The Albany Bulb: A Fight for the Commons and “Throw-Away” People

[BAI Note, 12 December 2013: After an entertaining critique by the Albany Patch, we issued a clarification and correction on this piece regarding the historical details of the landfill’s waste composition. We also pointed out that the Patch, in focusing on this error as well as BAI’s masthead, misses the point of the piece. Nevertheless, we strive for accuracy at BAI and welcome the accountability from our readers. See our response here.]

Note: The author is expressing individual viewpoints and analysis not those of any group or organization

birdseyealbanyWhat is the Albany Bulb?
In October of this year, the City of Albany began moves to change the face of a treasured piece of common ground. The Albany Bulb is a small jut of land in Albany that was a landfill. The landfill was made from pieces of the old bay bridge that collapsed in the Loma Prieta Earthquake as well as a seafloor that’s been filled in and then reclaimed by nature. Over the last 20 years, the Bulb has become a home for people whom cities decide to throw away. Today, about 50 people call the Bulb their home. They live sustainably on this land alongside art that visitors leave behind. They have created a common space where dog walkers, punks, artists, and misfits can share a moment and a view of the San Francisco Bay. It is one of the few places where dogs can be off-leash, where a curfew isn’t enforced and where graffiti and other public art is embraced.

Disposable people? Image from Share The Bulb on Facebook

Disposable people. Image from Share The Bulb on Facebook

Many of the current residents care for this space daily: they clean up bottles and cans left by parties in the famous cement castle; they grade uneven pieces of land. They have even built a welcome center and library, an amphitheater and countless pieces of art. Even more, these are people who the rest of society has seen as dangerous, incapable and as…well…landfill. Some residents face huge obstacles such as chronic illness and varying cognitive and physical abilities. All of them have survived and thrived on this common ground. They have supported each other and built a space where they can feel safer than they do on the streets or in shelters and they can meet their needs on their own

Library at the Bulb

Library at the Bulb. Image by The ArtSlant

The reality faced by residents if they are evicted, as the City of Albany has planned, is bleak. They face increasing police harassment on the streets. They face entering shelters where they are separated from their support animals and where they don’t have their varying needs and abilities accommodated. The shelters feel more like internment than home. They are also facing eviction during a winter that has already killed four homeless people in the Bay Area.


Image from IndyBay

Destroying a Commons
The City has approved and begun enacting a plan to evict residents and turn the land itself into a recreation area. This means most of the art pieces will be destroyed, dogs will be on leashes, fences will likely be erected and these commons will be erased. The residents will be thrown away again. As a way to accommodate concerns for the residents, the city has put up two mobile trailer units with beds (enough for about half of the current residents) and tables. There are strict check-in times, curfews, hour-a-day rules for showering and a dress code. This is a clear effort to institutionalize and intern residents and erase the liberatory space they have created.

The City has had this tactic of internment called into question and is even stepping up efforts to find transitional housing, according to local news KTVU. Three people, they report, have now been miraculously housed in the last few weeks.

Something at this point should be made very clear. This struggle is NOT solely about housing people who don’t have homes. The residents have homes; the struggle is about preserving the homes they do have. While some residents do seek housing, the city’s “solutions” around housing are an attempt to delegitimize the claims that residents have to their homes on the Bulb. Many residents would not wish to leave their homes, and elements like trailers and housing
of a few residents are ways to assuage public opinion while continuing an oppressive project of displacement.

The Colonial Project
In understanding struggles against colonization of the past and present, common spaces have always been under attack. Colonial and capitalist forces fear free, open space; they fear autonomy and self-determination. The connection to people, resources and land that occurs in communities like the one on the Bulb is a direct threat to forces outside of it. It is a threat to the forces that pathologize and institutionalize and throw away people like they do to the folks residing there. It is a threat to the forces that say land must be bought and sold, that say it can even be owned in the first place. It is a threat to forces that seek to define and control nature and time and space. While the fight for the Bulb is not directly an anti-
colonial struggle, it is another illustration of how the forces of capitalism and colonization wreak havoc on the lives of so many.

Capitalism and Colonialism Seek Total Control: Let’s Make This Space Uncontrollable
So what has been done? What forms is this struggle taking? It has been both a legal political battle taking the shape of lawsuits and restraining orders. It has also taken the form of pressure campaigns against some of the biggest political backers of the plan. The struggle has also included campouts on Solano Avenue and on the Bulb itself. It has looked like days filled with workshops and art walks and evenings filled with music and film. These events reinforce the community ties, and strengthen the commons. They serve to build bases from which to resist and create the spaces people want to see. Resistance has also looked like barricades and human blockades of police cars and city
vehicles seeking to evict residents. These actions challenge the authority and power of the State directly
and create further obstacles for control.

Pigs in the commons (Image from Albany Patch)

Pigs in the commons. Image from Albany Patch

Monday saw the attempts to destroy two homes, as well as protesters blocking the removal of the dumped belongings and blocking the police. This show of solidarity was due in large part to
connections made at these different events. People are standing up and not letting anyone get thrown away.

The next week will see a series of actions that will escalate pressure on some groups behind the plans to remove residents from the Bulb.

Stay tuned at:


2 thoughts on “The Albany Bulb: A Fight for the Commons and “Throw-Away” People

  1. Through our elected representatives, the people of Albany and the people of California decided years ago that the Bulb should become part of the McLaughlin Eastshore State Park, so that all of the people, anyone, can freely access it during daytime hours for recreation, to enjoy its stunning Bay views, and to encourage the evolution of a healthy natural environment in a site that was until 1978 a City dump (the source of the Bulb landfill, certainly not pieces of the old Bay Bridge that collapsed during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake–where does this writer get his/her information?).
    Under City laws, again passed by Albany’s elected representatives, overnight camping has long been outlawed at the Bulb. (It has no sewer system or water supply–just two of many reasons.)
    How is it that the writer has determined that the 60 or so people who have moved onto the Bulb, essentially claiming public property for their private use, should now be designated “the people” who have the right to decide how the Bulb landfill should be used, while the voting public of Albany and California are not “the people” but colonialists whose vision to make the Bulb part of a true commons to be shared equally by everyone should be rejected?

  2. Pingback: Clarification and Correction on the Albany Bulb Piece | bayareaintifada

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