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Is Friends of Echo Park Lake Turning the Lake into an Enforcement Zone?

The self-described “progressive” organization is working with CD13’s Mitch O’Farrell to ensure “permanent and 24/7 LAPD presence”

According to their website, Friends of Echo Park Lake is a “volunteer organization founded by progressive residents of the community of Echo Park.” While their mission statement claims they do not endorse the criminalization of unhoused people in any way, recently released videos reveal an alliance between Friends of Echo Park, CD13 Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, and the LAPD. The plan is to turn Echo Park Lake into an enforcement zone by this spring — and to do so without significant press attention.

On January 26, Friends of Echo Park Lake hosted a meeting where they discussed turning Echo Park Lake into a special focus area for the LAPD. The meeting was led by Ellen Parry, a stakeholder on the Echo Park Neighborhood Council and current senior development manager at Starcity.

“They shared with us that the LAPD is going to be designating an ongoing service detail to the Echo Park Lake area,” Parry stated. “This will be after the park is restored. There apparently has already been some officers deployed to a more regular rotation, both at the park and then around the park. They’ve identified an area of streets around the park. What we were told is that there’d be a permanent and 24/7 LAPD presence in and around the park going forward to ensure that it can be maintained as a community space. So I thought that was encouraging.”

Another member asked for clarification about a meeting Friends of Echo Park Lake allegedly had with O’Farrell, saying, “Per the meeting we had with Mitch O’Farrell, maybe a month or so ago, is it still in effect? Or has it taken effect, that if they refuse the housing, they will be removed?”

“Yes,” Parry said. “What the LAPD shared with us is that there would be an enforcement strategy.”

Currently, FoEPL are attempting to implement what they are calling the “Tiny Homes Project.” What they have not publicly said is that the tiny homes project is not in fact an option as unhoused residents will be forced to leave the Echo Park area if they do not accept this new housing. “I am always reluctant about the tiny homes,” states Theo Henderson, activist and host of the We The unhoused podcast. “One, Los Angeles history of criminalizing the Unhoused. Second, a pernicious predilection to indoctrinate the Unhoused community to accept substandard solutions, because it’s ‘temporary’. It has a NIMBY tinge coupled with buy in with Los Angeles Police Department ever at the ready to ‘enforce’ the law.”

O’Farrell has previously offered temporary shelters that have been met with harsh criticism from the unhoused community of Echo Park Lake. According to a statement released last March, residents had negative experiences at such shelters and were frustrated O’Farrell decided to go forward with plans without any community input. The shelters were also criticized for having open floor plans — dangerous in light of COVID-19 — and failing to take proper sanitary measures overall.

Friends of Echo Park Lake seemed similarly unconcerned with direct input from the unhoused community regarding shelter plans, as evident by the silencing of Theo Henderson when he attempted to speak during the meeting.

Henderson stated:

“Thank you for having me. Good evening, everyone. I have been listening to some of the conversations, and it’s very disconcerting to hear that in an epidemic that we have, that’s going on with the pandemic, I think it was thought of a lot of poor policymaking, that the solution is secretive enforcement of displacing unhoused members.

I am appalled, to tell you the truth, because none of the people that I’ve heard so far have any experience of houselessness. And I dare say that if it was the result of you being unhoused, you wouldn’t know how to survive for a week. So it’s really bizarre to me-”

Before Henderson could finish, he was interrupted by someone loudly clapping their hands, followed up by Friends of Echo Park Lake member Frieda Jane stating, “I’m not quite sure that you know that any of us have not experienced that. I’m not quite if you know if none of us-”

Henderson tried several times to finish his statement, but was cut off by Jane each time before Parry shut down the conversation completely by stating, “Theo, I’m sorry, but I do appreciate your comments, but this forum is really intended for our neighborhood group to talk about the Echo Park Lake, our goals for that lake, and our goals for a compassionate offer of shelter for the individuals experiencing homelessness at the lake. We welcome people to participate in this conversation who share that perspective. But this is a private neighborhood group. And so we’re not here to debate that kind of central point of view.”

As of now, it appears the LAPD is planning to turn Echo Park Lake into an enforcement zone by early spring — and they are hoping to do so as quietly as possible to, in Parry’s own words, “avoid a huge public protest issue.”

Friends of Echo Park appears highly concerned with activist backlash, as illustrated by statements from Riley Montgomery.

“We need to get coordinated as far as when these Neighborhood Council meetings or City Council meetings are happening,” Montgomery said. “We’re getting overwhelmed by these activists.”

This is an ongoing story Knock LA is following closely and we will continue to make updates as we learn more information.