Workers begin removal of the Echo Park fence, as LA officials vow to keep area safe
Workers on Monday began dismantling the fence that has surrounded Echo Park Lake, two years after a massive homeless encampment was cleared out of the historic park.
Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez, who took office in December, ran on a promise to remove the temporary chain-link fence, calling it a “symbol” of the city’s biggest failure on homelessness. The fence went up in 2021, just as scores of unhoused people were moved out of the park and into motels, hotels and homeless shelters in downtown, Westlake and elsewhere.
Soto-Martinez and Mayor Karen Bass carried out their own encampment operation in the area two weeks ago, taking dozens of homeless people from streets near Echo Park Lake and moving them into hotels in downtown and Silver Lake. Since then, Soto-Martinez has promised to send outreach workers into the park seven days a week to ensure that it remains safe and people do not move back.
“We look forward to continuing our work with the community to achieve our shared goals for the park, which include … ensuring Echo Park Lake is safe, clean and accessible for all,” Soto-Martinez said in a statement.
Some who were in the park on Monday morning had their doubts.
Reina Moreno, who walks in the park each day, said she does not want to see the park again filled with trash and human waste. Moreno, who lives nearby, said she’s OK with crews taking down the chain-link barrier — “as long as they put up another one.”
“If there is security here 24/7, then there won’t be a problem,” the 57-year-old hairstylist said. “But if they’re not taking care of it, then there should be a fence — permanent.”
Some residents who live closer to the lake have voiced similar concerns, calling for a nicer, permanent fence. They said the park was the backdrop for fistfights, shootings and fatal overdoses — including one involving an 18-year-old from San Diego County — when the encampment was at its peak.
Homeless advocacy groups have sought to counter the idea that the encampment was dangerous, calling it a “beautiful and much-lauded homeless-run outdoor community” that offered security, stability and “healing for drug addiction and mental illness.” Some argued that a fence would do nothing to address homelessness and other societal ills.
Spencer Bowman, 25, was excited to see the fence come down. Seated on a bench facing the lake, he called the fence “an eyesore and a monument to that ugly period.”
“It only seems to exclude and it is visually metal and gray and ugly,” said Bowman, who works in post-production.
Two years ago, an encampment with nearly 200 tents covered much of the park, occupying nearly all of the grassy areas on the Glendale Boulevard side and much of its northern end. Hundreds of people showed up to protest the encampment’s removal, leading to clashes between L.A. police officers and demonstrators, as well as scores of arrests.
On Monday, one of the workers removing sections of chain-link described the heated atmosphere in 2021, when he and others were installing the fence.
“We were getting yelled at by everybody,” said the worker, who declined to give his name.
In November, Soto-Martinez defeated Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, who had not taken a position on the fence, saying he would follow the community’s wishes on whether it should become permanent.
Soto-Martinez said earlier this month that voters in the district, which stretches from Echo Park to Hollywood and Glassell Park, chose to take the fence down when they elected him as their council member since he had repeatedly promised to remove it during his campaign.
Echo Park, one of the city’s most scenic open spaces, received a $45-million renovation a decade ago, which introduced new wetlands to various corners of the lake. In 2021, the Recreation and Parks Department allocated up to $600,000 for cleanup and repairs needed following the encampment’s removal. A year later, O’Farrell committed $500,000 for a “needs assessment” of the park.
Soto-Martinez had been somewhat vague in recent weeks about the exact date of the fence’s removal. In a recent statement, he said only that it would be gone by the end of Friday.
For weeks, Soto-Martinez has promised to have teams of unarmed responders available at the park during nighttime hours. City crews recently posted notices saying that one block of Lemoyne Street, between the lake and Sunset Boulevard, would be the site of a major sanitation cleaning on Wednesday.
Gil Mangaoang, who lives across from the lake’s lotus bed, was not reassured. Mangaoang, who belongs to a group that has lobbied for a permanent fence, said he and his neighbors will work in the coming weeks to ensure the park remains clean and secure.
If crime and violence do return to the park, Soto-Martinez “will be a one-term council member,” Mangaoang said.