
"It was inconsiderate to come and make a lot of noise that late at night," he said, and added a conciliatory acknowledgment, "I understand people are concerned and upset."
"I harbor no ill-will or bad feelings toward those people," he said. He said he'd wished he had had some cake or other snack he could have invited the protesters to share over a discussion that night and recommended face-to-face discussions about how to realize the public's long-standing goal of adding the Bulb to the shoreline park and provide real help to the homeless at the same time.
He said the McLaughlin Eastshore State Park is the result of 40 years of organizing and planning by thousands of people, and support of millions who passed the necessary bond measures. The City of Albany's longstanding goal is turn over the city-owned Albany Bulb to the park.
Haddock said she and other anti-eviction activists also attended a fundraising dinner for the Sierra Club in San Francisco on Friday night, canvassing the room and handing out flyers and a letter. The Sierra Club supports the plan to include the Bulb in the state park.
Last Wednesday, opponents of the removal of the Bulb encampment held an evening "solidarity camp-out" at the Bulb, following an earlier gathering by the protesters at the Bulb on Sept. 28.
A press release from the activists this morning said, "The City of Albany, along with the Sierra Club and Citizens for East Shore Parks, is trying to evict more than 60 people who call the Albany Bulb home in order to go through with plans to develop a park, without providing any alternative housing solutions in the face of the coming winter."
Patch saw about two dozen or so protesters tonight on Solano at 8:30 p.m., and a similar-sized group was still present at 10:45 p.m. Many of the demonstrators did not appear to be planning to spend the entire night, though several indicated they would.
"Announcing occupation of the Albany Bulb tonight: Hundreds Camp at Albany Bulb to Protest Impending Eviction"
2013-10-02 from [sharethebulb.org]:
Albany Bulb, Albany, CA -- On Wednesday, October 2nd, community members will gather to camp out at the Bulb, a live-in art installation in Albany, CA, to protest the City of Albany's plan to evict more than 60 residents who call the space home. The city has issued an order to its police force to begin enforcing the city's anti-camping ordinance on the land, beginning in early October.
The event will be a one night sleep-in to protest the impending eviction, and will involve a potluck dinner, live music, and the screening of two documentaries that have been made about the Albany Bulb. Attendees pledge to return in the event of a forced eviction in order to protest the removal of the landfill’s art and residents.
The Albany Bulb has been home to hundreds of otherwise homeless individuals over several decades, and currently houses about 60. The land was originally a solid waste landfill, but the hard work and artistic contributions of the Bulb residents and allied community members has turned the place into one of the most physically and psychologically safe places to be homeless in the Bay Area, as well as a much-loved hub for art and alternative culture. Many Albany residents have fond attachments to the art and the people at the Bulb.
A recreationalist group (Citizens for East Shore Parks), along with the Sierra Club successfully lobbied the City Council of Albany, urging them to destroy this community asset and to begin turning the land over to the East Bay Regional Parks District. They did this, knowing that doing so would force more than 60 people out of their home and onto Albany’s streets, where they would certainly face police harassment. Those fighting to prevent the eviction cite the City of Albany's insufficient shelter resources, as well as the dangerous environments in homeless shelters and on the streets, as reasons to preserve the Bulb as a haven.
Solidarity Camp-Out at Albany Bulb
Wednesday October 02
6:00 PM - 12:00 AM
Location Details: Albany Bulb, Buchanan Street, Berkeley
Come spend the night at the Albany Bulb in solidarity with residents facing eviction. Share food, stories, watch films and participate in a discussion about the future of the space.
Meet at the main entrance at 6pm. When you come out tomorrow night to join us, it would be smart to bring a flashlight and water (there is no running water on the Bulb).
Share the Bulb: We are both housed and unhoused people who oppose the eviction of the long-standing community from the Albany Bulb. For years, the Bulb has been shared as both an active park, and a home for dozens. Eviction creates problems: Housing solves problems.
[photo by Lauren-Marie Sliter]
Photos from the gathering by Elisa Marie Smith: bonfire & music for the people's spirit
"Albany Bulb Solidarity Campout, 10/2/13"
2013-10-07 by Dave Id [https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2013/10/07/18744484.php]:
Solidarity activists and residents gather around a campfire in the amphitheater to discuss the history of people living at the Bulb and possible courses of action including speaking out at Albany City Council meetings.
