Last week the City of Albany installed three enormous green dumpsters on the upper road leading to the Albany Bulb and began an operation the purpose of which we’re being told is to clean out campsites of the homeless, some of which have been reoccupied in recent months.
Unfortunately the clean up is being done in a way that is producing massive and completely unnecessary environmental damage. Unless the methods used are changed, irreparable harm will be done to the fragile ecosystem of the landfill.
Instead of using the least intrusive means to accomplish its objective the city has chosen to bring in bulldozers and heavy equipment. The road down the center of the Bulb has been widened, although it was already wide enough to allow the passage of police vehicles and pick ups. In two places large circles have been scrapped bare around methane vents. But the worst damage has been caused by the use of heavy equipment to clear paths to campsites. California native plants including full grown coyote bush have been flattened. In one case mature palm trees and acacias have been uprooted. Broken tree limbs and dirt have been bulldozed down a hillside, destroying what was one of the prettiest groves of trees on the entire landfill.
There is no reason why the environment needs to be collateral damage of the campaign to remove the homeless from the landfill. Everything that the homeless brought into the landfill was carried in by hand, or wheeled in on shopping carts and bicycles. If they brought stuff in by hand, it can be taken out by hand.
The use of heavy equipment makes no sense if Albany is simply conducting a cleanup operation. A possible explanation for its use is that Albany’s goal goes beyond cleanup to reshaping the landscape of the landfill so that it no longer provides camouflage for possible homeless sites. If that is the case, the operation is shortsighted and futile. It will destroy habitat for wildlife, reduce biodiversity, replace a complex mix of mature plants with fast growing invasive vegetation, and leave ugly scars which will not heal for decades. The folly of destroying a village in order to save it is self evident. The folly of destroying everything that is attractive about the landfill in order to prevent homeless people from camping there should be equally obvious. Regular patrolling and the issuance of warnings would be more effective and have fewer side effects.
Albany may be ambivalent about the landfill. The debate about its future has been lively and impassioned. It may soon become part of the East Shore State Park. But whatever its future, the current operation needs to be stopped and reassessed immediately.
Destruction is easy. But trees take years to grow and ecosystems can not be willed into being overnight.
Osha Neumann is a local artist and attorney.›