DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - For the first week of August, a plaza and a hillside park at Fourth and Hill streets collected a blanket of trash and devolved into a rodent playground. It occurred after the site was fenced off from public use by the property’s absentee government landlord.
The now defunct Community Redevelopment Agency owns Angel’s Knoll park, which sits atop a small hill next to Angels Flight, as well as a plaza that abuts the sidewalk along Hill Street at the bottom of the funicular.
The site includes a slope between the plaza and Angel’s Knoll that has long been fenced off. In the past it was known as the spot where the CRA sometimes dispatched goats to trim the tall grass.
Since Gov. Jerry Brown forced redevelopment agencies in California to dissolve last year, the CRA has been in the slow, grinding process of shutting itself down. That means tasks such as selling off its excess property. Decades ago the plot in question was set aside for the third phase of the Cal Plaza skyscrapers, though the state of the office market prevented it from ever rising. Angel’s Knoll was always intended as a temporary park, but it gets regular use from exercise groups and people who want to visit a bench featured in the indie film 500 Days of Summer.
The CRA has since given way to what is known as a successor agency, which installed the fence on July 30 “due to an increase in complaints from stakeholders about trash, litter and concerns with loitering onsite,” said agency spokesman Ackley Padilla in a statement.
Adele Yellin, owner of Grand Central Market across the street, said the plaza was a place that most people avoided. She said it was not uncommon for homeless individuals to defecate in the plaza, and to harangue passersby.
“I just feel like it was a mess,” said Yellin, who added that she contacted homeless service providers to request that they try to help some of the people who were spending the day in the plaza.
Yellin said she was not among the stakeholders who allegedly complained about the site to the CRA, but she nevertheless supports the installation of the fence.
"It did solve a problem,” she said.
Blocking off the site is also a first step in preparing it for an eventual sale, Padilla said.
“The fencing will enable the asset’s value to be maintained pending the property’s eventual disposition under a State Department of Finance approved Long Range Property Management Plan,” the statement continued. “The fencing was designed to allow for unimpeded pedestrian access to the stairwell adjacent to Angel’s Flight, which connects Bunker Hill to the Grand Central Market.”
The fence was at first problematic because workers did not install a gate that could allow access for cleaning the site. Additionally, the trash cans inside the fence were apparently not emptied before it was erected. That’s why refuse and rats skittered around the site for more than a week.
A reporter witnessed at least nine rodents near the Hill Street plaza on Aug. 4 at about 7:30 p.m. The sightings came as a steady stream of people headed from the Metro station at Fourth and Hill streets to the Grand Performances concert series at Cal Plaza.
On Wednesday, Aug. 7, agency officials added a gate and a maintenance crew cleaned the plaza area on Hill Street. It took that long to add the gate because the CRA successor agency must wade through a complicated bureaucracy to get state approval for all work orders.
While the site is now clean, the chain link fence that surrounds the plaza remains. Some Downtown stakeholders questioned the wisdom of blocking public access.
“A lot of homeless people were there every morning, but they weren’t hurting anyone,” said Valeria Villa, who works on Bunker Hill and often takes the steps next to Angels Flight down to Hill Street during the lunch hour. “With the fence, it’s ugly.”
Ryan Guiboa, another Bunker Hill worker, concurred.
“I think it looks awful,” remarked Guiboa, who said that if the park was previously a maintenance drain, it was nevertheless comparable to other small parks in Downtown.
“Yes, now it’s clean, but you can’t go inside,” he said.
Padilla, the spokesman for the CRA successor agency, said the group will continue to maintain the site “periodically.” There is no official timeline for the proposed sale of the land.