Over sixty long-time residents of the former landfill known as the Albany Bulb are facing eviction as early as this month. For decades, however, the Bulb has been a safe place for those in the East Bay without traditional housing to make a home, in tents and even more permanent structures of their own making. Not only have hundreds of homeless persons found their own way to the Bulb over the years, but the origins of people making a home at the Bulb trace back historically, in part, to various East Bay police departments clearing city streets and dropping off homeless persons at the entrance to the Albany Bulb.
The land also serves as a free-flowing, open-air art museum featuring the works of numerous artists such as Osha Newman. The Bulb as a safe haven for East Bay citizens with no where else to go has long co-existed with recreational users, people of all stripes sharing the bulb. Nevertheless, the Sierra Club and Citizens for an East Shore State Park have pressured the Albany City Council to take action to remove those who live at the Bulb and declare the land "recreation only."
This is despite the fact that the City of Albany provides absolutely no homeless services whatsoever and neither of pressure groups have shown any interest in offering assistance with securing alternate housing. After having lived quietly at the Bulb for years, residents are now organizing and taking action to raise awareness of their plight and fight impending eviction. On October 2nd, a solidarity campout was held at the Albany Bulb to support residents and strategize together for future actions in defense of the land as one of, if not the only, free and open spaces remaining in the Bay Area.
"Opponents of Albany Bulb Eviction Attend 'Camp-Out'; A "Solidarity Camp-Out" was held tonight, Wednesday, by people opposed to the City of Albany's plan to remove the people living in makeshift shelters on Albany Bulb"
2013-10-03 by Charles Burress [albany.patch.com/groups/around-town/p/opponents-of-albany-bulb-eviction-attend-campout]:
Several supporters of the people living on the Albany Bulb gathered at the Bulb tonight, Wednesday, for a "Solidarity Camp-Out" to express opposition to the planned eviction of the Bulb residents.
The event was scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., and there were about two dozen gathered in the Bulb's amphitheater about 7:45.
The event was called to protest the decision by the Albany City Council to ask police to begin enforcing the city's no-camping law sometime this month against the 60-70 people who've been living in tents and makeshift structures on Bulb. The city's long-term goal is make the city-owned Bulb part of the McLaughlin Eastshore State Park.
"More are coming later," said Lesley Haddock, a camp-out supporter who had issued a press release about the event this morning.
During the next 15 minutes, Patch saw about 10 more people who appeared to be heading toward the amphitheater, which is about a 15-20 minute walk from the entrance to the Bulb at the foot of Buchanan Street.
During the short time Patch was there, members of the group shared food and milled about in the darkness. A few had flashlights, and preparations seemed to be underway to make a fire.
"Anyone have a light and fire-making skills?" asked a male voice from the dark.
Haddock said the group also planned to watch two documentaries with the help of a projector and possibly a sheet.
Haddock, who has also served as a representative of Occupy the Farm – which staged occupations of UC-owned land next to University Village earlier this year and last year – said the camp-out was organized in part by the recently formed group Share the Bulb.
"I came out here and fell in love with the place," Haddock said. "It feels like an important place ideologically. ... They've built something really beautiful with a landfill."
Tess Keller, 24, of Oakland, said she's been coming to the Bulb three or four times a week after moving to the Bay Area five months ago.
"It's a very special place," she said. "As far as I've experienced, it's been pretty harmonious."
Keller, like a number of others at the gathering, said they weren't planning on spending the night. "I have work at 8 tomorrow morning," she said.
Albany police said that as of 10:40 p.m., there had been no reports of problems or police activity at the Bulb this evening.
City "Services Fair" -
The city is co-hosting a "Services Fair" for the homeless on Thursday near the Bulb entrance with several local service agencies.
It will run from 2-4:30 p.m. and be located at the Golden Gate Fields lower parking lot, next to the Albany Waterfront. It is being co-hosted by the Berkeley Food & Housing Project, which is being paid $60,000 by the City of Albany as part of the city's "Project Hope" to assist the Bulb residents with alternative housing and services.
"Community Gathering to Save Albany Bulb with Live Music!"
Saturday September 28
5:00 PM - 10:00 PM
Meet at Main Entrance of Albany Bulb, 1 Buchanan Street, Off of HW 80, Buchanan Street/Albany Exit.
The Albany City Council, East Bay Regional Parks district, and the Sierra Club have all teamed up to once again try and evict the amazing community of people that live on the Bulb, walk it with their dogs, and do art at the space. On Saturday, September 28th, starting at 5pm, people will gather at the space to share food, stories, discuss how to defend the Bulb and at 8pm, Blackbird RAUM from Santa Cruz will play live!
