LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Officials started closing Echo Park Lake Thursday, beginning with numerous intersections and freeway ramps around the facility -- another step in implementing the city's plan to clear a large homeless encampment and close the park for what's being described as more than $500,000 in repairs.
Los Angeles police surrounded the park Thursday morning, and city contractors built fences along the south and east end of the park after a large group left the area following hours of protests against the closure plans.
Shortly before 6 a.m., the city announced that closures of the intersections and freeway ramps around the park.
"They are now closed to vehicular and pedestrian traffic to protect public safety while crews begin the installation of the fence around the park," Councilman Mitch O'Farrell said.
O'Farrell said Wednesday that more than 120 people experiencing homelessness in the area have been placed in transitional housing and are now receiving services daily.
"The efforts to place people into housing have ramped up in recent months in preparation for the temporary closure to make extensive repairs that are needed," O'Farrell said. "All concessions at the park will also be closed during this time."
Meanwhile, a citywide tactical alert that was put into effect by the Los Angeles Police Department late Wednesday night ended at about 1:20 a.m. Thursday.
"Last night the Los Angeles Police Department deployed units resources in support of Recreation and Parks partners who began a shut down of Echo Park Lake for much needed safety maintenance," an LAPD statement released shortly after 6 a.m. said. "Due to a high level of social media traffic requesting resistance to any city activity in Echo Park, a public safety perimeter was established to allow our city partners to complete a fence around the park."
One arrest was made. According to police, 26-year old Nicole Partori was arrested "(a)fter a dispersal order was given and after the allotted time had expired.
"Officers began to move forward and move the crowd back. Partori refused to obey orders, flashed a flashlight in the officer's eyes and was arrested .... She was cited and released for failing to comply with orders from a police officer," police said.
No injuries have been reported, police said.
LAPD Chief Michel Moore said department personnel "will remain in the area around Echo Park as the fencing is completed. ... Echo Park remains closed to the public and those final remaining persons experiencing homelessness are being provided housing assistance and transportation and must leave the park following last night's notice of the park's pending closure for repairs."
Police had earlier issued three dispersal orders for crowds that gathered near Santa Ynez Street and Glendale Boulevard "due to officers being assaulted with rocks, bottles and smoke bombs," according to the LAPD.
At about 11:30 p.m., the department responded on Twitter to allegations its officers used tear gas on the crowd, saying: "We are seeing inaccurate social media reports that LAPD officers are using `tear gas.' These reports are completely inaccurate. There is NO tear gas being used."
Shortly before midnight, Moore tweeted that officers would remain in the area overnight as fencing was installed and "Those already inside the park in tents will be allowed to remain overnight. No one else may enter. 24 hr notice for those in the park to leave. Housing resources are being provided to everyone."
Minutes after Moore's statement, a man who said he was homeless and living in the park used a bullhorn to ask the crowd to peacefully leave the area.
At about 10:05 p.m. Wednesday, O'Farrell issued a statement that "the Los Angeles Police Department was asked to support community safety efforts during installation of the fencing to assist in the rehabilitation of Echo Park.
"Department personnel are deployed in that area so that those efforts can begin in a safe and unimpeded manner.
"Our homeless service providers will return (Thursday) morning to continue their work with the park's unhoused residents to offer shelter and services to anyone who wants and needs the assistance."
People who gathered Wednesday morning blasted the city for efforts to force the homeless out of an area that has grown into a supportive community -- including a vegetable garden, working showers and a kitchen. In the midst of the tents alongside the lake, a large sign read, "We refuse to be swept into dark corners."
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday that he's "been very, very impressed" by the number of park residents who have been placed into housing.
Garcetti claimed that though there were 120 tents left in the park, only 19 people were still living there as of last weekend, and that there is a safe hotel room available for every single person in the park.
"We're asking all the folks -- (the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority), Urban Alchemy, some of the other great nonprofits and volunteer groups -- to continue helping to make sure 100% of people know there is a placement," he said, adding that there is a small percentage of people who decline placements.
A resident of the park called into the City Council meeting Wednesday to tell council members that the park's residents are "tired of basically being treated like we're nobodies."
But other members of the community have complained that they no longer feel safe visiting the park.
Homeless advocates have argued that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises against clearing encampments during the COVID-19 pandemic, because it could "cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread."
O'Farrell told reporters during an unrelated news conference Tuesday that the city will follow all CDC guidelines when preparing the park for the renovation work.
According to O'Farrell's office, the work will include repairs to damaged lighting and plumbing, removal of hazardous material and public safety improvements.