the albany bulb in the east bay, just north of berkeley.
here's a complete document of sniff's art: here
and a story about its past:
ALBANY OFFICIALS WRESTLE OVER WHAT TO DO ABOUT
HOMELESS COMMUNITY IN CLOSED LANDFILL
By ANNE M. PETERSON
Associated Press Writer
ALBANY, Calif. (AP) -- Robert Barringer's home is a complex jumble of tents
and tarps on a craggy piece of land off the San Francisco Bay. Inside, a
radio blares, keeping him company. Outside, his cat Monkey frolics near the
fire pit where he cooks his food.
Soon, perhaps by summer, he'll have to leave.
The city and state are turning the old industrial landfill where he lives
into a park for bird watchers and dog walkers.
The impending eviction makes Barringer -- and the dozens of homeless people
who live on the old Albany Landfill -- nervous. He doesn't know when it
will come, or whether his possessions will be bulldozed, or, most
importantly, where he will go.
Inside his tented home, Barringer is gracious to strangers who stop by. He
offers a seat and talks wistfully about coming to California during the
Summer of Love, graduating with an art history degree from the University
of California at Berkeley and his sporadic work restoring homes.
"I've always worked, I've always done something," he said. "Things have
just kind of fallen apart lately."
The 47-year-old brushes his hair from his eyes and he surveys his campsite.
"Every once and a while you worry -- 'Am I ever going to get out of here?"'
he said. "But I'm able to get the basic things I need."
The city wants to turn the windswept landfill into part of the Bay Trail
and Eastshore State Park. Two portions of a trail have already been
Because of its scenic location on the bay, the area has already attracted
bird watchers and walkers. Some visitors have complained about the
conditions: the debris, raw sewage, stray dogs and homeless campers.
Adding to the problem is a population explosion. Recent construction on a
nearby freeway brought the people who had lived underneath an overpass.
Another project on railroad land brought more residents.
Police have been called to the landfill 35 times in the past 10 months, for
everything from simple disputes to attempted murder.
The public safety issues are of special concern to city officials because
hard it is to get to some parts of the landfill, especially the farthest
area out on the bay known as the Albany Bulb, said Assistant City
Administrator Ann Ritzma.
"It's certainly not anywhere we can take a police vehicle or a fire truck,"
she said. "Out there, if there's a fire or another emergency it would be
difficult to get to."
The City Council is considering everything from restricting all access,
closing city-owned portions to overnight camping and forbidding fires, or
leaving it open to all and addressing the health and safety issues.
The city owns the Bulb, while the flat area inland has been transferred
from the Catellus Development Corp. to the state and the East Bay Regional
Park District. The park district has not announced formal plans for
managing the land, but any proposal was expected to be coordinated with
Ritzma said the discussions will continue for about another two months.
"When they feel comfortable about the land, and the people who are using
it, then they'll decide how to proceed with it," she said.
Alex McElree patrols the landfill frequently in a secondhand ambulance
equipped with blankets, raincoats and food. He is the founder of Operation
Dignity, an Oakland-based outreach program.
"There's no question about whether these people will have to leave," he
said. "The question is when."
McElree walks the well-worn paths on the landfill, closed in 1984.
Vegetation has taken back the land, but chunks of concrete and pieces of
rusted metal still peek out from weeds and bushes.
He points to a luxury highrise condominium complex looming over the encampment.
"See those condos over there? That's the American Dream," he said. "Over
here? This is the American reality."
Not far down the path on the Bulb, McElree happens upon a campsite.
"Is anyone home?" he calls out.
Soon it's apparent that this camp has been abandoned, probably rained out,
according to McElree. An old coat hangs from a tree. Books and old shoes
are scattered in the trash, with a number of empty beer cans and wine
"Watch out for needles," McElree says, gingerly stepping through the
debris. "You have to be kind of careful because you don't know what you're
going to get into."
McElree, a former Marine who was homeless for about six years himself, is
concerned about what will happen when the city finally takes action. He
says he's trying to make the transition easier, talking to the residents
about what they will do when the day finally comes. He'd like to see the
city contribute portable toilets and Dumpsters to help with the transition.
"There are people out here who aren't going to want to leave until the
police come out and make them leave," he said.
Sarah Teague looks much older than 32. Her face is lined and dirty, her
hands rough and her smile is missing several teeth. Yet her childlike
greenish-yellow eyes are glowing like a cat's in the waning sun of a recent
In motherly fashion, Teague watches over Thomas John Wallace, who hasn't
left his tent since the chain broke on his adult-sized tricycle. Bicycles
are the popular mode of transportation out on the landfill, which is a long
hike from any services.
Wallace's legs are hurt, but his exact illness or injury are not known. His
makeshift tent on the plateau is filled with trash and flies. The smell is
Wallace, 56, doesn't speak clearly. McElree says he believes Wallace
suffers from something he has dubbed "Isolationist Syndrome." He's been
homeless and alone for so long that he's unable to communicate properly.
Wallace peers out of his tent and asks visitors if they'll buy him a new
"He needs his tricycle," Teague said. "It's the only thing that keeps him
going. It's like physical therapy."
Teague's care of Wallace is an example of the sense of community among many
residents here. When a man threatened Teague, another man moved his
campsite close by to protect her.
"This is my family," she said.
Jean-Paul Sabots is known as "The Mayor" out on the landfill, but he
doesn't like bureaucratic implications of the nickname. He rides his bike
along the paths, letting residents know Operation Dignity has arrived with
food and supplies.
"The people who are out here are independent individuals," he said. "Some
of them have been pushed way too much. Which is why I'm out here."
The diminutive 51-year-old points his campsite, near a tree on the Bulb.
Fog clings to the San Francisco Bay, obscuring his spectacular view.
Sabots doesn't want to leave his longtime home and community. He wants a
compromise, perhaps getting the residents involved in cleaning up the area
for park visitors.
"What do you do when you have a group of people living in one place and
another group of people who want to make that area into a park? Exactly,"
Sabots said, answering his own question. "Instead, we get a lot of studies
and a lot of meetings. To me, it doesn't make sense."
Sabots said he recently took a head count of the landfill residents,
finding 50 -- well below the city's estimate of 150. Some, like Sabots,
have been there more than five years.
And it won't be easy to get him or his neighbors to leave, he said.
"I gave myself this goal: This piece of land should be for the people," he