LA removes homeless camp from vacant Watts lot

The man who lived in the manhole had disappeared.

After weeks of visits from field workers and last-minute coercion by the police, the line of shanties was abandoned.

At 8 a.m., a bulldozer and grader circled the 10-acre vacant lot in Watts, scraping 10-foot-tall weeds and the trash they hid in piles. A smaller tractor sifted through clothes, TV and computer parts, infant car seats and broken concrete. A fourth machine with a shovel lifted the concentrate, along with several loads of abandoned tires, into three giant dumpsters.

Thursday’s cleanup of the troubled Lanzit property has been a huge boon to an oppressed neighborhood, said community activist Germán Magaña, who acts as an unofficial spokesperson for nearby business owners, residents and even the people who lived on the property.

Germán Magaña, an unofficial neighborhood ombudsman, was in regular contact with people living in the camp.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

But it was just the beginning of a new phase that requires vigilance to prevent the property from falling into disrepair. It will take drive and creativity to overcome 28 years of failure that marked the city’s plans to develop it.

“As of today, I am very happy,” said Magaña. “I know it will take some time before a solution is actually found for what will happen to the property. It’s a process and we all understand that. But for now, the community, as well as the homeless community, will be better off. A lot has ended up in housing.”

The city bought the land just south of 108th Street and a few blocks east of Avalon Boulevard in 1994, hoping to revive a community bloodied from its economic base and traumatized by the 1992 riots. planned to bring hundreds of high-tech jobs to Watts with the area’s first industrial development since the 1970s.

As reported in a Times article with Juan Luis Gonzalez-Castillo, the man in the manhole, at least five development proposals died in a decades-long saga of City Hall intrigue, bureaucratic delays, and even bad luck when a developer died shortly after his development plan was abandoned. accepted.

A firefighter in an encampment

Firefighter Darren Burkhart raises an American flag at a homeless camp in Watts on Friday.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Magaña credited the article with hastening the city’s response Thursday to the long-festering condition at the plot.

“Maybe the will is often not there,” he said. Or, in a broad reference to the numerous city services that had allowed the problems to proliferate: “Sometimes we are not aware of what is happening in our districts.

“It makes a huge difference when community members, the fire service, the police and the city council work together to make this possible,” Magaña said.

The multi-agency project began with earthmoving equipment supplied by the Los Angeles Fire Department.

They circled the property for hours, cutting the weeds.

Meanwhile, a welding crew from the city’s General Service made new repairs to the often-broken fence at the dead end of 109th Place, where thieves gained access to stripped car bodies.

A man standing at a property line full of rubble

Mike Balderrama, owner of Cardinal Glass Industries, watches the cleanup of the Watts site.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Three outreach workers from the Homeless Outreach Program Integrated Care System, or HOPICS, the primary homeless services agency in South Los Angeles, surveyed each of the makeshift homes to make sure they were vacated. They said they found a place for everyone who wanted them.

Unfortunately, Gonzalez-Castillo was not among them. They had found him a home and he accepted, but later changed his mind, they said. They didn’t know where he was.

LA City Councilor Marqueece Harris-Dawson arrived in the early afternoon to observe the final stages of the cleanup from under a canopy erected by his staff on the road in the center of the lot.

As the brush turned to bare earth, two dogs, either lost nearby or abandoned by the homeless, began pacing nervously across the property. Officer S. Infante, of Los Angeles Animal Services, showed up to try and catch them. He approached a black Chihuahua and nearly had him in his grasp as he advanced. Infante left empty-handed as the chihuahua repeatedly dodged him and the larger dog disappeared.

Mike Balderrama, manager of Cardinal Glass Industries next to the Lanzit site, watched through a metal picket fence. Occasionally he looked at his feet where he pushed a few used syringes with his boot.

“This is where they would sell their drugs,” Balderrama said of the residents of the now vacant slums.

Balderrama said he was pleased with the removal of the imminent threat of a bushfire that would spread to the roof of the Cardinal building. But he was worried that conditions outside the compound would work again.

Compton Creek, a concrete canal adjacent to the Cardinal properties to the north, was a wasteland of cardboard plates, dirty clothing, a used butane container, and other garbage. A stolen van had been left behind a few paces down the canal bank, and a slum still remained, hooking up an electric cable to run an air conditioner.

A police officer with a telephone in a homeless camp

LAPD agent Armando Leyva photographs a homeless camp after telling two men they can no longer camp on the property.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

At one point, LAPD Senior Lead Officer Armando Leyva, one of several police officers who oversaw the cleanup, drove down the access road to the canal to call for a tow truck to retrieve the van. He then proceeded to the encampment where he told two men there to leave, although he did not give them a deadline.

Harris-Dawson said he thinks community activity is the answer.

“Ensuring that a space is used regularly by people and families is the best and most enduring security,” he said in a statement. “

He said he would work with district and city services to determine what type of activities are desirable and feasible.

In the long run, he said, he remains committed to “creating the job-rich use, hopefully with production, that it once was.”

Thursday’s cleanup continued through the afternoon as Captain Richard Diede of the LAFD Heavy Equipment unit entered the last two remaining cabins to make sure they were empty.

He walked past a fan hanging from the ceiling and electrical wiring on the floor connected to a nearby telephone pole. After leaving, he gave the all-clear signal and the bulldozer got to work on the first construction. Another machine quickly joined and brought down the second structure.

The job still wasn’t done when the crews left for the day.

The fire service returned on Friday to place several concrete highway barriers in strategic places to prevent anyone from entering illegally.

A man walks with a bicycle

Marvin Williams, 62, leaves the vacant lot where he had lived for two years.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Magaña said he was proud to see three neighborhood homeless people working alongside the city crews.

Magaña said he knows that many of them are decent people whose lives can be changed through good jobs. But he added that there are others who are predators, who controlled the camps through fear and theft from the nearby businesses.

“What I hope from the political bureaus is that they can finally create a separation between the homeless and the criminal aspect of it,” he said. “That will be something for the community.”

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