Westchester Senior Center

Crime tape now marks off Senior Center (Westside Current)

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WESTCHESTER -Residents on the Westside say they want a grand re-opening event at Westchester Park to celebrate for the children, youth, and seniors who use and benefit most from the park, but they don't want it to be about Councilmember Mike Bonin.

According to the Westchester Department of Recreation and Parks (RAP), a park opening celebration is being planned but a date is still being determined.

The event was agreed upon by Bonin’s staff and Grass Roots Neighbors, a volunteer community organization out of Playa del Rey, at a meeting this past December.  

"While we are happy the park is opening to the public, we are receiving numerous complaints from community members that this should not be a Mike Bonin and Grass Roots Neighbors event," said Debra Huston, a grandmother and community activist who worked to get the park cleaned and cleared. 

At one point this summer, the park had more than 90 encampments that put a halt to events at the senior center and many park activities and team sports. 

"Numerous ball clubs had to drive as far as San Diego to find fields to play on while fields at Westchester remain closed,” said Huston. Adding that the senior center also remains closed. 

A search on Google shows that first-time park-goers shared the concerns of the community." Do Not Come Here. This park is now a homeless encampment supported by Councilmember Mike Bonin, whose office is here. No place for kids to play. No kids' sports are happening here anymore. Constant crime. Shame, this used to be a nice place!"

Another review stated: "I've never seen so many homeless at a park before. Some parking spaces by the library have tents, vans, and RVs. It's funny how the park says it won't forget the veterans, but there's a van in the parking that is a veteran. You can get the smell of weed. I think I saw a liter bottle of pee. One tent even made a fence. Some crazy lady was yelling f America. Horrible view of the park. Help them." 

Many community members say they tried to work with Bonin's office during the height of the encampment crisis with little to no response. 

"There is a powerful feeling that the event should not be politicized by the person who let our park become a homeless encampment and encouraged the homeless occupation of the park long after other parks in the City are back in business," stated Huston. 

Along with allowing the encampments to grow at the park, community members also highlighted that Bonin earmarked the park to be one of several locations on the Westside to study building a temporary shelter on it.  

Bonin requested the feasibility study of temporary housing at several Westside parks and beach parking lots in a motion that the City Council approved on May 26. Westchester Park was among the parks and beaches to be looked at. 

Ultimately the City Administrative Officer (CAO) stated that Westchester Park was not feasible for temporary housing. In a report published in August, the CAO said that RAP recommended that Westchester Park not be used because it had varied and robust recreational use before the pandemic.

Data from Westchester and Mar Vista parks showed that more than 6,000 youth participants attend and utilize the parks and facilities. "The parking lots are needed for pick up and drop off for programming and aquatics," the report read. 

The report also stated that the parks generate more than $500,000 in annual revenue.  

"Community members remember that Mike Bonin, just this year, wanted a homeless shelter built at Westchester Park with part of the park sectioned off through rezoning for that purpose, and he filed a motion with City Council to work toward that,” said Huston. “Unfortunately, this terrible idea that is inconsistent with the mission of LA City Parks resulted in thousands of hours spent by community members fighting this motion until the CAO determined the park to be infeasible.” 

This fall, Bonin secured more than $1 million to fund an Encampment to Home program at the park. People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, and Grass Roots Neighbors worked on housing the homeless at the park.  

"He created a problem and then 'fixed it,' but really he moved people to motels and now wants to celebrate his accomplishment," said Huston. "What he fails to mention or consider is that hundreds of seniors are still without their senior center, and the parking lot for the senior center has vehicles housing homeless within 30 feet of it.  Seniors won’t feel safe going there even if the senior center were open. Also, thousands of kids are still without their ball fields because Bonin allowed this park to be entirely taken over by close to 100 homeless encampments causing damage to the ballfields. RAP is now renovating the ballfields, so they are still unavailable for use by children and youth in our community. Half of the 50 spaces in the parking lot closest to the ballfield are fenced off for “Safe Parking,” which Bonin wants in the park. No other park in the entire City of Los Angeles has a Safe Parking program. Our community members are still working to get our fields and senior center back, and Bonin wants a celebration. He hasn’t earned it, and this is no reason for him to run a victory lap."

Westchester RAP stated that they will be hosting the event and that Bonin's office may support it and said the date and details are still being worked out. 

A similar event was held in Venice after encampments were removed from the Venice Boardwalk. The event was also sponsored by RAP and Bonin’s office.