Despite substantial security problems with its first public park in Skid Row, the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency on Monday, saying it is determined to improve the area, approved construction of a second park in the heart of the downtown slum.
The agency board awarded a $331,800 contract to build a new one-third-acre park--designed to discourage street people from sleeping or engaging in illicit activities--at 5th and San Julian streets, a tough corner where the agency has been investing millions of dollars to preserve and upgrade old hotels.
In a separate decision, the agency board, citing the concerns about downtown park security, reaffirmed its intent to incorporate housing and commercial developments into a proposed four-acre Olympic Park on the southern edge of the business district, where the city is trying to establish a large, middle-class residential district.
The actions highlighted the thorny issues the agency faces as it continues to build up downtown and attempts to provide badly needed open space for diverse--sometimes conflicting--groups of residents and workers.
Four years ago, the agency, in an attempt to provide the downtown poor with their own gathering spot and public restrooms--in part to keep them from wandering through the business district--built its first park in Skid Row at 6th Street and Gladys Avenue. The $500,000 facility has been badly vandalized and has become an unofficial settlement for the homeless.
Police and agency officials have said a tough group of street people dominate the park and drug sales are common. "It is a disaster from any point of view," said Jim Wood, chairman of the Community Redevelopment Agency board. "It is not a park."
But Wood said the agency is not retreating because the first effort failed. To walk away, he said, "would be conceding a part of the city. . . . This board is not in a conceding mood. It's in a fighting mood."
Agency officials said they have learned from experience on the first park, which they are preparing to rehabilitate. The long-planned second park, scheduled for completion next summer, will have special benches designed to prevent sleeping, bright lights and security personnel.
The intent is to close the park to the public at night, using security personnel or patrols. Some officials argue that the facility should be fenced to control nighttime access. But the Community Redevelopment Agency board chose not to fence the park unless the problems develop. "The agency believes that is a concession to a fortress mentality," Wood said.
Alice Callaghan, a Skid Row activist, acknowledged that controls are needed to prevent street people from building shanties and engaging in illegal activities. But making benches difficult to sleep on and closing the park at night are not the answer, she said. "You don't throw all the activities out (at night). They have no where to sleep," she said.
Wood said the city has an obligation to develop more homeless shelters and should not "take the easy way out" by having people sleeping in parks.
In the South Park development, the agency is planning to develop a large park as a major amenity to a hoped-for 6,000 residential units that would be built south of the financial district.
Board members on Monday said they hope to avoid creating another trouble spot by locating Olympic Park on the same block with residential and commercial developments.