Echo Park fence removed after nearly 2 years

Los Angeles city workers Monday took down the fence surrounding Echo Park -- roughly two years after the park was closed and roughly 200 homeless people who had taken up residence there during the height of the coronavirus pandemic were moved.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Homeless crisis: Residents voice concern over idea of fence around Echo Park coming down

Former Councilman Mitch O'Farrell's office arranged for the closure of the park in 2021, saying the operation was required to clean and make needed repairs. Los Angeles city Sanitation and Environment crews removed what they quantified as 35.7 tons of solid waste from the location.

The park underwent $60,000 worth of cleaning and repairs, including replacing playground surfacing, upgrading restrooms and exterior lighting fixtures to LED, replacing five drinking fountains, improving light poles in the area, improving and painting the exterior of the lake's boathouse, improving the lake bridge, refurbishing the park's turf and improving irrigation.

When word spread in March 2021 that the park would be closed for repairs, many in the community saw it as a veiled effort to remove the hundreds of homeless people who took up residence in the park during the pandemic.

The move was met with large protests, in which officers arrested 182 people. Protesters 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.

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Many neighbors had complained about increasing trash at the park, and said they no longer felt safe there.

City officials at the time said the site had become dangerous, with drug overdoses and four deaths taking place there.

The closure of the park, protests and the subsequent removal of the homeless community played a part in Hugo Soto-Martinez's campaign to represent Council District 13 and oust O'Farrell.

Soto-Martinez claimed that encampments at Echo Park increased under O'Farrell's watch, and said he would not allow "encampments to grow like they did at Echo Park Lake." Meeting a pledge Soto-Martinez made during his campaign, the fence came down Monday morning.