At an invite-only event this morning, Councilman Mitch O’Farrell announced to a small crowd that Echo Park Lake will reopen on Wednesday, May 26, at 3 p.m., after a two-month closure.
O’Farrell’s office has touted a number of infrastructure upgrades, including a refreshed kids play area, landscaping improvements, and brand new security cameras. Of course, making those changes involved displacing a homeless encampment in the park that had grown to almost 200 tents. As the encampment grew over the course of two years, conditions deteriorated and four deaths were reported in the park during 2020, including a teenager who OD’d on cocaine and Fentanyl. A body was pulled from the lake on New Year’s Eve.
The encampment sweep, which took place in March, has been politically disastrous for the District 13 councilman. Images of police in riot gear clashing with homeless advocates filled the news in early spring. O’Farrell’s office has reported that every unhoused person at the park was offered services, and that today, almost 200 former park residents have been placed in transitional housing. Protestors have countered that the city was not open about its plans to clear the park and that temporary housing is an insufficient solution.
In a statement released this morning, O’Farrell stuck to his guns. “What transpired at Echo Park Lake should not be acceptable to any of us,” he said, referring to the encampment’s proliferation. “The situation at the Lake was not ‘commune-like,’ and it was naive and inaccurate to describe it as such. It was unsafe, unhealthy, inhumane, and deadly—with multiple fatalities, widespread drug usage, and criminal activity, including reports of sexual assaults.”
While the park was closed, workers reportedly removed 35 tons of trash from the lake, including 723 pounds of human waste, 30 pounds of drug paraphernalia, plus three guns, several knives, and a machete.
When the fence comes down, Angelenos will once again be able to enjoy lotus flowers and swan boat rides, but there’s some concern about whether everyone will be welcome back to the park. Zarinah Williams, chair of the Echo Park Neighborhood Council, spoke with the Los Angeles Times, saying, “I worry about overpolicing and profiling taking place and that there’s a culture shift to removing people by force.”
“When Echo Park Lake reopens,” O’Farrell said in a statement, “the city will ensure that it remains safe, clean, accessible, and secure for all who wish to use this shared public space. The community can count on that.”