Saturday, September 28th @ 5pm
Meet at Main Entrance of Albany Bulb
1 Buchanan Street, Off of HW 80, Buchanan Street/Albany Exit
LIVE MUSIC @ 8pm!
Gather at 5pm for potluck, food sharing, and community open mic and discussion on saving the Albany Bulb. At 8pm join us for a live concert from Santa Cruz band Blackbird RAUM! Please invite friends, print flyers, make signs and banners, and bring a food dish, story, song, speech or something else to share!
Facebook event: http://www.facebook.com/events/601550023221411/
Listen to Blackbird RAUM here: http://www.last.fm/music/Blackbird+Raum
In 1986, the Albany Landfill closed. BART construction materials, rebar, and other heavy metals and materials from local industry were buried in the ground no longer. A homeless community soon moved in, many after being evicted from People’s Park, creating an encampment on the land just a few miles outside of Berkeley. Soon after, many graffiti artists and other renegade expressionists started to use what was dubbed the “Albany Bulb,” as a playground for artwork. In 1999, the city of Albany moved to have the homeless community living on the Bulb removed. The eviction didn’t work for long, as soon after, people began moving back and the Bulb remained as popular as ever. People came to see the statues that were created out of landfill debris, just as they came to walk their dogs off leash, and to enjoy the spectacular view of the San Francisco bay area that stretched out before them. Like People’s Park, the Albany Bulb was important because it represented a space that belonged to the people; it was contested and fought over, and more importantly it was user controlled and operated, and it was beautiful. Created out of unwanted parts of this civilization, both of people and debris, nature and humanity slowly came together and took back the land, creating something wonderful for all.
The Albany Bulb continues to be self-organized and autonomous. 60-70 people live at the Bulb at any given time, and by and large they work out differences, deal with problems from those coming to party at the Bulb, and also live with constant police harassment with a government structure telling them how to exist. With the city of Albany having no homeless shelter and lack of low-income housing in Berkeley at epidemic proportions, police officers rousting those sleeping on the streets often tell people to ‘go to the Bulb.’ Thus, while the city is now trying to evict those living on the Bulb, often it was their police who told them to head towards it in the first place.
A myriad of ruling forces currently seek to end the freedom that exists on the Bulb, which is slated for eviction in October 2013. This includes both the Citizens of East Shore Parks, which includes former Albany Mayor, Robert Cheasty, and the Sierra Club. Both groups have stressed that removal of the homeless is needed to return the Bulb over the park service which can then remove the non-native plants and give the park “back the public.” Both groups have painted the homeless as having “polluted” the land, and as “privatizing” it, like the “World Bank.” The local elites speak of protecting nature and stopping people from taking space, but it is they who spread death in the natural world and suck like vampires from the poor. They talk about ‘social justice’ and ‘the earth’ while they act to destroy freedom and human lives.
The desire to evict and gentrify the Albany Bulb cannot be divorced from the wider context of the bay area. Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to be pushed out from San Francisco in the next several years, mostly moving into the East Bay, displacing and removing thousands of long term residents. Many people, especially those with access to more money, will settle in the Berkeley/Albany area. Evicting the Bulb is not just about the Regional Park district expanding their territory and gaining another park, but also social cleansing of the East Bay.
Also, police agencies, which have been flooded recently by a barrage of funds by the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to deal with the Occupy Movement, are poised in Albany to take on the renegade homeless population. We have already seen the heavy handed response by local police (both Albany PD and UCB Police) to the Occupy the Farm protests, which sought to take over UC Berkeley property and farm organic food for the bay area community. Local police departments are just looking for reasons to attack an autonomous grouping of people living outside of the law.
The eviction of the Albany Bulb must not be allowed to continue. We must preserve the current autonomous zone for not only all that live there, but also all those that use it, not just as an art space, but also as a place where people come to hike, take their dogs, and simply enjoy in a free and autonomous capacity. We must stand and defend contested and self-organized space in the face of those that would take it – especially for ‘environmental’ and ‘community’ reasons. The Albany Bulb is the place where we take lovers, where we do art, where we let our dogs off leash, where we live, where we look across the ocean on a castle, and where we enjoy the naked beauty of nature, art, and human beings coexisting. But most of all, it is a place that we have watched the disgusting garbage of this civilization become the backdrop for something magnificent and amazing. It is worth fighting for and it is worth defending.
words of solidarity from Santa Cruz...
