ALBANY -- After nearly two hours of discussion, which included many impassioned pleas from people who have taken up residence on the Albany Bulb, the City Council on Tuesday voted to enforce its anti-camping ordinance beginning in October.
The vote was an affirmation of a vote taken in May to clear the homeless camps out of the Bulb so the land could be turned over to the East Bay Regional Park District to operate as part of the McLaughlin Eastshore State Park.
The council voted 4-1, with Marge Atkinson casting a dissenting vote.
The council chamber was filled to overflowing, with people standing along the back wall and others out in the lobby. With an appeal of a wireless antenna also on the agenda, it was 90 minutes into the meeting before the question of encampment was taken up.
A large number of speakers participated in a march to the council meeting that included homeless residents of the Bulb and many advocates on their behalf.
While several people who supported evicting the homeless also spoke, they were outnumbered.
A Bulb resident named Steve began his remarks by asking if anybody had a property they would sell him for a dollar. "Outside of that, the Bulb is the nearest thing I have to home," he said. He also pointed out that if the homeless were evicted from the site, they would likely end up on the streets, sleeping in the doorways of homes and businesses.
"How'd you like to wake up with me in your doorway?" he said. "That's what it's going to be if you take the Bulb away from us."
Ron Hochbaum, staff attorney at the Homeless Action Center in Berkeley, told the council he didn't envy the choice they had to make, but added, "I beg, I implore you, ensure the Albany Bulb residents are housed before enforcement begins."
On the other side, Ed Bennett, co-founder of Citizens for East Shore Parks used his walker to approach the lectern.
"I've been involved in the McLaughlin state park for 25 years," he said. "I don't know how much longer I can wait to see the Bulb integrated into the park in the way that was planned."
The Bulb, which began as landfill from the construction of Golden Gate Fields and continued to expand with fill from a garbage dump that operated there for decades, has been part of plans for an Eastshore Park since the 1980s. Dumping was halted in 1987.
Plans call for the land to be transferred to the East Bay Regional Park District, but the district wants the city to address the homeless residents before it takes over the land. Homeless residents have been evicted at least twice before, in 1999 and 2006. People have returned after each eviction, and there are currently about 70 residents living on the Bulb, according to advocates and social workers.
"They took away our rights to homestead," Steve told the council. "Why not let the regional park take the rest of what's left, which is just a little tip of land on the peninsula, which was basically toxic waste and garbage? If we're not good enough for toxic waste and garbage, where will we go? I don't want to sleep in your doorway."