ALBANY -- The final two known campers on the Albany Bulb were arrested and removed from the property early on the morning of May 29 along with one other person as the city moved to end the standoff over the Bulb.
Amber Whitson and Phillip Lewis were taken into custody around 4 a.m. for violating California Penal Code Section 647 (e), a misdemeanor for lodging "in any building, structure, vehicle or place, whether public or private, without the permission of the owner or person entitled to the possession or in control of it."
Also taken into custody was Erik Eisenberg, who apparently was camping with Whitson and Lewis as a show of support.
The three were taken to Alameda County Santa Rita Jail in Dublin where they were booked. According to Whitson, their court date is June 27.
Whitson said officers with three law enforcement agencies conducted the operation -- Albany police, Berkeley police and Alameda County sheriff deputies. Whitson estimated there were 30 officers involved and other reports have said there were 20 officers. Those numbers could not be confirmed with the city.
"They actually had assault rifles," Whitson said. "With their hands on the triggers. They didn't have them pointed at us but it was scary enough."
She also questioned the presumed cost of such an operation. "They spend money on that, but when it comes to spending money on housing, it's like, 'Do we have to,'" she said. "It's typical of Albany."
Whitson said the three were taken to jail because they did not have identification. She also claimed Lewis and Eisenberg both showed their IDs and that she, while handcuffed, told the officers where her ID was among her possessions.
The couple's two dogs were taken to Berkeley Animal Control Services and their property was stored by the city. The dogs and property have been returned. However, Whitson said several items were not returned, including her medication, Lewis's eyeglasses, and their blankets and dog leashes. They have filed a claim with the city over the property.
"Every two or three days I take a pill or a pill and a half," Whitson said. "Now, I'm many days without it and I'm torn up. It's horrible. It is disabling."
Albany City Clerk Nicole Almaguer said, "City staff and cleanup crew removed the illegal campsite and all materials at the campsite were handled in accordance with the city's written procedure."
She added that the missing items should have been preserved under those procedures.
Whitson said she and Lewis spent the night following the raid at a friend's house, then spent the night of May 30 back at the Bulb, where they received another ticket for illegal camping.
They later spent a couple of nights in a motel, but are now back on the street. She said there are businesses on Solano Avenue that have allowed her to sleep in front of their doors in the past and she hopes to get permission to do so again.
"If you have permission from the business there's not much that the police can do," she said.
Whitson and Lewis were the last of an estimated 60 people who were camping at the Bulb as of a year ago, when the city began preparations to remove the campers. The land is slated to be turned over to the East Bay Regional Park District as part of the Sylvia McLaughlin Eastshore State Park. Those plans for the Bulb, which once was the city dump, have been in the works for years. However, the district won't accept the property as long as people are living there.
Homeless camps on the Bulb first appeared at least two decades ago. The camps were a combination of people who wanted to "drop out" of society, artists and others with no other place to live.
There have been many claims over the years of local police departments encouraging homeless people to move there rather than camp out on city streets.
Albany removed the camps in 1999, but they soon returned.
The City Council voted a year ago to begin enforcing Albany's anti-camping ordinance and also approved various support services to provide housing to the campers. An emergency shelter was set up at the waterfront, but only one to three people used it on any given night.
The city has claimed that 22 people have been placed in housing thanks to a program run by the Berkeley Food and Housing Project and funded by the city. Reportedly, many of the former Bulb residents are camping under or near the Gilman Street overpass in Berkeley.
"I just hope that there's a good resolution for all of the people who left the Bulb that eventually they can all be housed," Albany Mayor Peggy Thomsen said. "Overall, I think we did a really good job. We got a third of the people housed. That's a pretty good ratio compared to other cities."
A month ago, a settlement was reached in a lawsuit filed by several campers and their advocates about the city's plans to remove them from the Bulb.
The settlement, accepted by 28 people, paid campers $3,000 in return for vacating the Bulb and signing a promise not to return there or to certain other city properties for at least one year.
Whitson and Lewis were the only eligible plaintiffs not to sign the settlement. Instead, they requested the judge in the case dismiss their claims without prejudice. The judge granted the request.