Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo, who represents District 1, announced the park’s closure last month. During the pandemic, hundreds of unhoused people began camping out at the Westlake park.
When Angelenos heard the park would be closed again for maintenance, some expressed concerns that the closure would lead to a repeat of the Echo Park closure and subsequent protests and violence that occurred in March.
In an effort to prevent a repeat, the city began notifying people living in the encampments of the closure on Sept. 29, instead of notifying them a mere 48 hours prior as they did in Echo Park. Fencing will also be put up in phases, and much of the park will remain open during the repairs, unlike it was during Echo Park’s closure.
Since January, Cedillo’s office has been partnering with the LA Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) and People Assisting The Homeless (PATH) to conduct weekly tent counts and identify people living in the park who want to move indoors, according to a PATH statement.
The renovation is expected to cost $1.5 million and last 10 weeks.
Cedillo stated on Oct. 15 that there was an “abundance of positive response” to the city’s efforts in the park, with 268 people from MacArthur Park encampments moved indoors through PATH and LAHSA’s Project Roomkey since January.
However, as of Oct. 15, nearly a dozen tents remained in the park, according to PATH officials.
A PATH spokesperson told The Epoch Times on Oct. 14 that the organization is working to connect the final handful of unhoused people at the park with shelter and housing.
One of the people who moved indoors is Bonifacio Hernandez. When Hernandez lost his job due to the pandemic, he had nowhere to go. Hernandez ended up living in an encampment in MacArthur Park.
“[Many of us] don’t feel safe here [in the park] because there it is a lot of crime,” Hernandez said on Oct. 3. “The other day, a few gang members came asking us for a ‘tax,’ and if we refused, they’d use violence against us.”
Hernandez has since received shelter and a bed with Project Roomkey.
“Now things will be better with this opportunity,” Hernandez said.
Residents of the area said they were pleased with the improvements being made to the park.
Jose Felix Cabrera Larios, resident and vice president of MacArthur Park Neighborhood Council, said he’s pleased with the improvements being made to the park and advocated for more spaces dedicated to nature in the community. Larios also founded the neighborhood’s community garden in Westlake.
“We want more green space in our community, so it’s important that we all participate,” Larios said.
Some residents and activists, however, argue that the city isn’t doing enough to assist the homeless in the park, and plan to organize a protest in the park several hours before the official closure time.
Some Angelenos, such as Peggy Lee Kennedy, of Venice Justice, expressed concern for the homeless in the encampment that will be displaced as a result of the closure, and that the city should ultimately do more for the unhoused in the park.
“Unless there is permanent housing for them, this sucks. … Shelters lead back to the streets without permanent housing,” Kennedy wrote on Twitter.
The city will conduct “much-needed deferred” repairs, landscaping, and maintenance during the closure. The lakeside section of the park is fenced off for the repairs, while other parts will remain open.
LAHSA didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time.