"Attack on Artists and Homeless Residents in Albany CA"
2013-10-08 by Robert Norse from "Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom - Santa Cruz" [huffsantacruz.org]:
Santa Cruz City Council, staff, and PD aren't the only anti-homeless authorities intent on running homeless and street artists out of the community. Albany, next to Berkeley, is another case in point. As with the struggle to maintain the right to use the public space downtown, the Albany struggle has been a long one.
In 1994, mutual cooperation between activists in Berkeley and Santa Cruz successfully fought the harshest provisions of the Downtown Ordinances in both towns (though in Santa Cruz, the "thou shalt not sit on the sidewalk" merchants were able to pass the first Sitting Ban later, making 6' from a building a forbidden zone. That was later extended to 14' --and not just from a building, essentially eliminating all but a few places to sit down, display art, vend crafts, politically table, peacefully beg, or perform for donation. Recently this was extended to more than 95% of the downtown Santa Cruz sidewalk and essentially all of the sidewalks in other business districts that abut buildings (http://northbaymds.blogspot.com/2013/09/shafting-non-shoppers-expanding.html).
"Battle of the Bulb: Eviction day nears for the homeless inhabitants of a colorful stretch of shoreline in Albany that nature lovers want cleared"
2013-09-24 by Carly Nairn from "San Francisco Bay Guardian" [http://www.sfbg.com/2013/09/24/battle-bulb]:
On a sunny September afternoon, Osha Neumann slowly walks onto the dirt path leading to the Albany Bulb, using a walking stick for balance against the pebbles. With a white beard and lanky frame, the 74-year-old artist and attorney is no stranger to this landfill turned art space turned homeless encampment that juts out of the East Bay shoreline near the Berkeley Marina and the Golden Gate Fields racetrack.
Neumann has been coming for more than a decade, with his son-in-law Jason DeAntonis to build driftwood sculptures, and as an attorney fighting for the rights of the homeless who live on the 31-acre plot. He's witnessed its evolution from rubble-filled no man's land to one of the last undeveloped stretches of open shoreline in the Bay Area.
"The Bulb has been a refuge, a solace, a place of inspiration," he said. "It's a place where I can get off the grid and live in this wonderful, successful, fruitful anarchy. I came to really love this place."
But the Albany Bulb is now facing another transition point in its evolution, one that pits nature lovers and city officials against those who have call this strange stretch of shoreline "home."
TRASH TO TREASURE
The Albany Bulb is a radical space of massive debris sculptures and structures, huge concrete slabs of graffiti, tents and tree houses, and artifacts from wreckage that, incorporated into the natural landscape of acacia and eucalyptus trees, is a unique and beloved slice of land symbolizing the free spirit of the region.
It's where sparrows and other birds come to nest, and where dog walkers take dirt paths to the water's edge. It's also a space that major organizations such as the East Bay Regional Parks District, the Sierra Club, Save the Bay, the state park system, and the city of Albany have all fought for decades to preserve, with the idea that humans should not be allowed to live there. And in October, due to the enforcement of a no-camping policy approved on May 6 by the Albany City Council, the people living at the Albany Bulb will have to tear down their makeshift homes and say goodbye permanently.
"This has been in the works for 40 years," said Robert Cheasty, a former Albany mayor and the current president of Citizens for East Bay Parks.
The Bulb became a part of the Eastshore State Park, a stretch of land with a trail along the East Bay shoreline that connects Oakland to Richmond, in the mid 1980s. And with the proclamation of a park came the people. Cheasty has become one of the most outspoken critics of people occupying the Bulb.
"It cannot be allowed to be privatized by any group or person," he said.
It's an argument that's been made many times over the years, but now it seems to be on the verge of coming true.
The first people living in the Bulb came to take up residence after the eviction of the homeless campers from People's Park in Berkeley in the mid '90s. Before that, it was used as a landfill for BART and highway construction materials.
Nature inevitably took over, and much of the debris has been moved to certain areas within the park. Some of the first residents were immortalized in the documentary film Bum's Paradise, where they lived in harmony with four artists known as Sniff, whose paintings and sculptures came to beautify the unconventional living space. In 1999, the first major eviction took place.
"Then, as now, the city provided them no place to go," Neumann said. "People just scattered with no place to go, into the surrounding jurisdictions primarily."
Neumann said he worked unsuccessfully with the people living at the Bulb in fighting the 1999 eviction, telling the Guardian, "People were unorganized and it felt hopeless and despairing."
