Echo Park Lake reopened to the public this week after two months of being closed for repairs, with some obvious changes.
By early afternoon on a picture-perfect May day, the park was full of joggers and people on picnic blankets. But there were also signs of new rules and regulations: a perimeter fence, security cameras, and signs making clear the park is closed after 10:30 pm.
In March, the city erected the fencing around the nearly 30 acres of public space and dismantled a large homeless encampment there. Many unhoused residents moved to shelters or housing in the weeks leading up to the closures. People who wanted to keep camping were displaced, which sparked protests, mass arrests, and widespread criticism of how the LAPD handled it. Others blamed City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, who represents the area and led the effort.
City officials say sanitation crews removed more than 37 tons of trash and belongings from the park. Mike Shull, General Manager of the LA Department of Recreation and Parks, says after that happened, they did a lot of landscaping work. “Mostly landscaping refurbishment, a lot of new turf. We had to do a lot of restoration of the irrigation systems. The electrical infrastructure had been tampered with so the lights weren’t working.”
The city also replaced the playground surface, upgraded restrooms, and made improvements to the boat house and a bridge over the lake.
Reactions to the reopening have been mixed. Tensions that flared in March over the city’s crackdown on the homeless encampment remain.
Connie Ballard lives in a senior apartment complex right across the street from the park. She told KCRW, “I’m so grateful we got the park back. I think Mitch O’Farrell did an excellent job. I take my hat off to him. I shook his hand and said, ‘You did good. Thank you for bringing the park back.’”
It’s a different story for many of those who were unhoused and living in the park before it closed. Cecilia Echo was one of them. She’s mourning the community she says she helped create at the lake. “We had a kitchen that we built together. We had a pantry. We had a jobs program that … employed people during the global pandemic where these city leaders weren’t taking care of us.”
Echo says she’s been sleeping in other parks ever since.
Officials say the fencing around the park will stay up for now, and that the curfew will be enforced by park rangers.