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City of AlbanyClears HomelessEncampments From the Bulb By JOHN GELUARDISpecial to the Planet

Tuesday July 12, 2005

The City of Albany is removing homeless encampments on the Albany Landfill as part of a process that will bring the 31-acre site closer to becoming part of the Eastshore State Park. 

The city, which owns the landfill, has brought in a four-yard front loa der, backhoe and three 30-yard containers to remove 12 homeless encampments. 

The encampments, some of which are abandoned, contain a variety of materials including shopping carts, large sheets of plywood and general refuse. There is also an assortment of personal possessions such as clothing, books and camping equipment. 

City officials said the project will be completed by Thursday at an estimated cost of $15,000. 

“The Albany Waterfront Committee was concerned with the number of homeless encampments th at have sprung up,” said Ann Chaney, the city’s community development director. “We thought the best approach would be to remove the debris and the campsites and make it a better park for everyone.” 

In 1999, the City of Albany removed approximately 45 people who were living on the landfill, some who had camped on the craggy, windblown landfill for eight years. But some of the displaced squatters began to move back onto the sporadically monitored property and currently it is estimated that 10 people live there year around. 

Workers are cutting 10-foot roadways across the landfill to access some of the more hidden campsites. The process has caused concern among frequent landfill visitors that mature trees and wildlife habitat will be destroyed in the process. Berkeley attorney Osha Neumann has written a letter to the Albany City Council requesting that the front loader and backhoe be removed and that the debris be carried out by hand.  

But Public Works Supervisor John Medlock said the large amount of the debris and other materials require the use of heavy machinery. He added that very little vegetation is being destroyed. 

“Plus there is a lot of broken glass and needles,” he said. “We are trying to handle the debris as little as possible.”  

Chaney said there are no immediate plans to remove any of the paintings, murals and sculptures that are concentrated on the northwest corner of the landfill.  

City workers will also seal off seven wells that monitored toxic substances that were leaching into the ba y. The landfill is a former construction debris dump that closed in the early 1980s. In 1984 the Regional Water Quality Control Board issued a closure order when ammonia and high concentrations of metals were found leaching into the bay.  

Once the order was put in place, the city of Albany was unable to transfer the property or develop it until the toxic problem was solved. The cost to clean the environmental problems was so high, city officials decided to let the environmental problem naturally attenua te. 

By default, the legal limbo gave rise to an organic public park. A community of homeless took root pet owners loved the freedom to let dogs run free and paintings and sculptures flourished. One landfill resident built a small castle complete with lancet windows and spiral staircase.  

However, last May the RWQCB issued a finding that the landfill is no longer leaching ammonia or other toxic materials into the bay and lifted the closure order. Once the monitoring wells are capped, the City of Albany will be free to transfer the management of the property to the East Bay Regional Park District, and ultimately to the state as an addition to the Eastshore State Park although it is uncertain when this will take place. 

“There is currently no agreement wi th the EBRPD as to when we will turn over the land or if it will ultimately become part of the Eastshore State Park,” Chaney said. “We are just beginning to talk about it.”