Neumann said little has changed. The Bulb remained the same, a landfill, albeit without a regular crew of humans living on it. In 2002 the planning of the Eastshore State Park moved ahead, and Neumann, not content to let the Bulb become homogenized, formed the group Let It Be, advocating to keep the "wildness" of the space. It didn't go over well, and plans moved forward to clear the plateau of its coyote bush, in an area directly north of the racetrack, and fill it in with dirt.
Norman Laforce, who chairs the Sierra Club's East Bay Shoreline Park Task Force and East Bay Public Lands Committee, has been involved in the planning since its creation. He says hundreds of people worked to make the park possible. He believes that because the city of Albany did not engage in strict enforcement of illegally camping after 1999, it was ripe to be occupied again. And it was.
The city of Albany handed over the deed of the park to the state park system, and the cap and seal order from the Regional Water Board — which stated that the area was clear of any hazardous waste leaching into the bay — was lifted in 2005. Over time, the Bulb's current 64 residents sought refuge there, about the same number of people who were forced to leave in 1999.
Of those, at least 36 residents don't have any regular income, while those who do rely mostly on government programs such as Supplemental Security Income. Laforce and Neumann may not agree on much, but both understand the impending enforcement of the no-camping policy to be a new chapter in the Bulb's story.
As Neumann makes his way to one of the resident campsites, he stops to take in the view. It's an unrivaled panoramic portrait of the San Francisco skyline against the glittering bay. He shakes his head when I ask him about the people who oppose campers at the Bulb.
"I think there is a small group of people who are committed to kicking people out of here," he said.
"Our position has been that the Albany Bulb is a part of the McLaughlin East Shore State Park and is not to be privatized," Laforce said of the Sierra Club's view. "We fully support the removal of the illegal campers that are currently out there."
The Sierra Club and the Citizens for East Bay Parks cite safety concerns as a reason the campers need to leave.
"I was attacked by somebody's pit bull," Cheasty said. "It's happening regularly out there. It's the antithesis of open space and public land."
The city of Albany, hesitant at first to ruffle feathers, now supports the removal of campers. "The City Council is working to achieve the Strategic Plan Goals, adopted in 2012," said Albany City Clerk Nicole Almaguer in an email." The goals include maximizing park and open space for all members of the community."
Almaguer noted that the Albany City Council retained the services of Berkeley Food and Housing Project with a $60,000 contract to conduct outreach and engagement services to the city's homeless, and voted unanimously to extend this agreement to help the campers at the Bulb.
But she made it clear that once October arrives, the people will need to leave. They will receive verbal and written warnings if they don't. (A camping violation generally amounts to $161 in fines, according to one of the Bulb campers.) One of the major problems, both Laforce and Cheasty say, is that some of the campers don't want BFHP's or the city's help.
They just want to stay on the Bulb.
Neumann introduces me to three-year resident Katherine Cody, or KC. With pink hair and a wide smile, she seems younger than her 60 years. She babies her shih tzu Eva and makes beaded jewelry. Before living in a tent at the Bulb, she lived in her van. One of the perks to living at the Bulb, she explained, is seeing dolphins swimming in the bay, and watching the 50 to 100 hummingbirds nest in the tree above her tent every year.
KC's past isn't so idyllic. She said she was stabbed 20 years ago and the traumatic experience of yelling for help to no avail made her grateful to find a place like the Bulb.
"I am terminally ill," she said on a recent afternoon, "So I need a lot of help sometimes, and without my having to ask or go begging door to door, my neighbors show up."
After losing a lot of blood from the stabbing, Cody contracted Hepatitis C from a blood transfusion. Despite its rough exterior, KC and other residents argue that their neighborhood at the Bulb is not any more conducive to drug addiction or infighting than any other neighborhood or town.
"They are not capable of doing this job," KC said of the Berkeley Food and Housing Project's efforts. "It's ridiculous to expect in that time span to be able to get the job done. It's just long enough to make it look like they were being kind and not throw us out immediately, but it's not long enough to really do anything."
For Neumann, who has never been homeless himself, watching his friends and people he has known for years struggle to find a place to live makes him want to resist the city's enforcement.
"They are criminalizing the status of being homeless in Albany," Neumann said outside of KC's tent. "Albany doesn't have anything. It doesn't have a shelter, it doesn't have transitional housing, it doesn't have available subsided housing, doesn't have any services. Nothing. Zero."
Neumann and some of the Bulb campers claim that police from surrounding jurisdictions told many homeless people, forced to leave their encampments in other areas, to go to the Bulb. Albany Police deny the charge, with a spokesperson telling us, "the Albany Police Department did not/does not have a policy of instructing homeless people to relocate to the Bulb."
