Fire Destroys Albany Bulb 'Library'

The small "library" at the Albany Bulb was destroyed by a fire of unknown origin about 6 a.m. today, Sunday.

An early morning fire consumed the small "library" at the Albany Bulb on Jan. 12, 2014. Photo credit: Amber Whitson
An early morning fire consumed the small "library" at the Albany Bulb on Jan. 12, 2014. Photo credit: Amber Whitson
An early morning fire today, Sunday, destroyed the small Albany Bulb "library," a collection of books in a makeshift, roofed structure under a tree.

The library belonged to the community of several dozen people who have been living illegally in tents and homemade shelters on the Bulb for a number of years.

The fire was reported to the Albany Fire Department about 6:15 a.m. and was put out in about half an hour with the help of three fire engines, said Albany Fire Capt. John Weitzel. No injuries were reported, he said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, Weitzel said. There was no sign that it was deliberately set, he said.

Albany Bulb resident Amber Whitson said she was awakened this morning by another Bulb dweller yelling in alarm.

"I woke to the sound of one of the residents yelling that the Library was on fire," she told Patch in an email. "I grabbed my shovel, threw on my boots and ran to the Library is fast as I could. When I got there, the library was already burnt to the ground."

She found a wet rug and started putting out a hot spot, and within minutes the fire department was on the scene, she said.

"We are grateful for the assistance of the personnel of the Albany Fire Department," Whitson said. "Although the residents prevented the fire from spreading, the whole tree that the library was built underneath might have gone up in flames, were it not for their efforts."

Whitson said the library had about 300-400 books and was built in 2006 by two Bulb residents, Jimbow the Hobo and Andy Kreamer, at what had been Jimbow the Hobo's campment.

A visit to the fire scene by Patch in the afternoon found a number of charred volumes scattered amid the ashes that covered the ground.

Bulb background

The Albany City Council decided last year to remove the encampments on the Bulb so that the property can be made into part of McLaughlin Eastshore State Park in line with the city's longterm plan for the Bulb.

The city erected a temporary, 30-bed homeless shelter in November next to the Bulb, which has remained largely unused. In cooperation with the Berkeley Food and Housing Project and the Solano Community Church, the city is also offering assistance to Bulb dwellers in finding alternative housing. 

The Albany Community Foundation and Albany resident Francesco Papalia are also coordinating efforts to help Bulb residents relocate.

For more information on the city's plan for the Albany Bulb and protests by opponents of the eviction, see our list of recent Patch articles and reader posts about the issue:

Published Jan. 12, 2014, 4:51 p.m., updated Jan. 13, 6:24 p.m.


