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The Albany Bulb (also simply known as The Bulb) is a former landfill largely owned by the City of Albany, in California. The Bulb is the west end of a landfill peninsula jutting west from the east shore of San Francisco Bay. The term "Bulb" is often used to refer to the entire peninsula, which includes the Albany Plateau, north of Buchanan Street at its base; the high narrow "Neck," and the round "Bulb." The Bulb is part of the City of Albany, and can be reached via Buchanan Street or the Bay Trail along the east side of San Francisco Bay.
Like the Point Isabel peninsula to the north and the Berkeley Marina, Point Emery, and Emeryville Marina Peninsulas to the south, the Bulb peninsula is a relic of almost a century of systematic filling of the shallow Bay and its adjacent wetland. This filling was largely halted by efforts of Save The Bay from the 1960s to the 1980s. The usual fill method can be seen in the rectangular lagoon at the west end of the Bulb peninsula, a remnant left when legal action finally forced closure of the dump: Enclose part of the shallow Bay with rock and concrete rip-rap, fill the created lagoon with garbage and debris, and (usually) top off with a layer of clay. The development dream was to join the peninsulas, leaving a narrow shipping channel edged by commerce.
The tidelands off Berkeley and Albany were sold by the state in the 1870s, as railroads extended tracks northward along the waterfront from the Oakland terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad. (These tracks soon became the main transcontinental line.) Early in the 20th Century, the tidelands were acquired by the rival Santa Fe Railroad.
Creation of the Bulb peninsula can be said to have begun in 1939, when the Santa Fe Railroad dynamited El Cerrito del Sur, the low hill on Fleming Point southwest of Albany Hill, to build Golden Gate Fields race track. The debris was pushed into the Bay to create parking lots. Almost immediately afterward, the City of Albany extended Buchanan Street west on Bay fill, creating a lagoon between Buchanan and the north edge of the race track. Aerial photos show the gradual filling of this lagoon at the same time that dumping extended the peninsula west into the Bay and, later, north onto the Plateau. The small salt marsh south of Buchanan, fed by Codornices and Village Creeks, grew in the last remnants of the lagoon, an echo of much larger wetlands that once flourished farther south, where the creek waters emptied into the Bay behind (east of) the dynamited hill.
The Bulb proper—the round hill at the tip of the peninsula—was created in 1963, after the City of Albany and Santa Fe, which owned the land, signed a contract for the disposal of construction debris. Thus The Bulb is made of mostly of construction debris such as concrete and rebar, as is still very visible. Lawsuits against the landfill operator brought the dumping to a halt in 1987.
The City of Albany entertained a variety of proposals for development of the peninsula, including high-rise hotels and a marina. In 2002, however, 20 years of effort by Citizens for Eastshore State Park (now Citizens for Eastshore Parks) resulted in the Plateau and lower Neck, along with shoreline to the north and south, becoming part of The Eastshore State Park. The City of Albany maintains ownership of The Bulb itself. The City of Albany continues to negotiate to have the State Parks Department (owners of the park) and/or East Bay Regional Park District (managers of the park and owners of some adjacent shoreline) take over the Bulb. Other entities are reluctant due to liability and potential costs of making the area, with its projecting concrete and rebar, "safe." Meanwhile, the Bulb area and adjacent Albany Beach have become one of the most heavily used outdoor recreation sites in the Bay.
Natural conditions and ecology
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Bay currents were altered by creation of the Bulb and fill peninsulas to the north and south (Pt. Isabel was natural, but its hill was dynamited in the 1950s and marshes between it and the mainland were filled). One result has been westward extension of tidal mudflats at the mouths of Codornices, Village, and Marin Creeks, between the Bulb peninsula and Pt. Isabel. These are the Albany Mudflats, protected as important habitat for waterfowl and shorebirds. Another result was formation of Albany Beach—low dunes and a sandy beach running south between the Bulb peninsula and Fleming Point. Sandy beaches are rare on San Francisco Bay, but strong tidal current to and from the Golden Gate tend to create them along the Berkeley and Albany shorelines. The beach has been heavily used by dog owners for decades.
