Early Wednesday morning, a significant crowd marched down to Echo Park Lake to protest against rumors that the City of Los Angeles would be imminently and temporarily closing the park and clear it of its unhoused residents.
By that evening, the demonstrators were met with resistance from the LAPD, who were deployed to allow the parks department to set up a fence around the park.
It’s an issue that’s sharply divided homeless advocates and some area residents for more than a year. But if you haven’t been following closely or haven’t visited the park recently, you may have a lot of questions right now. So here’s what you should know about the park’s closure.
Why is Echo Park Lake closing?
Through Wednesday, the city had been very tight-lipped about its plans and basically only said that the park would close due to repairs. But the clear implication was that it’s being temporarily shut down to remove the park’s unhoused residents.
Over the past year-plus, the north and west side of the park has been home to a growing homeless community. According to an L.A. Times story earlier this month, there were more than 170 tents or makeshift structures around the lake as part of a commune-like encampment that includes a shared kitchen and garden. Though some of those people have transitioned into temporary accommodations, at least 50 tent dwellers remain, according to a statement attributed to the Echo Park Tent Community.
Opponents of the encampment have complained about crime, trash and drug use in the park. But proponents say the park’s residents have the right to be there and have built a mutual aid network.
When will the park close?
It’s effectively already closed. On Wednesday evening, the city began putting up notices that all personal items would need to be removed by 10:30pm on Thursday. Around the same time, the LAPD set up a perimeter to move protestors out of the area and allow the parks department to begin constructing a fence. Unhoused residents were permitted to remain in the park overnight, but will need to leave by Thursday evening.
Those events aligned with initial reports in the L.A. Times and The Eastsider that notices of the park’s closure were expected to go up on Wednesday, with the park fenced off and cleared on Thursday. However, until Wednesday evening, the city had yet to share any official plans.
During a press conference about L.A.’s new rental assistance program on Tuesday, council member Mitch O’Farrell, who represents the park’s district, was asked about the timeline and simply said that the park will “close soon and notices will go up and then we’ll all know.” That weird secrecy is likely in response to a January 2020 attempt to clean up the park, which drew a considerable opposition crowd of homeless advocates.
When will it reopen?
Early Thursday morning, O’Farrell said that the park will reopen “after several weeks, some time in the late spring,” though no specific date was given.
What will happen to the unhoused residents?
Advocates for the park’s unhoused residents like LA CAN, Ground Game LA and Street Watch LA are concerned that the community is being displaced with no long-term support from the city. Residents themselves ask the city to support them or otherwise leave them alone. The Echo Park Neighborhood Council is also disappointed in the city’s response and lack of plan for permanent housing and care.
In a statement on Twitter, O’Farrell said that more than 120 people experiencing homelessness at Echo Park Lake have been moved into transitional housing, including at a nearby Project Roomkey location, a state-run program that offers temporary shelter at hotels during the pandemic.
When asked what will happen to those who decide not to leave, on Tuesday O’Farrell said he’d “let our public safety officials deal with that,” but that the city would be following all CDC guidelines throughout its process. Such forceful removals appear to be at odds with that agency’s guidance: “If individual housing options are not available, allow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are. Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.”
What sort of repairs does the city actually plan on making?
According to a mid-March approval, the parks department plans on spending up to $600,000 on resurfacing the north playground, improving restrooms, replacing drinking fountains, upgrading lighting fixtures and refurbishing the turf, among other plans. The documents targeted work to commence this month.
Though the city paperwork seems to regard them as somewhat standard repairs, on Tuesday O’Farrell categorized them as repairs to fix “nearly $600,000 of damage.” On Wednesday, he seemed to fall somewhere between the two, saying that the repairs would address damage that’s “some from wear and tear after a renovation eight years ago, but some from vandalism.”
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