Nate Berg

Emptied of protesters, the park outside Los Angeles City Hall will take months to fix

Within hours of the midnight raid at Occupy L.A. that saw 292 protesters arrested outside Los Angeles City Hall last week, the city had hauled in concrete street barriers and chain link fences to surround and quarantine the entire encampment. A 1.6-acre park had been a makeshift home to hundreds of campers for two months, one of the largest incarnations of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Today, the park sits empty and inaccessible, starkly barren when compared with the thriving and dense camp that stood just days before. But much like the Occupy encampment, this condition will only be temporary.

Turning the park back into a park will be a months-long process, and the work’s already begun. The first step was the quarantine, monitored by patrol officers even days after the raid. Almost as soon as those fences and barricades went up, the city’s sanitation department had a contractor in to collect and dispose of potentially harmful and hazardous materials. Portable toilets were removed, as well as a few urine-filled bottles. After the site had been deemed safe, city workers began collecting waste.

“Food, tents, tarps, clothing, everything you could think of being needed in an encampment,” says Peter Sanders, spokesperson for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. “But a lot of it was just garbage.”

Most of the material wasn’t suitable for recycling, so it was sent to a landfill. More than 25 tons were collected -- “the equivalent of what 2,000 houses in L.A. produce every week,” Sanders says.

Now that most of the camp’s remnants have been removed, the city’s Recreation and Parks department will begin working on rehabilitating the site.

“The lawn is dead pretty much everywhere,” Sanders says.

Walking around the main encampment site, it’s clear that the grounds have been through a lot. The grass has been pressed down and trampled into dirt patches throughout the site, leaving only hints of green near the bases of trees. Sanders says the city will need to go through and check to make sure the park’s irrigation system is undamaged. Workers will also assess the health of the park’s trees, some 80 years-old, which had been used for treehouses and sleeping sites – as well as a last resort for one protester who was eventually shot with a 12-gauge beanbag shotgun and removed from a tree structure with a cherry picker during the midnight raid.

Exactly what happens next at the park has yet to be decided, but Sanders says those meetings will take place soon. He couldn’t estimate how long the park will be closed, but its unlikely to reopen for at least a few months. In the end, all that may really need doing is re-sodding grass, but the conversations about rehabilitating the park have barely begun. In the meantime, it stands vacant and off-limits.

Through the fence recently, some remnants of the camp could be seen, at least for a few days. An errant disco ball hung from a tree branch and a hammock was still strung from two trees a dozen feet off the ground. An elaborate treehouse structure clung to one of the city’s iconic palm trees to the side of a grand staircase, which the movement had used as its central gathering place. If it’s not already gone, it soon will be.

In place of this emptied landscape, the rehabilitated park will likely be as it was before. And yet it’s hard to imagine the park not being changed, at least in spirit, by the park’s stint as the sounding board for the growing discontent of the nation.

Photo credit: Nate Berg

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