Strong winds make the water south of the Bulb peninsula, off the beach, popular with wind- and kite- surfers. Eel grass near the Bulb tip is important subtidal habitat. The sheltered lagoon at the west end is a calm-water refuge during storms, and shorebirds use its riprap edge at high tide.
Like other abandoned dumps, the Bulb was quickly vegetated and became habitat for a variety of wildlife, including songbirds, rats, mice, rabbits, and snakes and hawks that feed on them. The vegetation is largely non-native, including weeds such as acacias, broom, and fennel; exotics such as palm and apple trees; and large thickets of Himalayan blackberries. The Plateau area, once popular for flying model airplanes, has been partly fenced off as habitat for burrowing owls, as mitigation for habitat taken by sports fields to the south. However, as of 2010, no owls have been sighted.[who?] The south shore's riprap is largely un-vegetated, but lagoons and some gentler shoreline on the north, facing the Albany Mudflats have welcomed typical salt-marsh vegetation such as pickleweed, salt grass, and gum plant.
Because the Bulb is geographically unorganized and seldom patrolled by the Albany Police Department, it is often described as Anarchical. Many groups, including urban artists, squatter residents, dog walkers and owners, teenagers, and environmentalists, use the Bulb area and feel they have a stake in it.
The Bulb is home to a vast array of urban art including mural, stencil, graffiti, sculpture, and installation art. Sculptor and activist lawyer Osha Neumann has created some of the largest works. He often collaborates with Jason DeAntonis. Sniff, a group of artists composed of Scott Hewitt, Scott Meadows and David Ryan, painted large, highly imaginative "murals" on wood and erected more sculptures on the northwest corner of The Bulb. Another Bulb landmark, referred to as "The Castle," is a large concrete, rebar and plaster shelter which sits on the south west corner of the Bulb, directly opposite the Golden Gate Bridge. The Bulb has been used for informal concerts and even a production of Shakespeare's The Tempest presented by We Players, a Bay Area site-specific theatre company.
The Bulb is a common recreational destination for East Bay dog owners. The Bulb's long, natural meander provides healthy exercise, while its location next to the Albany Waterfront is ideal for dogs and dog owners who enjoy beaches. Environmentalists have raised questions regarding the potential destruction of The Bulb's habitat due to dog walking.
The Bulb is home to a small, makeshift library, assembled mostly from driftwood and old boat pieces. The Landfill Library, comprises, on average, 300 volumes in various conditions, donated by its patrons. The books are free to borrow and keep, although a take-something-leave-something approach is encouraged. As of August 2013, the library is closed due to vandals destroying it. It will reopen once it is rebuilt.
Within The Bulb there exists a scattered shanty town and a resident squatter population of fluctuating size. The City of Albany has made several attempts to relocate the residents, but due to litigation as well as the persistence of the population, it has of yet been unsuccessful.
A documentary about the Albany Landfill Encampment, Bum's Paradise was released in 2003.
Environmental protections as well as understanding of the dangers of building on unconsolidated fill make it extremely unlikely that the Bulb could be developed. In 2006, Magna Corporation, owners of Golden Gate Fields race track, proposed a large commercial shopping area on the racetrack property southeast of the Bulb. Extensive protest led by Citizens for Eastshore Parks, headed by former Albany mayor Robert Cheasty, led to these plans being dropped. The future of the racetrack holdings remains uncertain.
Voices to Vision, a two year study that examined what citizens of Albany desired for the waterfront, concluded in 2010. Fern Tiger Associates who conducted the study reported that 62 percent of residents who participated in the study wanted to expand open space by at least 75 acres. This expansion would mean 163 acres of parkland, trails, and wetlands at the waterfront. The area would include the bulb, the Golden Gate Fields race track and parking lot, and the Eastshore State Park plateau. However, the study also found that half of participants wanted enough development on the waterfront to maintain the current tax revenue generated from Golden Gate Fields, which is about $1.7 million. 85 percent of participants reported that building a hotel on the site would be a good idea, with many supporting additional retail and restaurant developments on the site.