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Belt Line Campers Will Be Displaced By Park Development

A wide-open gate provides access to the Jean Sweeney Open Space park area. (Action Alameda News)

A wide-open gate provides access to the Jean Sweeney Open Space park area. (Action Alameda News)

Construction of a portion of the Cross Alameda Bike Trail across the Jean Sweeney Open Space park is expected to begin later this fall, and organizers of a park fund are soliciting sponsorship of benches for the park. But progress on the park will displace people living in encampments in the urban wildereness that once formed a portion of the Alameda Belt Line railway.

That displacement may not come soon enough for nearby residents, however.

Residents of the California Heritage Bay community across the street on Atlantic Avenue have filed nuisance complaints with Alameda police and reports, through the city’s SeeClickFix service, of dumping, camping and trespassing on association property by people from the camps in the old railway property.

Campers cut access holes in the perimeter fence or break open swing gates at the north end of residential streets that end at the property.

Discussion raged over the weekend on the NextDoor Alameda forum over allegations that campers in the open space are responsible for thefts and break-ins.

Action Alameda News visited the site on Sunday taking the pictures that accompany this article; wild blackberry bushes grow along much of the perimeter and throughout the property. This reporter spoke at length with two campers who did not want to speak on the record, but took contact information for potential follow-up.

Late last night, the discussion on NextDoor fired up again, with reports that a homeless person from the open space had tazed a Wood Avenue resident. This morning, an Alameda Police Department spokesperson said that paramedics responded to a medical emergency call for service and that “the ‘tazer’ incident was unfounded.”

Reports vary on the number of people camped there, ranging from a dozen to as high as 30 to 40. This reporter encountered five people on the parcel yesterday, including three that didn’t want to talk at all.

Alameda police routinely make visits through the camps, pointing residents to services.

At least two makeshift shelters seemed vacant or abandoned, one with no obvious entrance. There are structures in the trees that are actively used by campers.

A concrete structure that looks to be from the railway days remains. A metal lid that sealed a stairwell leading down under the ground has been removed, and there appeared to be a curtain covering the entrance way to subterranean passages at the bottom of the stairs.

A jack rabbit bounded across the eastern length of the property, unwilling to pose for a picture.

Information on sponsoring a future park bench is available at the Jean Sweeney Open Space park fund website.

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