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ECHO PARK : Cleanup Turns Eyesore Into Park

October 16, 1994|TOMMY LI

A community group has helped make a small park out of a vacant lot on Sunset Boulevard that stood out as the neighborhood's unofficial trash dump.

Now community leaders face another problem that will be discussed at a meeting this week: stopping people from vandalizing the park and stealing the freshly planted trees.

Before the recent cleanup, the 60-by-35-foot, privately owned property at Sunset and Portia Street had "attracted all the garbage and rubbish," said Echo Park resident Susan Borden. "There were walls there from a partially put up building, and those walls were an absolute magnet for graffiti," she said.

Neighbors said the area had been an eyesore for two years, despite efforts by the property owner to clean the lot periodically and fence it off to prevent vandalism of the walls. The Echo Park Improvement Assn., headed by Borden, had also tried to clean up the site.

Andrew Conroy, an Echo Park resident, drove by the weed-filled lot earlier this year and decided to do something about it.

A grant writer for Jovenes Inc., a Chinatown-based homeless youth and family service agency, Conroy said he received help from Tree People, a San Fernando Valley nonprofit agency that seeks to beautify communities by planting trees. Tree People used a $6,000 grant from the Yuban coffee company, which sponsors a campaign to improve the environment through tree plantings, to pay for much of the lot's face-lift last month.

Property owner Arthur Goldberg allowed Jovenes and Tree People to spruce up the parcel into a park and agreed to split the water bills with Jovenes.

"Land should be used for the people," said Goldberg, an attorney who is also the brother of Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg. He said he bought the property three years ago and had planned to build a new home for the Working People's Law Center, a community law office in Echo Park. But he abandoned the project after running into problems with a contractor and has since tried to clean up the site every four to six months.

Conroy started the cleanup work during the summer with the help of teen-agers from Jovenes Inc. With the trash and debris cleared, a construction crew graded and filled the site with dirt.

Eleven 3- to 8-foot-high fruit trees, including guava, orange and lemon varieties, were planted throughout the lot. The lot is across the street from Chinese grocery stores, restaurants and a gas station.

A dedication ceremony was held Oct. 1, and the site was named La Paz Park--Spanish for Peace Park, Conroy said.

But two days later, he said, the park's surrounding walls were vandalized with graffiti. The next day, five of the fruit trees were stolen.

The recent crimes have prompted Jovenes Inc. to schedule an afternoon meeting Wednesday with community leaders to find ways to protect the park, Conroy said.

Possibilities include reinstalling a fence and strengthening Neighborhood Watch efforts, he said.

"Our original intent was this community park," Conroy said. "We were thinking a fence wouldn't be necessary. . . . After this, we might want to tighten security a little bit."

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