Left behind: Occupiers’ treasures become the city’s trash
There were vinyl albums by Etta James and the punk band X. There were cosmetic kits, one with seven kinds of nail polish. There were sleeping bags, luggage, cutlery, a small red guitar with a broken neck and a collection of Ernest Hemingway stories.
Hours after police launched a nighttime eviction of the Occupy L.A. encampment, Los Angeles City Hall’s south lawn offered enough personal possessions to sustain a small community — except that no one was left to claim them.
City crews on Wednesday began the long and potentially expensive process of restoring the 1.7-acre park that served as ground zero for Occupy L.A., saying they expected to send 30 tons of refuse to the landfill. As they sorted through the belongings, most of which were hurriedly abandoned, they found much to astonish.
Scattered in piles were mattresses and dining chairs, luggage and boom boxes, books and CDs, cellphones and electric razors — all surrounded by dozens of collapsed and empty tents.
“They weren’t planning on going anywhere,” said Leo Martinez, division manager of the Bureau of Sanitation. “They were here to stay.”
By 8 a.m., street crews had erected concrete barriers and chain link fencing around the park. Two hours later, trash trucks were swallowing tent poles and consuming scores of sleeping bags and mounds of discarded clothing.
Surveying the terrain from the 1st Street steps, Councilman Herb Wesson said the abandoned possessions made the south lawn look like a landfill. Ed Johnson, his spokesman, compared the scene to Woodstock in 1969 — right after the festival ended. Councilman Dennis Zine, still irritated that the protest lasted 58 days, had a less romantic description: “a mess.”
“Two months is way too long to occupy a park — way too long,” Zine said after snapping pictures of an elaborate treehouse adorned with water jugs and a Hello Kitty pinata.
What that mess will cost to remove is uncertain. The price tag for Occupy L.A. is not expected until Friday at the earliest, although Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa warned that it could exceed $1 million.
Jon Kirk Mukri, general manager for the Department of Recreation and Parks, said the city may spend more than two months and up to $400,000 to re-sod the lawn, repair the irrigation system and plant new drought-tolerant landscaping. At least one tree will have to be removed.
“Every cent that’s going to go into the park is coming from taxpayer dollars, and that could mean less programming when we get to springtime at our rec centers,” he said.
City officials are also attempting to find a home for the plywood erected around a public fountain that became an instant palette for the protesters and gave way to a colorful mural that became a backdrop of Occupy L.A.
“The plan is to take care of it,” said Olga Garay-English, executive director of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs.
On the north side of City Hall, protesters’ possessions had been swept into the gutter: pillows, tennis balls, cigarette lighters and an Ashford & Simpson album from 1977 featuring the song “I Waited Too Long.” On the south side were belongings both earnest and whimsical, a book containing 9-11 conspiracy theories sat on the sidewalk, a few feet from a copy of Mad Magazine.
Some materials were treated by cleanup crews as hazardous, like the crate of gallon-sized plastic jugs that a city worker said were filled with urine.
Anthony Sarmie, 24, of Lincoln Heights said that in the Los Angeles Police Department raid, he lost his wallet, his tent, his sleeping bag and his clothes. “It’s a sensitive thing right now,” he said. “I’m upset, and I’m hurt, and I’m let down.”
As the crowd of looky-loos peered through the newly erected chain-link fence Wednesday, the vacant lawn — now mostly dirt — elicited a variety of reactions. Donna Spurgeon, 54, said she was in “utter shock” after seeing the makeshift mural.
“If you’re here to protest, don’t deface public property,” said the Ojai resident.
Norman Schwartz, 76, was far more wistful, disappointed to find that there was “no longer this wonderful thing going on” outside City Hall.
“It was,” he said, “just an empty, dirty park.”
Times staff writer John Hoeffel contributed to this report
Get breaking news, investigations, analysis and more signature journalism from the Los Angeles Times in your inbox.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.