.5M MacArthur Park Road Closure Plan in Los Angeles Raises Local Consternation – Daily News
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$2.5M MacArthur Park Road Closure Plan in Los Angeles Raises Local Consternation – Daily News

People walk along Wilshire Boulevard between two sections of MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, Tuesday, July 9, 2024. Los Angeles City Councilwoman Eunisses Hernandez announced plans to add green space to the Westlake neighborhood by reconnecting MacArthur Park, which was divided in 1934 by Wilshire Boulevard. The low-income, majority-Latino neighborhood continues to grapple with a drug and overdose crisis that residents say prevents them from enjoying the park. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

The city is considering spending $2.5 million to close a road through MacArthur Park to increase community access to green space, but some residents would prefer that the city focus first on combating rampant drug addiction and homelessness in the park.

On Tuesday morning, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Eunisses Hernandez held a press conference to announce the launch of the “Reconnecting MacArthur Park” project, which will close Wilshire Boulevard to vehicle traffic and reconnect both sides of the park. The goal is to create a more pedestrian-friendly park space in the predominantly immigrant and low-income Westlake neighborhood.

Residents are pleased that the city is focusing on renovating the park, but some say the biggest impediment to enjoying the park is the widespread use of fentanyl in the park, not the cars on Wilshire Boulevard.

“I don’t see Wilshire Boulevard bisecting and dividing the park as a problem that really needs to be addressed,” said Ruben Hornillo-Rodriguez, a local resident and secretary of the MacArthur Park Neighborhood Council. “The priority should be to make the entire park accessible to everyone, especially the part near Alvarado Street that is not very accessible because it has been taken over by drug addicts.”

MacArthur Park is at the epicenter of Los Angeles’ overdose epidemic. In 2022, there were 84 fentanyl-related deaths in the 0.9-square-mile ZIP code surrounding the park—more than any other ZIP code in Los Angeles County.

Watch: Los Angeles Fentanyl Hotspot Map Reveals Where Key Resources Are Missing

City Council member Hernandez is no stranger to the drug and homelessness crisis in the area. Last month, she secured $3 million to open a respite center near the park that will provide sterile medication supplies, naloxone overdose-reversal spray, and referrals to housing and other services.

While this is good news, it will take at least a year for the respite center to open, and many residents are demanding immediate attention due to the spike in drug use in the area.

“I congratulate all the people who came out today,” said resident and local businessman Ab Saloj, who grew up in the neighborhood. “But what are we doing to clean up the park, clean up the fentanyl use? Because that’s the real problem. We don’t want more people to die.”

Edgar Chaj, who owns a nearby Guatemalan restaurant, said he’s angry that local children have to watch adults defecate, smoke fentanyl and use needles in the park every day. Chaj is skeptical about the impact of the Reconnecting MacArthur Park project.

“As a community living in this area, we feel like they (city leaders) just want to give us something to feel like they’re doing something, but it’s not something we want, nor is it something that affects the health of the community that lives here, nor is it something that affects small businesses,” he said.

Councilmember Hernandez believes the community will benefit from this project.

“Having open green spaces available to the public builds resilience to climate change, improves public health and the safety of our neighborhoods, and ultimately creates and sustains thriving communities,” Hernandez said at a news conference. “That’s what Reconnecting MacArthur Park is all about.”

The project also enjoys the enthusiastic support of Mayor Karen Bass, LAUSD Regional School Board Member Rocío Rivas and Los Angeles Department of Transportation CEO Laura Rubio-Cornejo.

“Reconnecting MacArthur Park would return nearly two acres of parkland to the local Westlake community while reducing vehicle traffic on streets adjacent to the park to improve traffic, cyclist and pedestrian safety and connectivity,” Bass said at a news conference. “Angelenos deserve a healthy park.”

Funding for the project’s planning phase comes from a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program and $500,000 from the Southern California Association of Governments’ (SCAG) Sustainable Communities Program.

The first step is a traffic analysis and community outreach study to examine the impact that closing this section of road will have on traffic patterns and quality of life for residents. The study is scheduled to begin in August 2024 and conclude in winter 2025.

Borough Councilmember Hornillo-Rodriguez said he is pleased the city is investing in the community and is willing to work with city leaders to find solutions.

Neither he nor any other borough council member attended the news conference Tuesday morning. While the event was mentioned by a city official at a recent borough council meeting, Hornillo-Rodriguez said he never saw formal notice of a date or time for the press conference.

Chaj, a local business owner, said he was only informed late Monday afternoon about the press conference scheduled for Tuesday morning.

“To really engage the community, you need to at least give them a week’s notice,” Chaj said, adding that in a working-class neighborhood, it’s very difficult for most residents to make last-minute changes to attend an event during a workday.

While the press conference was not exactly advertised to residents, Hernandez promised a robust community engagement campaign as part of the Connecting MacArthur Park project.

“We truly believe that the people closest to the problems are closest to the solutions, and our team wants to be a way for our community to share with the city what they want to see in their neighborhoods,” she said.

She said activities will include multilingual outreach, neighborhood meetings and a temporary closure of Wilshire Boulevard to assess local response.