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christopher papazoglow January 18, 2014 at 06:56 PM
Amber Whitson January 19, 2014 at 01:59 PM
The woman is a known 5150 across all of Berkeley... But, out on the Bulb, that behavior (which visibly frightens and disgusts residents and visitors, alike) is acceptable...?
Dave January 19, 2014 at 04:17 PM
Amber, If I were in your position, I think I would be very careful about advocating for removal from the Bulb based on behavior that is "visibly frightening and disgusting." That said, as before, when it comes to depriving someone of their freedom, I will defer to the rule of law and the right of due process, not observations that are "known all across Berkeley."
Amber Whitson January 20, 2014 at 11:51 AM
Dave, when I use the word "known", I mean it as a reference to the fact that Berkeley Police and the Berkeley Mental Health Mobile Crisis Team (when actually called on scene) frequently send this woman to John George Psychiatric Pavilion. Not, as a statement of public opinion.
Amber Whitson January 21, 2014 at 07:38 PM
Dave, since moving to the Bulb, my health has indeed, improved. From as far back as I can remember, until we moved to the Bulb, I had always gone to the ER *at least* once or twice a year, for stomach problems (nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, intestinal distress, etc.). Ever since I was a child, my health has always been complicated. In fact, during the two years immediately preceding our moving to the Albany Bulb, I was going to the ER more like every few months. Since we started living on the Bulb, I have been to the ER once (and, that one time was NOT for stomach problems). Once, in over seven years! Also, for most of my life, before we moved here, I had bad knees. My knees used to be so bad that, when I would stand up and start walking, after sitting for some time, I was able to take about 5-7 steps, and then I would have to sit down (otherwise, my knees were going to go out from underneath me). Sometimes, I could brace myself on something with my arms. But I would absolutely HAVE to take some of the weight off of my knees, lest I end up on my ass. A few seconds later, my knees would be a bit achy, but gradually usable, and on I could go. Sometimes my knees would get swollen and the skin over my kneecaps would get purplish, from a lack of circulation, and cold to the touch. My knees were SO bad, for SO long, that when I saw friends, whom I hadn't seen since before we moved here, they would always ask me "How are your knees doing?"... ALL of them were surprised to learn that my knees were virtually pain-free! Because we have an actual food budget, I now eat a low-salt AND low-sugar diet, which I never would have been able to do, living on the streets. Plus, because of the fact that I don't breathe as many pollutants as I used to, multiple doctors have told me that I "have great lung expansion", over the past few years... despite the fact that I am asthmatic (I always carry an inhaler with me, when I ride into town, just in case) and smoke cigarettes! My health is FAR from perfect. But, the relief that I have experienced in the areas that I have felt it in, are undeniable, medically recorded and (in my perception) nothing short of a miracle.
thorn January 21, 2014 at 11:14 PM
so how do you explain your partner going from healthy and employable (and actually employed part time) to permanently disabled since you move out there? Anyway what we see ultimately is a bunch of contradictions and exaggerations, and more "proof" you need to stay on the Bulb, not be housed in some lockbox.. entitlement reigns..
Dave January 22, 2014 at 01:33 AM
Amber, I have been to the John George Physiological Pavilion and Cherry Hill enough times to say with absolute certainty that each and every case is unique and complicated. I can also say, the people who initiate and complete 5150 holds take very seriously the power to limit a persons freedom to make their own decisions. With that, I have to question your ability to make blanket statements about what is know, by whom, and that a person should be medically held against their will. In essence, I am saying that unless you are a professional working in the field, and actually responsible for the execution of a hold, it is pure speculation.
Dave January 22, 2014 at 01:34 AM
Amber, Since you comments were addressed to me, I don't recall asking about, or commenting on your health and do not see what relevance it has to a discussion of the grounds for instituting a psych hold. That said, I am sure my health would benefit from not having to work and I know my ability to afford healthy foods would be improved by not having to pay my mortgage, insurance (home and health), and taxes, but I don't think that is an option. While I am glad that these circumstances benefit you as detailed above, I hope you can recognize that if everyone followed the path you have chosen, our society would break down. So ultimately, based on the argument you just laid out, I don't think you are going to get me to agree with you position.
Dave January 22, 2014 at 01:36 AM
Amber, On the topic of being able to make a home at the bulb, what are your thoughts on the two story "house" on the Western end of the bulb? This is the one with the dock and sunfish sailboat down by the water.
thorn January 22, 2014 at 01:49 AM
Dave that was apparently an answer to Laney's question, from another thread, in a different blog..
Amber Whitson January 22, 2014 at 02:49 AM
Dave, my apologies for addressing my response regarding my health to you. I see now that my response should have been directed at Laney Russell: "Laney Russell January 16, 2014 at 09:52 am Amber, when you return I would appreciate an answer to my question. Why is your list of ailments growing longer and longer if your health is improving at The Bulb as you claim?" As she asked me this, earlier in this thread.
Amber Whitson January 22, 2014 at 03:07 AM
