The 5-0 vote authorized spending $570,000 from the city's reserve fund to establish a 30-bed temporary shelter for six months at the Albany waterfront near the Bulb and to hire a firm to clean up camp remains, trash, waste and biomedical hazards such as used hypodermic needles.
The council has previously asked the Police Department to begin enforcing the city's no-camping ordinance this month. The department began distributing printed warnings 12 days ago.
The council vote followed a last-minute lobbying campaign by homeless advocates and other allies of the Bulb residents who had proposed an alternative plan, under which the city would spend its funds instead on direct housing assistance for the Bulb dwellers with a six-month delay of the eviction. An estimated 50-60 or so people live in tents and makeshift shelters on the Bulb.
The alternative – presented by Albany Housing Advocates, attorney/artist Osha Neumann and others – said the temporary shelter that was established the last time the city cleared the Bulb, in 1999, was a waste of money because few people used it.
Those who objected to the city's proposal outnumbered supporters by about 2-to-1 in the public comment period, and opponents of the city plan also distributed letters and a petition against the city plan at the homes of City Council members over the weekend, said Megan Sallomi, a member of the opposition group, Share the Bulb.
The speaker line-up reflected the regional character of the Bulb controversy with Norman LaForce, a leader of the Sierra Club, and former Albany Mayor Robert Cheasty, who is president of the non-profit Citizens for East Shore Parks, speaking in favor of the city plan. The two groups support the city's long-standing goal to make the city-owned Bulb part of McLaughlin Eastshore State Park.
Among those speaking against the city plan were representatives of the Berkeley Free Clinic and Food Not Bombs.
A woman representing the Berkeley Free Clinic expressed the clinic's opposition to the eviction of the Bulb dwellers and the "forced displacement of these citizens to Berkeley and surrounding communities. ... Forcing Albany residents out of their community on the Albany Bulb is traumatic, and not finding a more long-term solution will strain the already highly impacted social services of Alameda County. ... Trailers are not stable nor long-term housing."
Former Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean told the council that she, like many others, has worked since the 1960s against proposed waterfront developments and for the completion of what's now named McLaughlin Eastshore Park.
"The Bulb is a key piece in fulfilling that promise so many have worked for so long to achieve," Dean said.
After the 45-minute public hearing ended, Albany Mayor Peggy Thomsen said she was troubled by the last-minute timing of the alternative housing proposal on an issue that the council has been discussing for months as well as by the many unknowns in the counter-proposal, including where it would find funds and how it would guarantee that Bulb residents would live up to a promise to vacate the site if given six more months.
Vice Mayor Joanne Wile stressed the risk of tuberculosis infection at the Bulb encampments and the need to address the "very high" methamphetamine dependence on the Bulb.
Councilwoman Marge Atkinson said the alternative plan sounded "a little bit nebulous," and Councilman Peter Maass said the alternative was "kind of faith-based" and had "too many open-ended things going on."
Councilman Michael Barnes said he's been concerned that the Bulb "was spinning out of control," and he estimated that the Bulb population is "about 50 percent methamphetamine addicts. ... An elephant in the room is substance abuse at the Bulb."
Barnes also stressed the long hours and careful planning that the city has invested in trying to find a way to remove the illegal encampments and provide transitional assistance to the Bulb dwellers. The city has been working with the Berkeley Food and Housing Project to offer assistance with obtaining social services and alternative housing.
"We've really been struggling with this for six months," he said. "We've been spending a lot of time – the staff have been having all-hands meetings almost weekly about how to plan, how to deal with the Bulb. ... We've very lucky to have our staff. They've done a good job."
The council action added two items that had been listed as optional in the city staff report and recommendations prepared for the council meeting – $30,000 for showers at the temporary shelter and $35,000 for housing subsidies.
The temporary shelter will also include a dog kennel for the dogs kept by Bulb dwellers, and the city will furnish storage space for Bulb residents' personal property for up to 120 days.
The staff report includes a breakdown of the spending plan. The alternative propsosal that was rejected by the council also is attached to the report in the online council packet.
Background on the Albany Bulb issuesMore information can be found in the many recent news articles and community blog and board posts about the Albany Bulb. Click here for a list of titles and links.
Published Oct. 22, 2013, 12:35 a.m., updated 12:32 p.m.
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