On Wednesday afternoon, Echo Park Lake opened to the public again, two months after the city and police forced the relocation of roughly 200 unhoused people living in the park, fenced off the space, and arrested dozens of people protesting the move.
The park was closed so city workers could make $1.1 million in improvements, which including trimming trees, renovating the boat house, fixing up the kids play area, and removing a reported 35 tons of trash from the lake itself. But remnants of the park’s previous life as a homeless encampment—and the city’s resistance to allowing the unhoused to once again occupy the neighborhood green space—remain.
In addition to newly installed security cameras, the chain-link fence that went up after the sweep will stay up for the time being, although the obscuring green fabric has been removed. Access to the park is limited to four entrances, and a large portion of the northwest part of the park, where many of the tents were located prior to the sweep, remains fenced off both inside and outside the park (a sign says “park temporarily closed for renovation”). Signs have been put up saying “No vending, sales or advertising on public property,” making it unclear if the vendors who were a regular presence at the park will be allowed to return.
The park is set to have around-the-clock, mostly private security, according to according to Department of Recreation and Parks General Manager Michael Shull, who added that park rangers will be patrolling as well, performing a sweep at 10:30 every night. Los Angeles Police Department officers inside the park said they will maintain a presence in the coming days, although no exact length of time was given.
District 13 City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who has found himself at the center of a political whirlwind since the events of March 24, briefly attended the reopening event on Wednesday, but was quickly confronted homeless advocates. People shouted “Shame on Mitch” until the council member returned to his Sunset Boulevard field office.
O’Farrell has maintained that all of the individuals who were pushed out of the park were offered housing. Of the roughly 200 people moved out of the park, 90 remain in temporary housing or in hotel rooms rented though the Project Roomkey program, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
Members of Unhoused Tenants Against Carceral Housing, which includes several people who previously were living in the park, spoke an hour after the park opened, denouncing what they say are restrictive conditions at Project Roomkey hotels, including curfews, lack of keys to their rooms, and harassment from staff. Leonard “Phoenix” Averhart, who had lived at the park before being moved into a Project Roomkey room, said those displaced have been through “absolute hell.” He added that the unhoused community has solutions to address the crisis that don’t involve punitive measures—or the high cost of some of the city’s current endeavors.
“The solution’s all right in front of us. How many abandoned malls, schools, and houses that we have just sitting here that you can fix up, put some electricity, put some water in there. You can fix that for about one fourth of the cost of what Mr. Mitch and Garcetti are doing,” Averhart said.
Other U.T.A.C.H. speakers talked about how those living in the park had a community and were taking care of each other. Project Roomkey, they said, is not providing necessary services like mental health care.
Meanwhile, Echo Park quickly filled up. A few passersby seemed unaware of the reopening, but about 60 others were waiting at the gate to get in before 3 p.m. When the gates finally opened, more than 100 people poured in, some to take issue with the clearing, others to simply enjoy what had been a popular public space.
Julian Choi was one of those excited to use the park again. A half-hour before the park opened, he was outside, readying his fishing gear. Choi said that, until the closure, he’d come to the park for years to fish for bass. He’d hoped to cast his line a few times before word of the reopening spread and other anglers showed up.
People lined up to use the lake’s popular swan boats, sat around on picnic benches, and, within an hour, others were already biking and jogging along the path around the lake, just as people had before the closure. The playground on the north end of the park was also busy, with a dozen kids playing on the slides and other equipment.
Idalia Flores, a nanny taking care of one of those playing kids, said she was happy the park had reopened and that it was much cleaner.
“Amazing, we’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Flores said. “The way the park was the last year was sad. Trash was all over the place, everything was a mess.”
The park is open 5 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Recreation and Parks will close off the gates each night. Stragglers will be asked to leave and anyone trying to camp will be removed.