City launches plan to reconnect MacArthur Park

A plan to close off Wilshire Boulevard to cars and reconnect the two sides of MacArthur Park with the aim of creating a larger and greener space is set to begin, Los Angeles City officials announced Tuesday.

The first phase of the plan -- officially known as the Reconnecting MacArthur Park project -- will begin in August with a campaign intended to collect feedback from nearby Westlake neighborhood residents. A traffic study will also be conducted to assess the impact of closing down Wilshire Boulevard to vehicles.

Councilwoman Eunisses Hernandez, who represents the 1st Districts, which includes the park, has already secured two grants for the planning stages of the project. The effort has received $2 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program, as well as $500,000 from the Southern California Association of Government's Sustainable Communities Program.

Hernandez was joined by Mayor Karen Bass and department heads to announce the start of the first phase during a news conference Tuesday morning.

"Reconnecting MacArthur Park is not just about closing a street to traffic -- it's about opening up this neighborhood to the possibilities that come when we center people's needs over the needs of cars," Hernandez said. "It's about dreaming bigger and better for a community in critical need of deep investment."

Bass echoed the councilwoman's sentiments. She added that Angelenos deserve healthy parks and communities.

"We will continue to work closely with Councilmember Hernandez and our federal and state partners to envision the future of MacArthur Park and a healthier Los Angeles," Bass said.

In 1934, before Interstate 10 was built, MacArthur Park -- which was formerly known as Westlake Park -- was split in two by Wilshire Boulevard to accommodate automobile transit from the coast and connect Westside neighborhoods to downtown. According to Hernandez's office, this change has resulted in a loss of green space and has increased exposure for Westlake residents to "adverse environmental and health conditions."

Residents live in proximity to traffic pollution and a part of the street designated a "high injury network," meaning vehicle collisions and pedestrians are hit by cars occur at a higher rate compared to other areas of the city.

The Westlake area has been a "landing space" for generations of immigrants from around the world, according to Hernandez's office. Additionally, the neighborhood has one of the highest transit ridership and lowest car ownership rates in the L.A. County.

As part of efforts to transform the park and address ongoing concerns regarding substance abuse, Hernandez has also secured $3 million from the city's Opioid Settlement Funds with the goal of establishing a respite center. The facility is intended to serve as a first line of defense in preventing overdoses and connecting those in need with housing.

"The Bureau of Engineering has led several renovation efforts at MacArthur Park, including a new restroom building, improved play areas and new play equipment, and a new entry gateway and plaza at 7th Street and Alvarado," said Deborah Weintraub, chief deputy city engineer for the Bureau of Engineering. "We are excited to be part of the city's efforts to reconnect the two areas of the park and expand this vital green space."