Eviction day nears for the homeless inhabitants of a colorful stretch of shoreline in Albany that nature lovers want cleared
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.