LA prepares to eliminate homeless people from MacArthur Park; should close on October 15 for “rehabilitation” work


In the struggle to reclaim Los Angeles’ public spaces, a new battleground is about to open just west of downtown. MacArthur Park, where homeless tents are scattered among jacaranda trees, crepe myrtles and palm trees, will be closed from October 15.

The popular but obscure destination for residents of the city’s Westlake neighborhoods will join Echo Park and the Venice promenade as a potential flashpoint between homeless people living in the park, their advocates, residents and agencies of the city trying to do their job.

Deemed by the city as a “rehabilitation,” the closure is limited to the part of the park south of Wilshire Boulevard and will last about 10 weeks, said Gil Cedillo, a member of the LA city council, whose district includes the park. The city’s parks and recreation department will use the time to catch up on maintenance that had been postponed due to COVID-19 limitations.

Acting as a liaison between the community and the city, Cedillo is overseeing the effort and believes that the controversies that have arisen over recent moves from homeless camps to other parts of the city will not happen. not at MacArthur Park.
“We have tried to learn from the experience of our colleagues in Echo Park and Venice – and the city collectively as we find out how to move forward,” he said.

A man rests in front of a tent in MacArthur Park.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

The inhabitants of the district are however less assured. They enjoy this rare open space, located in one of the densest areas of the city where families stroll on weekends, taste slices of watermelon or pineapple from a vendor, and listen to an accordionist banging. a norteño in the middle of the seagulls.

They fear the closure was a repeat of the showdown that took place less than two miles away in March, when the encampments at Echo Park became an angry symbol of the city’s inability to balance the needs of a community with the fate of individuals who have no other place to live than public spaces.

“I won’t sit idly by while another ‘Echo Park’ happens here,” wrote Tom Bellino, MacArthur Park Neighborhood Council Board Member, on Twitter.

Recognizing the obvious parallel, Cedillo’s office prepared a “contrast board,” differentiating its approach to MacArthur Park with the closure of Echo Park. The first is the prior notice that the homeless residents of MacArthur Park have been given.

“We’ve been working on this since January,” Cedillo said, when the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and the homeless agency PATH began relocating people to shelters or housing. From January to September 29, more than 160 people were moved from the park to housing, he said.

Estimating the number of homeless individuals at MacArthur Park is an imprecise science, given the transience of the population, but 45 tents were counted on September 29 scattered across the 32 acres, divided by Wilshire Boulevard, according to Jose Rodriguez, deputy district director for Cédille.

“Twenty-five of them were on the lake side,” he said.

Outreach efforts in MacArthur Park have been complicated by the presence of MS-13, a street gang that has long viewed park territory as critical territory, Rodriguez said. Through extortion and violence, gang members intimidate regular park visitors, who are among the city’s poorest and most marginalized residents. Particularly brutal attacks have targeted transgender women who visit the park.

A masked person sits at MacArthur Park

A big cleanup at MacArthur Park drew comparisons to similar city efforts at Echo Park and on the Venice promenade.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Across Los Angeles, rising crime and a wave of camp tent fires earlier this year brought new urgency to the homelessness tragedy that has only worsened during the pandemic. Agencies for the homeless estimate that just over 41,000 people live on the city’s streets, a number that is expected to increase with the end of the moratoriums on evictions.

By giving homeless people living in MacArthur Park two weeks to prepare to leave, the city hopes to ease the trauma of resettlement. Similar efforts over the past year have been more shocking.

In March, City Councilor Mitch O’Farrell took the initiative to clean up the city’s historic Echo Park, where nearly 200 tents and furniture had lined the walkways and landscaped areas for much of the year. The effort drew hundreds of protesters and a dozen arrests.

Subsequently, City Councilor Mike Bonin proposed that the city’s parks and beaches be considered for “Safe camping” a program that would allow homeless people to pitch their tents in specific public spaces and receive homeless services. Homeowners and local residents objected. Some have pleaded for Bonin’s recall.

Then, in June, a homeless woman was arrested after pulling out a knife a few meters from City Councilor Joe Buscaino, who was visiting Venice to argue that the tents on sidewalks, in parks and on beaches were inhumane and should be banned with more force.

The incident occurred just as Bonin was about to launch a program to move more than 200 homeless people from the Venice promenade, which quickly turned into a turf war between his office and the Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who has dispatched foot patrols to the boardwalk and the tents are expected to be cleared by July 4.

According to Cedillo’s office, the rehabilitation of MacArthur Park came after a number of meetings and community involvement. Residents cited maintenance and public safety as their top priorities.

MacArthur Park was last renovated between 1991 and 1994, when more than $ 6 million was spent on improvements, including drainage of the lake and the installation of a new aeration system, a pumping station and fountain.

At the time, Metro was building tunnels nearby for its red line, and planners hoped to turn 12 acres around the Metro Rail station into a residential village with 250,000 square feet of retail space, 250 housing units, medical facilities and a day care center. . The development was an attempt to deal with an emerging crisis in the city: the lack of affordable housing.

Homeless camp at MacArthur Park.

Homeless tents at MacArthur Park.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

This fall’s work at MacArthur Park, which will cost $ 1.5 million and will include improved lighting, replanted lawns, repairs to irrigation systems and new park benches, is a step towards a long-term plan more ambitious integration of the park into the neighborhood. .

“At the end of the day, we believe everyone needs a clean, safe and secure park that serves the whole community,” Cedillo said.

Cedillo predicts that the park will be open again in January when the fences and barricades are completely removed.

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