Nonetheless, Neumann says, "For a long while, this was Albany's homeless shelter."
Amber Lynn Whitson, 32, said that she will celebrate her seventh year living at the Bulb on Oct. 31, if she is able to stay. But she is one of the few inhabitants, she said, who is actually preparing to leave.
"Me and my boyfriend have gotten rid of almost everything we own," she said between cigarettes. Whitson said she came to stay at the Bulb after moving around a lot.
"It's so nice here," she laughed. "When you have been kicked around from place to place and told you don't belong here, you don't belong there, it's so refreshing to be told by the local authorities you belong there."
Whitson said she isn't sure where she will go after the no-camping policy is enforced. She is sure though, that the fight to resist will continue.
"This won't be over in October," she said. "Even if we are out, it won't be over in October."
LIGHTS OUT -
After we speak with some of the residents, Neumann and I part ways. Before he leaves, he encourages me to take a look around, meet people, and enjoy the art.
Along with the people residing at the Bulb, the art has become a major sticking point surrounding what the Bulb is and what it could be. Cheasty, while not wanting the people to stay, personally doesn't see the harm in keeping the art intact. In contrast, Laforce believes that part of making the Bulb into a "usable" park requires the removal of the art.
But many people want it to stay. An activist group known as Friends of the Bulb organized a concert with Santa Cruz band Blackbird RAUM at the Bulb for Sept. 28, hoping to draw a large crowd to resist the city's efforts to remove the campers, and discuss the future of the Bulb.
"We hope it will bring people that live on the Bulb and those that use it to enjoy it together, because who knows how much longer it's going to be there," said Doug Gilbert, one of the event's organizers.
Gilbert said the group started out of the necessity to answer the question of who will control the space: "There are two fundamentally different world views. Those that use the space are the ones in control of it, and those who are truly privatizing it, by deciding who can go there, if the dogs have to be leashed, if the art will stay."
In the coming month, Laforce said the Sierra Club will continue to support the city's efforts to relocate the people living there.
"The Albany Bulb is not going to be the homeless solution to the East Bay," he said. "It's not just some wasteland."
Neumann, for his own part, remains skeptical about what will actually take place in October, but he's certain that, from now on, things at the Bulb will be different. "They do not want to have a repeat of what happened in '99," he said before he left for the day. "And that will be the end of this incredible experiment."
"Time to flip switch at Albany Bulb park, city says"
2013-09-09 by Carolyn Jones from "San Francisco Chronicle" [http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Time-to-flip-switch-at-Albany-Bulb-park-city-says-4800115.php]:
A view of the bay from inside the Castle, a piece of conceptual art that was built by an Albany Bulb resident. Photo: Sam Wolson from "San Francisco Chronicle"
Albany's version of People's Park appears headed for a showdown next month when police begin rousting 60 to 70 homeless people who've taken up residence at a long-neglected shoreline park.
The City Council recently voted to begin enforcing no-camping laws at the Albany Bulb, a 31-acre former landfill that juts into San Francisco Bay just north of Golden Gate Fields racetrack.
But some of the homeless, a few of whom have camped there for decades, pledge to resist any relocation efforts. Affordable housing in the Bay Area is scarce, far too expensive and potentially too far away or unsafe, they said.
In short, Albany is their home, and they want to stay there, they said.
"It's frustrating, aggravating, scary," said Katherine Cody, 60, who's lived at the Bulb for about two years. "I'm comfortable here. I feel safe here. Rainy season is coming - I don't know where I'll go except the streets of Albany."
The Bulb, named after its shape, is comprised of old concrete, rebar, dirt and other debris from the construction of East Bay highways. Since the landfill closed in 1984, it's evolved into a somewhat more natural setting, with a beach and dense acacia, broom, eucalyptus and other plants.
Decades ago, artists began colonizing the Bulb as a sort of outdoor studio not unlike the old Emeryville mudflats, leaving anonymous works of all shapes, sizes and quality. Some works have endured and others have disintegrated over the years.
In the 1980s, homeless people also started moving in, taking advantage of the relative quiet and million-dollar bay views. Some have semipermanent homes, with generators, sturdy wooden walls and even multiple stories.
The Bulb is also a favorite among dog walkers, who enjoy the informal off-leash rules, beach and relatively wild environment. Some have noted it's one of the only shoreline parks that's not manicured or developed with paved paths.
Part of state park -
In the mid-1980s, the Bulb became one of the original pieces of the Eastshore State Park, envisioned as a continuous strip of bayside greenery stretching from Oakland to Richmond and linked by the Bay Trail.
