OAKLAND -- At a hearing on June 27, an Alameda County Superior Court judge granted requests for a demurrer by three people arrested on the Albany Bulb, delaying the next stage in the case to Aug. 13. The District Attorney's office was expected to request a stay-away order for Amber Whitson, one of the defendants in the case, but did not.
With the waterfront site now cleared of the homeless population that had been living there, meanwhile, the city has hired a crew to do "vegetation management" that includes trimming and pruning trees around former campsites.
"City crews are conducting ongoing maintenance at the park, removing debris and graffiti, as well as vegetation management," City Clerk Nicole Almaguer wrote in an email. "They are doing pruning, in part to ensure park safety, and also additional vegetation management throughout the park including removal of invasive species."
Whitson and her partner, Phillip Lewis, were the final two campers left at the Bulb when they were arrested during an early-morning raid by Albany police on May 29.
Erik Eisenberg, a supporter, was also arrested in the raid.
As many as 70 people had been living on the Bulb before the city began a program to remove them 14 months ago. In addition to enforcement of the city's anti-camping ordinance, the City Council also approved contracts with a church and a local nonprofit to provide outreach and try to find housing for the people living on the Bulb.
Homeless camps have existed on the Bulb for close to 20 years. The city cleared them out in 1999, but the campers soon returned.
The city wants to turn the land over to the East Bay Regional Park District as part of the Sylvia McLaughlin Eastshore State Park. Plans to turn the Bulb over date back nearly 30 years.
At their arraignment, Whitson, Lewis and Eisenberg requested the demurrer, a legal assertion that whether the facts as stated are true or not, there is no legal basis for the charges. A future hearing will either sustain or overrule the demurrer. If it is sustained, the DA's office would be given a chance to remedy the indictment.
A defendant does not enter a plea to a charge until there is a ruling on the demurrer.
Whitson was ecstatic that the expected stay-away order was not requested.
"I'm so excited," Whitson said. "I'm just glad I'm not going to be banned from the Bulb, at least yet, if at all. At least I still have some more time to try and show people the place. I can go out there and breathe the real air. I can keep track of how the praying mantises are growing. I can watch the destruction they're doing to the trees and whatever they're doing to the Bulb."
Whitson has been giving free tours of the Bulb in an effort to share her knowledge of the property. She said she will continue to do so as long as she's allowed to go to the Bulb and as long as people are interested in learning about the former landfill that has been her home for seven and a half years.
Almaguer declined to answer questions about whether the city requested issuance of a stay-away order and why it wasn't requested at last week's hearing, saying that "specific questions regarding the District Attorney's handling of (the) hearing should be directed at that office."
"We have every confidence that the court will follow a course of action that respects the rights of Ms. Whitson to present her defense, while also respecting the city's need to keep Albany's parks safe and accessible for all users," Almaguer wrote.