ALBANY -- The city says it gave the final two known residents of the Albany Bulb a notice of code enforcement on May 16. Included in the notice was a demand that they vacate the Bulb within 72 hours, a period which expired on May 19.
Amber Whitson and Phillip Lewis are believed to be the final two people camping at the waterfront site. City Clerk Nicole Almaguer said the city has found potential housing for them.
"We have been working with Berkeley Food and Housing Project to identify available local housing for the individuals transitioning from the Bulb, and have two units available in the local area," Almaguer said.
Whitson, however, said she has not been told of any housing options for her and Lewis, just one point the pair disputes over the city's actions.
"I would think that the housing case manager would have told us about them," she said.
Almaguer said the BHFP case manager has contacted Whitson about residential units available in the area.
"Yes, there is available housing and she has been informed of it," Almaguer said.
Whitson also said the 72-hour notice was sent by email to her attorney rather than posted directly at the campsite, which she said violates the city's abatement procedures.
Almaguer countered that "What occurred went through the city's legal department and outside attorney. The notice that was provided was in accordance with our abatement procedures."
Whitson said she has asked for more time so she and Lewis can leave the Bulb with dignity and get their possessions into a storage unit that they have secured. Almaguer said the city has offered to store their property while they transition from the Bulb.
A story on the activist website indybay.org reported that Albany police had threatened Whitson that they would demolish her "house" on May 14 and in response, an activist "locked down" to a backhoe to prevent such action. Supporters of Whitson and Lewis are continuing to call for a "reoccupation" of the Bulb.
The city began a program to remove what was an estimated 60 homeless people camping on the city-owned property one year ago. The action is being done so that the Bulb can be turned over to the East Bay Regional Park District as part of the Sylvia McLaughlin Eastshore State Park.
Plans for the Bulb to be turned over have been in the works for decades, and the city removed the homeless encampments previously in 1999. The park district will not accept the land with people living on it.
Residents of the Bulb have traditionally been a mix of artists, people who wanted to "drop out" from society and people who simply could not find another place to live.
There have been multiple claims that police from several East Bay cities have encouraged homeless people to go there over the years. Some campers constructed elaborate dwellings on the site, made out of pallets and other debris found at what was once the city dump.
According to the city, 22 people have been housed through a program funded by the city and administered by Berkeley Housing and Food Project. Almaguer said the city is continuing to work to help those people "sustain their housing long term."
The city also settled a lawsuit filed by residents of the Bulb and their advocates. The settlement paid each eligible camper $3,000 in exchange for them vacating the Bulb and promising to stay away from the property and certain other parks in the city for at least one year. Whitson and Lewis were the only two eligible plaintiffs who declined to take the settlement. Instead, they requested that the court dismiss their claims without prejudice. Whitson said the judge granted the request.
Aside from the two remaining campers, the city has been cleaning up the property, removing the campsites as well as trash left behind. Campers who agreed to the settlement have been promised their property will be held for them for a limited time.
Whitson and Lewis had not been removed from the Bulb as of Tuesday afternoon, but a forcible eviction could be looming.
"As of right now, the 72 hours has expired so enforcement could be done at any time," Almaguer said.