As David Spangler recently performed his daily exercise routine in an outdoor gym in Reseda along the Los Angeles River bike path, a small group of neighborhood activists with clipboards and pens in hands approached him.
They wanted to ask about his experience on the bike path.
“It was beautiful three years ago,” the 49-year-old resident told them. “Now there’s junkies everywhere.”
Spangler told the citizens watchdog group that he has seen drug addicts loitering around the gym, stashing shopping carts filled to the brim with their personal belongings and blocking access to some of the equipment. He said he has also seen some of them shooting up.
Reseda’s bike path opened in 2012 and was intended to be a family-friendly trail where people could enjoy an evening walk or bike ride along the river. But residents say they are increasingly afraid of going out alone or letting their children ride their bikes through the area because of transients.
The neighborhood group that approached Spangler calls itself Reseda’s “River Walkers,” residents who have been pressuring city agencies responsible for the river and bike path to clean and supervise the area. The group includes about 30 active members and hundreds of others logging in on Nextdoor.com, a community website where residents can post about local concerns
“Our group is steady and assertive,” said Evelyn Aleman a resident of almost 20 years who has taken the lead of the community effort. “We’ve made [city officials] understand we’re not going away.”
Residents are demanding that the shrubs along the trail be replaced with succulents to make it easier to maintain and discourage transients from setting up encampments. They also want consistent monitoring by law enforcement and even a hotline to report incidents along the trail.
Councilman Bob Blumenfield, whose district includes Reseda, is one of the group’s allies. He has put pressure on the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks when needed and sent a representative on monthly walks along the bike path to listen to residents’ concerns and offer suggestions.
Blumenfield said one of the problems that activists face is the number of oversight agencies they must deal with. In addition to the parks department, the Department of Public Works and the Los Angeles Police Department also have jurisdiction over the area.
“It’s not only frustrating for the community but it’s frustrating for me as” their advocate, he said of the complications created by having multiple agencies involved. “When you have diverse or diffuse responsibility, you have less accountability.”
There are other issues. LAPD Officer Oscar Bocanegra, who is responsible for overseeing the bike path area, said there are not enough resources to meet some of the River Walkers’ demands, like a group of officers dedicated to regularly monitoring the bike path.
He did credit the group’s involvement, however, with helping him and the LAPD and other agencies identify the specific areas that need attention. He also noted that a Homeless Outreach and Proactive Engagement, or HOPE, team, which is responsible for helping the homeless access resources, visits the Reseda bike path every few weeks.
The River Walkers and others look at what happened in Santa Ana, which is struggling to address a growing homeless population that has been displaced from encampments along the Santa Ana River Trail, and worry about a similar problem developing in their community. In March, the Orange County city cleared tons of trash and thousands of pounds of hazardous waste on the trail.
Reseda residents said they don’t want the same thing to happen to their neighborhood. Aleman said she wants local efforts to be a model for communities across the county that want to prevent crime, trash and growing homeless encampments along the 51-mile stretch of the Los Angeles River.
The group said it has consistently called and emailed officials from the oversight agencies, and hosted walks along the bike path and pressed for meetings with them.
City officials must address the problems along the Reseda bike path, said Dorian Gunning, a resident of 30 years, “because if they don’t, we’ll be Santa Ana, basically.”