Dave, that monstrosity on the western edge of the Bulb, is one of the prime examples of someone who will be hard on any residence he has. That man was kicked out of his own mother's house, because of his hoarding problem. So, he came here, where it seems he can do whatever he wants, and nobody is big enough to stop him. If it were up to me, he would either keep it discrete, or get lost. But, it's not up to me. So, there it sits and grows and grows and grows... My thoughts? I loathe it. With every fiber of my being. It represents EVERYTHING that ANYONE who has lived here, for any length of time DOES NOT represent.
thorn January 22, 2014 at 03:51 AM
that is really funny considering your camp was fine and perfect for a few years then one day it tripled in size.. wonder where people get the idea they can build as big as they want.. REally weak tactic that you and others pretend that how clean and neat your camp now is how it how it has been for all this time, and how easily you blame us, the people you dont need, for not paying for trash service for you. Until last May when eviction became an issue, your camp was a trash heap. that is for over 5 years. You expanded, you added more trash.. You all hate the giant structure, but all have your own structures.. most of you have more square footage.. one or two are down now, but those canvas garages are tremendous... yeah, it's good to have a sore thumb to blame..
Dave January 22, 2014 at 02:06 PM
Amber, Thank you for the open and honest response to your feelings on the large structure on the Western side of the bulb. On this issue you and I are in complete agreement. So my question is, short of the imposition of universally applied laws and building codes, what alternative solution can you offer to address structures like the one in question? As before, I am open to better ideas and look forward to your thoughts on the issue.
thorn January 22, 2014 at 05:36 PM
Dave you should see Amber's camp. you are entertaining some serious nonsense here. The only real difference between that "monstrosity" and any other camp on the Bulb is it's visibility- and that very little brush was cleared to place it. If it is "what's wrong with the Bulb" then everything is wrong with the Bulb.
Brian Parker January 22, 2014 at 06:40 PM
We already have laws to govern this. The answer to how big an encampment is allowed is NONE ARE ALLOWED. First the property is all owned by the City and everyone camping at the bulb is trespassing. Second, even if it were private property all of the Building Codes and zoning rules apply and all of the structures on the Bulb are in violation of zoning and building code restrictions. Obviously this is not a case of Amber and company setting up small tents and the community being cold hearted asking for their removal. And lastly the complaint heard last night (at the City Council meeting) that the squatters can't be asked to leave because no one will rent to them because they own large dogs doesn't stand. While I understand constitutional protections and our sense of humanity as a community regulate to some degree our treatment of the squatters, the dogs are realy a separate matter. So if long term the squatters need to give up their dogs to get a rental, that would be a hard decision for them but nothing a court will force the city to accommodate, nor should it be a rationalization for continued occupancy of the bulb. The problem becomes if you accept the validity of this logic the city's plan to enforce the anti-camping ordinance becomes a near impossibility. There are many large dogs owned by the squatters and if their ownership stays the city's enforcement there will be many more.
Dave January 22, 2014 at 08:12 PM
Brian, I agree that we already have laws to cover this, but if it were that simple, the city would have cleared the camps as advertised on 1 Oct. The fact that the camps remain suggests that this is not as simple as it appears to the rest of us. With that in mind, I don't think it is a bad idea to ask one of the people down there how they would solve a problem that we agree on; in this case the two story house with a dock. That said, regardless of whether you, or Amber, or me think something is a good idea, the lawyers/ city/ courts are going to be making decisions based on reasoning that we will probably not agree with.
Dave January 22, 2014 at 08:18 PM
Thorn, I have seen all the camps down there and am under no illusions of an idyllic and peaceful community stewarding nature as our friend Phat Beets described it from Davis. But, I think there is a clear cut difference between a tent (regardless of what it is surrounded by) and a two story house with solar panels, a dock (with small sailboat), and what appear to be raw sewage lines leading into the bay. Since the topic of the trash, and dogs, and tents have been already been covered ad nauseam in this and other forums, I am genuinely interested in Amber's thoughts on an issue we seem to have common ground on.
Laney Russell January 22, 2014 at 08:48 PM
Dave that was apparently an answer to Laney's question, from another thread, in a different blog..----------Yes that was my question and I still don't believe it because the list of ailments has definitely grown. Amber seems to forget that some people do pay attention.
thorn January 22, 2014 at 09:57 PM
i dunno, minus the sewage lines and add a fenced off pen for dogs, plus there are other built shacks with concrete foundations... it's all pretty close to the same and one encourages the other.
Amber Whitson January 22, 2014 at 11:51 PM
Dave, "what appear to be raw sewage lines leading into the Bay"? Tell me this isn't something you saw on the "McMansion of the Homeless", next door?...?
Dave January 23, 2014 at 12:04 AM
Amber, It is, but that is really not the point of my question: What ideas do you have for dealing with the construction of this structure and preventing the future construction of similar buildings?
Amber Whitson January 23, 2014 at 01:00 AM
Laney: Head-to-toes, I still suffer from: brain zaps (aka "discontinuation syndrome", mild spastic diplagia (a form of cerebral palsy), myoclonic seizures, perforated eardrums (barotrauma, from a plane ride when I was 8), pituitary microadenoma, chronic fatigue, obsessive compulsive tendencies, PTSD, hypervigilance, severe ADHD, naturally abnormally high levels of both epinephrine AND norepinephrine, TMJ, asthma, hypermobility, chronic dyspepsia, bilateral primary lymphedema (in my hands), chronic fingernail fungus, folliculitis, dormant community-based MRSA (although, I haven't had an infection in YEARS), back spasms and sciatica... And that's the ones that I can remember right now... I have lived with a little more than half of those for most of my life. So, yeah relief from a couple of my ailments is, indeed, a noteworthy experience. I should add that I have been under a doctor's care throughout my life. Just in case anyone thought I had been self-diagnosed.
