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City Hall Park reopens to the public after 'facelift'

By Hayley Fox
Published: Thursday, July 19, 2012, at 01:59PM

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke at the City Hall park opening on Thursday.



City Hall Park reopened on Thursday after being closed since the dramatic removal of the Occupy L.A. encampment last winter. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, city councilmembers, Police Chief Charlie Beck and other officials all emphasized that the open space is "the people's park" -- intended for all Angelenos, not just one particular group.

"We're dedicated to preserving our freedom to speak and protest and organize, but we're also dedicated to preserving this park as a space for the public," said the Mayor.

Villaraigosa described the revamped park as "new and significantly improved" and said that for decades it's been a "cultural and historical landmark" where residents are welcome to celebrate, gather and even protest when they must.

He said that for years the city was planning renovations to the park, and received a prime opportunity to do that this year.

"This is Los Angeles after all, and every once in a while everyone needs a facelift," said Villaraigosa.

He added that for at least a few more weeks, the fence surrounding the area will be kept up to ensure a "smooth transition." Entryways will only be open between the hours of 5 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. After the north side of the lawn is finished, the fence will come down.

Villaraigosa was so enthusiastic about the new park, he paused (twice) in the middle of his speech to scold members of the media for walking through the newly planted flowers and succulents. He also pointed to the row of children who were in attendance and encouraged all the adults to set a good example by minding the foliage.

Around 10:30 a.m. Occupy protesters began to trickle down to the park, but they were kept outside of the fence until the official press conference was complete.

Allan Eaton, one of the protesters, said he started "occupying" back in New York, then came to L.A. and set up a tent at City Hall.

"I don't think our intent was ever to destroy the lawn and unfortunately that's what happened," said Eaton.

He added that he had "no plans on reoccupying the space particularly" and that he was glad to see the space re-done, even if he doubted the sustainability of the layout.

"For me more than anything it's kind of symbolic to be here when the fence comes down because the only time I've ever lived in the downtown Los Angeles area was when I had my tent on the northeast corner," said Eaton.

With the newly opened park comes a reinstatement of rules; there are no tents allowed, no smoking and no one allowed in the park past 10:30 p.m.

"There are a number of rules that are intended to make this park available for everybody to use, not just one small group," said Chief Beck.

The new park includes expanses of fresh grass, designated areas for native plants and tree-lined walkways. Ramon Barajas, Superintendent of Maintenance Operations for the Department of Recreation and Parks, said they reduced the amount of grass in the area by 51 percent to help save water, and used energy efficient lighting to reduce power costs.

In what he described as a "team effort" between the community, government and volunteers, Barajas said he thought the City Hall space is probably "the most beautiful park in the city."

The opening of City Hall Park comes about a week before the approximately 12-acre Grand Park opens nearby, between Temple and First streets and Grand Avenue and Spring Street,

"It's almost overwhelming...it's an embarrassment of riches," said Councilwoman Jan Perry, who's 9th District previously included these ares. "It feels tremendous. It just feels tremendous."

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