LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The city of Los Angeles today started closing Echo Park, beginning with numerous intersections and freeway ramps around the facility -- another step in implementing the city's plan to clear a large homeless encampment and close the park for what's being described as more than $500,000 in repairs.
Los Angeles police surrounded the park this morning, and city contractors built fences along the south and east end of the park after a large group of protesters left the area following hours of protest against the closure plans.
Shortly before 6 a.m., the city announced that closures of the intersections and freeway ramps around the park.
“They are now closed to vehicular and pedestrian traffic to protect public safety while crews begin the installation of the fence around the park,'' Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell said in a statement Thursday.
“Throughout the month of March, more than 120 people experiencing homelessness at Echo Park have been placed in transitional housing, safely indoors, and are now receiving services daily,'' O'Farrell said.
“The efforts to place people into housing have ramped up in recent months in preparation for the temporary closure to make extensive repairs that are needed,'' O'Farrell said. “All concessions at the park will also be closed during this time.''
While the park is closed to the public, crews with the Department of Recreation and Parks will make substantial repairs, O'Farrell said.
Meanwhile, a citywide tactical alert that was put into effect by the Los Angeles Police Department late Wednesday night was ended about 1:20 a.m. Thursday.
“Last night the Los Angeles Police Department deployed units resources in support of Recreation and Parks partners who began a shut down of Echo Park Lake for much needed safety maintenance,'' an LAPD statement released shortly after 6 a.m. said.
“Due to a high level of social media traffic requesting resistance to any city activity in Echo Park, a public safety perimeter was established to allow our city partners to complete a fence around the park,'' the statement said.
One arrest was made -- for “failing to comply with orders from a police officer,'' the LAPD reported. No injuries have been reported, police said.
In a statement, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said: “Our personnel will remain in the area around Echo Park as the fencing is completed. ... Echo Park remains closed to the public and those finale remaining persons experiencing homelessness are being provided housing assistance and transportation and must leave the park following last night's notice of the park's pending closure for repairs.''
Police had earlier issued three dispersal orders for crowds that gathered near Santa Ynez Street and Glendale Boulevard “due to officers being assaulted with rocks, bottles and smoke bombs,'' according to the LAPD.
About 11:30 p.m., the department responded on Twitter to allegations its officers used tear gas on the crowd, saying: “We are seeing inaccurate social media reports that LAPD officers are using `tear gas.' These reports are completely inaccurate. There is NO tear gas being used.''
Earlier, the department asked for “calm and cooperation as the installation of fencing in support of the Echo Park rehabilitation effort continues.''
Shortly before midnight, Moore tweeted that officers would remain in the area overnight as fencing was installed and “Those already inside the park in tents will be allowed to remain overnight. No one else may enter. 24 hr notice for those in the park to leave. Housing resources are being provided to everyone.''
Minutes after Moore's statement, a man who claimed to be homeless and living in the park used a bullhorn to ask the crowd to peacefully leave the area.
A woman was seen being led away by police, but details of why she was detained were not immediately available.
About 12:30 a.m., the crowd has mostly dispersed, the Los Angeles Times reported.
According to the Echo Park Recreation Center, the park is scheduled to close Thursday, but the time was not confirmed.
About 10:05 p.m. Thursday, O'Farrell issued a statement that “the Los Angeles Police Department was asked to support community safety efforts during installation of the fencing to assist in the rehabilitation of Echo Park.
“Department personnel are deployed in that area so that those efforts can begin in a safe and unimpeded manner.
“Our homeless service providers will return (Thursday) morning to continue their work with the park's unhoused residents to offer shelter and services to anyone who wants and needs the assistance.''
People who gathered Wednesday morning blasted the city for efforts to force the homeless out of an area that has grown into a supportive community. In the midst of the tents alongside the lake, a large sign read, “We refuse to be swept into dark corners.''
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday that he's “been very, very impressed'' by the number of park residents who have been placed into housing.
Garcetti claimed that though there are 120 tents left in the park, only 19 people were still living there as of last weekend, and that there is a safe hotel room available for every single person in the park.
“We're asking all the folks -- (the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority), Urban Alchemy, some of the other great nonprofits and volunteer groups -- to continue helping to make sure 100% of people know there is a placement,'' he said, adding that there is a small percent of people who decline placements.
Many protesters Wednesday morning carried signs with slogans such as “Services not sweeps'' and “House keys, not handcuffs.''
A resident of the park called into the City Council meeting Wednesday to tell council members that the park's residents are “tired of basically being treated like we're nobodies.''
“We're tired of being treated like we're less than human all because of a pandemic and the consequences of the pandemic has caused a couple of people to lose their houses,'' she said.
She added that housing is a human right.
Homeless advocates have argued that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises against clearing encampments during the COVID-19 pandemic, because it could “cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.''
O'Farrell told reporters during an unrelated news conference Tuesday that the city will follow all U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines when preparing the park for the renovation work, and efforts are being made to find housing for everyone who has been living there since January.
He did not provide details about what type of housing would be provided or when it would happen, but said the city previously housed more than 100 of the park's residents. He said Wednesday morning that more than 120 people had now been moved into transitional housing, including Project Roomkey and Project Homekey sites.
The park's homeless community -- which includes a vegetable garden, working showers and a kitchen -- has been praised by activists as a self-run, diverse community of housed and unhoused residents of the neighborhood.
According to O'Farrell's office, the work will include repairs to damaged lighting and plumbing, removal of hazardous material and public safety improvements.
Photos: Getty Images
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