MACARTHUR PARK, LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- The lakeside portion of MacArthur Park closed Friday night for "much-needed deferred maintenance,'' closing that area of the park to unhoused Angelenos who have taken up residence there during the pandemic.
The area of the park between Alvarado and Park View streets and Wilshire Boulevard and Seventh Street, will be closed for 10 weeks.
Councilman Gil Cedillo's office said they began offering shelter options to people living in the park starting in January, and as of Wednesday, 257 people had been moved indoors.
Teams with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and People Assisting The Homeless have been handling the outreach operation, and the park's residents were offered Project Roomkey placements in hotels and motels in the mid-downtown area, said Cedillo's Deputy District Director Jose Rodriguez.
He added that people living in the park would not be stopped from relocating to the north side of the park, across Wilshire, during the south side's closure, and the city will continue outreach and trash collection to those unhoused residents.
The move to close the park drew criticism from housing advocates on Twitter, comparing the anticipated closure to that of Echo Park in March. While Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, who oversaw that operation, touted it as a successful housing operation.
On Sept. 27, KNX-1070's Claudia Peschiutta shared data on Twitter from LAHSA showing that only four of Echo Park's residents were placed into permanent housing. In response to that data, O'Farrell said his team worked to put Echo Park's residents into transitional housing and "it is the role of LAHSA, and their contracted service providers, to take it from there.''
Protesters who took to the Echo Park neighborhood in March blasted the city for forcing the park's residents out of an area that had grown into what they called a supportive community -- including a vegetable garden, working showers and a shared kitchen.
In response to protests, hundreds of officers descended on the neighborhood and 182 people were arrested.
Journalists, including the Los Angeles Times' James Queally, were briefly detained.
Cedillo's office shared a "contrast chart'' comparing the Echo Park operation with the planned MacArthur Park operation. The chart notes last-minute notice given to Echo Park's residents prior to the closure, while shelter was offered to MacArthur Park residents for 10 months prior to the closure.
Residents also received a 17-day notice prior to the park's closure date.
The chart also notes that the park's fencing will be removed once the project is complete, while Echo Park's fencing remains up with four entrances available to the public.
O'Farrell responded to the chart in a statement, saying:
"It is not acceptable to allow people to live and die in squalor in public parks or public spaces, which is why my team and I -- along with many partners -- worked hard for several months to ensure success in providing housing solutions and services to nearly 200 people who had been living at Echo Park Lake. Others are free to compare and contrast Echo Park Lake to other locations in the city, but my focus will remain on my district, my constituents and my work to house the unhoused.''
Cedillo's office said the goal of the rehabilitation project is to make the park safe and clean for residents of the dense neighborhood, many of whom don't have other outdoor space. The park's maintenance has been deferred for more than 19 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We want to provide a safe, clean and secure park for all people that come to MacArthur Park to play, relax and enjoy this precious open space that lies in the heart of our low-income neighborhood of Westlake,'' Cedillo said.
During the closure, the Department of Recreation and Parks will conduct electrical repairs, lighting repairs and upgrades, landscape reseeding, painting, irrigation repairs and upgrades, signage replacements and park furniture repairs and replacement.
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