Most of the park is completed. But the Bulb remains as woolly as ever, due in part to complications with the Regional Water Quality Control Board over seepage.
Those issues are finally resolved, and last spring the city began moving ahead with plans to clean up the Bulb and turn it over to the East Bay Regional Park District and California State Parks to incorporate into the Eastshore State Park.
Relocating the homeless is an important part of that transition, said Robert Cheasty, a former Albany mayor who's president of Citizens for East Shore Parks, a nonprofit.
"Thousands of people have worked for three or four decades to turn this area into a usable shoreline park," he said. "We cannot break the faith of all these people just to allow a small group to essentially privatize public land."
Helping the homeless -
To ease the transition for the homeless, the city has spent $60,000 on a contract with Berkeley Food and Housing Project, a nonprofit, to help the Bulb campers find homes, counseling and other services.
The anticamping enforcement should have come months, if not years, ago, said City Councilwoman Peggy Thomsen.
"It's a safety issue and a health issue, and we need an end point," she said. "A lot of people are afraid to go out there. We need to worry about the safety not just of regular park users but the inhabitants as well."
That's little comfort to the homeless, who say they're safer there than they would be at a shelter or at affordable housing in sketchy areas.
"Everyone's stressed," Cody said. "We don't know where we're going to go. It's very discouraging."
2013-07-26 "How Green Was My Peninsula: Homeless People Face Mass Eviction in Albany"
by Lydia Gans [http://www.thestreetspirit.org/how-green-was-my-peninsula-homeless-people-face-mass-expulsion-from-albany-bulb/]:
Despite their efforts to keep the land green, homeless people once again face eviction from the Albany Bulb. Advocates argue that Albany officials cannot evict the homeless encampment without providing alternative shelter. Yet, for the past 15 years, Albany has had no homeless shelters at all for its unsheltered citizens.
The Albany Bulb is a landfill peninsula located along the east shore of the San Francisco Bay, at the end of a strip of land jutting out from Buchanan Street past the nearby racetrack. It has been a source of controversy ever since contractors started dumping construction debris there in 1963.
After the dumping was stopped in 1987, soil accumulated and plants began to take root. The land belongs to the city of Albany by virtue of its location, but over the years, it appears to have been more of a problem for the city than an asset. The only individuals who regularly used it are homeless people, camp dwellers, a small group of artists and off-leash dogs.
In June, the Albany City Council voted to begin transferring the land over to the California State Park system. It will be a long and complicated process involving the park system and East Bay Regional Park administrators, as well as many other interested parties.
Transferring this land will involve the difficult and painful issue of providing for some 55 people who have long been camped at the Albany Bulb and will be made homeless. Officials have set October 2013 as a time to begin evictions. They agreed on a $30,000 contract with the Berkeley Food and Housing Project for a Homeless Outreach and Engagement Program to connect with the campers. That program is beginning to operate.
A little bit of past history will give an idea of the problems that lie ahead. In 1985, Albany city officials signed a lease agreement with state parks but nothing ever came of it. There are specific rules for state parks. Camping is not permitted, any structures or artworks are not permitted, nor are off-leash dogs.
Then, in the 1990s, homeless people began moving onto the Albany Bulb. They set up tents and built simple structures and a homeless community was born. Artists constructed fantastic paintings and sculptures from scrap materials. One longtime camper, Jimbow, even set up a lending library in his shack before the 1999 evictions, and it has been going ever since, totally on the honor system.
Before the state can take over the land, everything will have to be removed. The removal of the rebar, concrete and other solid waste is also an issue. The campers, too, have to be permanently banished.
In 1999, Albany officials tried to evict the homeless encampment. That effort was a disaster. They ordered the campers to move out, and campsites were bulldozed. Osha Neumann, an attorney who also created some of the artworks on the Bulb, came to the defense of the campers, pointing out to city officials that they could not evict the homeless occupants without providing alternative shelter. Yet Albany had no homeless shelters at all in 1999 (even today, 14 years later, it still has no shelters for its unhoused citizens).
Exiling the homeless campers to Berkeley was not an acceptable alternative. So Albany officials contracted with an agency, Operation Dignity, to bring in a trailer to provide temporary shelter. But all the city’s promises to find permanent housing went unfulfilled.
In the years following this mass eviction of camp dwellers in 1999, the Albany Bulb was reoccupied. Word was out and homeless folks, wanderers and people just looking to party drifted in and out. But a core of people made the Bulb their home.