Gary Matalucci January 23, 2014 at 10:29 AM
No offense Amber, but you are far from the only person suffering from a handicap. Instead of complaining what you can't do, we sure would love to hear what you CAN do. There are many examples of people who used their lives to accomplish goals with problems as bad or worse than yours.
Amber Whitson January 23, 2014 at 10:40 AM
Dave, the two story nightmare (just like every other structure out here) has its own unique reasons for why it was built, and why it has turned out as it has. As such, each structure has to have a unique approach taken when attempting to halt its expansion. Take the two-story structure for instance: For the man who is building it, that structure is far more than just a shelter, it is food for his ego. I suspect that the rest of humanity, who feels the same way about it as you and I (i.e. is just as repulsed as we are) have never stopped and told its creator so. He (Bob) feels that it is not only his right (to be as gaudy and glaringly obvious as he can), he also believes that he has 100% positive support from the public. The only visitors that he gets are people who LOVE his structure. They rain praise upon him and tell him how amazing it/he is. As near as I can tell, I am the only person. who ever says anything critical about it to him. If more people who felt how we do were to seek up about how they feel bout it (directly to Bob), it might halt the increasing size of the structure. As for the ONLY structure which has a concrete foundation: Mad Marc built that tiny, sturdy shack. It is also fairly near to our home. And, it is so low-profile, that when you are walking on the main path near it at night, you can actually see more lights in Richmond, than you could before it was built. Almost as if it wasn't even there. Also, it has not, and will not, grow in size. As it is built under a tree (so it cannot grow in height), and Marc has been finished with it for years. Back to Bob, if he knew how embarrassed he should be, he MIGHT stop building. That's the only non-law-enforcement solution that I can offer for that particular structure.
Amber Whitson January 23, 2014 at 10:44 AM
Gary, I appreciate the tone of your last comment. And, to that, I say: I spend plenty of time being criticized on Patch for what I CAN do... It hardly encourages one to develop or hone any skills that they may have.
doris January 23, 2014 at 11:31 AM
"Back to Bob, if he knew how embarrassed he should be, he MIGHT stop building." no, Amber, you're wrong.....if he knew that what he's doing is illegal and he will face the consequences of it, THEN he not only MIGHT stop building, he WOULD stop building. Hard to continue in jail. He simply takes advantage of our impotent police. Anywhere else, he's be run off......
Laney Russell January 23, 2014 at 12:26 PM
"Laney: Head-to-toes, I still suffer from: brain zaps (aka "discontinuation syndrome", mild spastic diplagia (a form of cerebral palsy), myoclonic seizures, perforated eardrums (barotrauma, from a plane ride when I was 8), pituitary microadenoma, chronic fatigue, obsessive compulsive tendencies, PTSD, hypervigilance, severe ADHD, naturally abnormally high levels of both epinephrine AND norepinephrine, TMJ, asthma, hypermobility, chronic dyspepsia, bilateral primary lymphedema (in my hands), chronic fingernail fungus, folliculitis, dormant community-based MRSA (although, I haven't had an infection in YEARS), back spasms and sciatica... And that's the ones that I can remember right now"-------Wow that's the longest list yet! Amazing how it just keeps growing. Don't worry about what you have "forgotten" as I am sure it will come to mind the next time you need to convince someone that you are too healthy to live in a lock box.
Laney Russell January 23, 2014 at 12:33 PM
"I spend plenty of time being criticized on Patch for what I CAN do... It hardly encourages one to develop or hone any skills that they may have."------ You are not criticized for what you can do, you are criticized for claiming that you are strong and independent and capable while simultaneously telling us that you are too weak to hold down a job and too disabled to move. People are criticizing your hypocrisy not your abilities. And that last sentence tells me you are intentionally chasing incompetence for the sake of punishing the people who are paying your bills and paying for your lawsuits and buying your cigarettes and being held hostage by your inner brat. You just admitted that you are being obstinate and uncooperative on purpose. Some of us knew this all along but it is nice to have confirmation straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak, so thanks for that.
dorthy manser January 23, 2014 at 01:42 PM
Sadly, I think Amber is performing the kind of "negotiations" she has performed many times, with many people. I don't think she is a bad person, but catering to her many needs seems rather pointless. Her posts and political activities suggest that she is highly competent at using the system for her own advantage. Certainly, she is intelligent and motivated, and, because she doesn't have to hold down a job or pay rent, she can devote all of her energies to getting what she wants from other people. She is, in other words, a perfect client for the homeless advocacy industry. Tireless, articulate, and utterly unwilling to make the compromises that most of us have to make to avoid being a drain on others. That being said, it is pretty impressive to see how effectively she can work the system. If she as mentally ill as she claims (and I have no reason to doubt her), her achievements are doubly impressive. It makes me wonder how much raw talent and potential are being wasted when we ignore the problems of homelessness and destitution.


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