ALBANY -- The city has settled a lawsuit filed on behalf of Albany Housing Advocates and 28 people who have been living on the Albany Bulb over the city's enforcement of its anti-camping ordinance.
Under the agreement, the city has agreed to pay each person named in the lawsuit a $3,000 "relocation payment" in return for the promise by each camper to not return to the Bulb the Neck, or city-owned property on Pierce Street and the Albany Hill area for 12 months, even during daytime hours. Those who accepted the payment must vacate the Bulb by April 25.
In the suit filed in November by law firm Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton along with the East Bay Community Law Center and the Homeless Action Center, the plaintiffs accused Albany of "violation of federal and state disability laws and homeless Bulb residents' constitutional rights, including Fourth Amendment property protections."
City Attorney Craig Labadie told the City Council on April 21 that 28 of the 30 plaintiffs in the lawsuit are expected to accept the terms of the settlement. The group that accepted the settlement includes people who filed the lawsuit and individuals who were not part of the lawsuit but did request accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Homeless people have been camping on the isolated Bulb, a former waterfront landfill, for years. The city tried to remove the population in 1999, but the encampments returned.
Estimates are that about 60 people were living on the Bulb a year ago when the council first voted to begin enforcing Albany's anti-camping ordinance so that the property could be turned over to the East Bay Regional Park District to be made part of the Sylvia McLaughlin Eastshore State Park. The district won't take the land until the campers are gone.
The stay-away agreement addresses "concerns raised by the East Bay Regional Park District about ensuring that there was a long-term commitment to not permitting illegal camping there before they would consider accepting that property for incorporation into the McLaughlin Eastshore State Park,"Labadie told the council.
In its current effort, the city has funded two groups -- Berkeley Food and Housing Project (BFHP) and Solano Community Church -- to reach out to Bulb residents to help them find housing.
According to City Clerk Nicole Almaguer, 13 have been housed so far.
If original estimates are correct, that would leave just under 20 residents at the Bulb. It's unknown when the city might try to evict those residents. Police have been citing residents and arresting those who have outstanding warrants or are found in possession of drugs.
Labadie told the council that those who have already transitioned into housing are not eligible for the payment. Also, those who accept the payment will be ineligible to receive further financial assistance from the city but would remain eligible for other sources of financial assistance, Labadie said.
They also would be eligible to receive "human services," according to Almaguer, including services offered by BFHP.
The city will work with Alameda County Superior Court to dismiss any and all pending curfew or camping citations filed against those who agree to the settlement.
"We expect the total cost of the settlement to be under $90,000, and that will be preliminary calculations offset in whole or in part by other cost savings from having a more orderly process of relocating those individuals," Labadie said.
The city also will offer storage for belongings for 120 days.
The Homeless Action Center will act as a "financial agent" to disperse the payments, Labadie said
"For a number of Albany residents experiencing homelessness, the Bulb has been a place they call home for 15 or more years," said Maureen Sheehy, who led the effort for Kilpatrick Townsend, in a statement. "To simply evict them without providing any compensation to assist with additional housing arrangements was not acceptable. This agreement gives these residents recognition that they have a voice and are not simply anonymous individuals."
Amber Whitson, one of the Bulb residents named in the lawsuit did not sign the agreement. She spoke after Labadie announced the settlement, telling the council, "Albany has consistently acted in ways that would benefit wealthiest residents while simultaneously neglecting its poorest residents. This settlement is no different."