The city appeared to have neither the will nor the resources to take any interest. Occasionally, the police patrolled the landfill; but more often, the police actually told homeless people they encountered on city streets to move out to the Bulb.
Amber Whitson has lived at the Bulb since 2006. In an interview, she described the accomplishments of the Bulb’s residents since they moved here — or were told to move here by the police.
“Wider site trails have been created,” Whitson said. “We’ve been doing maintenance on them. We do trash pickup, we’ve done cleanup of abandoned camps, shoreline cleanup. In 2007, people who lived out here helped take care of oiled birds during the Cosco Busan oil spill. We’ve done metal and re-bar hazard mitigation, and we were the first to respond to the fire in the castle set by kids from the town.”
Even as city officials blame the campers as unwanted nuisances, Whitson sets the record straight by describing the many socially responsible things that unhoused people have undertaken at the Bulb.
“We created a freebox out here,” she said. “We arranged for pickup of the shopping carts ourselves without help from the city. We planted fruit trees out here, and we built and do our best to maintain the castle which was finished in ‘99 and the library — both of which are not only local treasures, but are also major tourist attractions.
“In 1999, the day before the threatened eviction date, one of the people who lived out here rescued a guy out of the water. And out of the four people who showed up for the cove-enhancement volunteer work that the city is doing, three of the four were people from out here, and only one person was a resident of the city of Albany. We jump when they want us to jump, we reach out and help.”
In spite of all this, city officials apparently have not seen fit to communicate directly with the campers. Nor is it clear what consideration, if any, they are giving to a very extensive report from the Homeless Task Force on “Options for Ending Homelessness in Albany.”
Several of the campers representing the homeless community regularly attend and participate in Task Force meetings and have high praise for the Task Force members and their work. Various agencies and friends have been supporting the campers for some time. Alameda County Health Care for the Homeless comes out regularly to offer health services. The Homeless Action Center helps people apply for benefits, and the East Bay Community Law Center also offers help to landfill residents. Some folks from a local church bring pizza once a week, while others bring food or help haul in water.
The campers themselves are organizing, getting together from time to time for community meetings and to work on maintenance and improvements on the Bulb. They are concerned about metal scavengers and outsiders who come just to party and have on occasion set fires or done serious damage. The campers are hoping to smooth out the road where there is rebar and concrete jutting out.
Camp dwellers also are trying to keep informed on the actions the City of Albany will take affecting them. To prepare for questions from agencies or interested parties, Amber Whitson carried out a needs assessment and demographic survey of the 55 campers for whom the Bulb is home. She cites the findings of this survey, explaining that 21 people living at the Bulb have been homeless for a year or more, 23 are disabled, at least 13 want a job, 34 are “actively interested in housing,” 21 have pets, 25 have an income, and 21 have no income at all.
Whitson’s survey reveals the needs of the campers and casts new light on the potential to obtain housing for people who will be displaced from their current residence at the Bulb. Whitson is now in the process of meeting with workers from the Food Project to provide them with the information she has collected.
Though the Albany City Council has announced an October date for enforcing the no camping rule, it is clear that actually making it happen may not be possible. Neumann points out, “It has taken many years to bring about this situation and it’s not going to get resolved over night. And they will not find placements for the people there all at once.”
He adds, “Apart from constitutional issues, I think there are people who are concerned on a human level with what is going to happen to people. They have some level of responsibility. They permitted and in some cases encouraged people to go out there. So now all of a sudden to close it down is not fair — not the right thing to do. I think people care.”
Creative artworks dot the landscape at the Albany Bulb. Two sculptures sit side by side, looking for all the world like old friends sharing a bench on a sunny day. Lydia Gans photo
A giant sculpture on the shore of the Albany landfill peninsula seems to appeal to the heavens for justice on behalf of the Albany Bulb’s homeless residents. Lydia Gans photo
A longtime camper, Jimbow, set up a lending library in his shack at the Albany landfill before the 1999 evictions, and it has been going ever since, totally on the honor system. Lydia Gans photo
Amber Whitson has lived at the Albany Bulb since 2006. She knows everyone and keeps track of what goes on in the camp. Amber has done extensive work in clean-up, trash removal, trail maintenance and natural restoration of the Albany landfill. Lydia Gans photo
Chet and his cat enjoy a sunny day at the encampment. This is the only home Chet has had for many years. Lydia Gans photo
The encampment at the Albany Bulb consists of tents and homemade shacks scattered among the trees and bushes.