In the past month or so, we have received letters from residents commenting on the weekend swap meet surrounding the Echo Park Lake. Other community blogs have highlighted similar complaints and comments about the legality (or illegality) of the swap meets. We thought we’d take this opportunity to break down some of the issues that have come up in letters to us, other news blogs, and recent community meetings.
- From fellow Echo Park resident Marysa: “ I just got back from running in Echo Park for the first time in a month and realized why I have been unable to park anywhere near my Logan St. apartment on Sundays. The half-baked swap meet that was on Park has now exploded down to the light house on Echo Park. I can dig that people are trying to make a buck but I think it’s ruining the peace of being there. All jokes about the park aside, there is a large number of people I see on a regular basis who use the park for healthy purposes. It’s a shame to see our park get taken over by commerce.” Parking around the lake has been a frustration, especially as residents like Marysa have to fight crowds to park on her own street in front of her own house. One suggestion has been to issue Parking Permits to people that live around the lake. However, this process can take a couple of years and a LOT of community organization (efforts the past few years surrounding Dodger Stadium are a good example of this).
- In addition to the parking problems, some residents feel the Park is being overcrowded because the swap meet has expanded so far along the park edges. It is indeed a little difficult to navigate through the north-east portion of the lake. Just last weekend vendors were stretched along nearly the entire north side and along the east side just past the boat house. As Andrew Garsten, EPIA Chair of the Neighborhood Issues Committee, wrote in the latest EPIAn Ways newsletter, the swap meet is “displacing any possibility of using huge sections of the park for normal use like a quiet stroll or a picnic.” For residents like Mr. Garsten, the issue is really about people who live in Echo Park who don’t have the luxury of a back yard and who use the Lake because they need the park.
- It’s not necessarily easy to pinpoint whether or not the trash left behind is from the swap meet itself or just the normal weekend picnickers, but residents have complained about a large amount of debris being left behind on Sundays after the last vendors leave their posts. Either way, it seems that the city Parks and Rec are responsible for the cleanup.
Legal or illegal?
- According to the article “Unpermitted Flea Market” by Garsten in the latest EPIAn Ways newsletter, “the city can no longer enforce anywhere the prohibition of commercial selling in public places.” Therefore, the swap meet is pretty much legal. The EPIA is currently investigating ways the community can get the city or even the state to become involved in the neighborhood’s concerns, however the general feeling is that the city is unwilling to take action. The city was even supposed to “crack down” on the swap meet in October 2009, according to an Eastsider article.
Is this a race issue?
- Said an anonymous commenter on an Eastsider post, “The issue of race is being discussed because the only complainers are white, more upwardly mobile generally newcomers now feeling so entitled that they are willing to drop the dime and start a moan fest about people making a living.” We also received a letter written to the EPIA by new Echo Park resident Matt Wade, who argues that Mr. Garsten’s EPIAn article (mentioned above) is racist and classist because the swap meet consists of poor Latinos. “The idea that in this enormous park, once a week, the flea market makes the northeast corner unusable for ‘normal use like a quiet stroll or a picnic’ conjures the image of only one ethnicity: Caucasians. Don’t forget your Golden Retriever. Many marketgoers also bring or buy food at the flea market. Some spread out blankets and eat with their families. That’s a picnic. But it’s not a White picnic, so I understand the anxiety of Mr. Garsten. His presumptive sense of entitlement to the park land for White land use is, well, White,” he writes.
Author’s note: While it’s important to be sensitive to racism issues, I get the sense that community activists like Mr. Garsten and other community members are not intentionally (or even unintentionally) being racist. While researching this issue, we have yet to come across any specific comments or opinions (and hopefully never will) that the swap meet should be dissolved because of the low-income Latinos that occupy it.
When police or other uniformed officers show up:
- Who wants a band of uniformed officers tossing merchandise and food in the trash? Whether or not it’s legal or illegal for the vendors to sell, it’s a bit of a disproportionate reaction when that happens, as the Eastsider reported in a recent article. And with the proposed creation of the Echo Park Business Improvement District (BID), the “rent-a-cops” might end up be the ones patrolling the lake. According to the BID proposal, “A key feature of the Echo Park Business Improvement District shall be the dedicated safety patrol. A team of readily identifiable officers whose presence conveys safety and who shall work closely with the police and city officials on critical quality of life issues within the district.” Those “critical issues” involve: “panhandling, itinerant vendors, graffiti, public intoxication.” There seems to be still a lot of work ahead for the BID to take effect, so it’s unlikely this will be an immediate solution.
Alternatives for vendors:
- LACC is an option for vendors, however it does require that vendors obtain a California State Resale Permit. According to the LACC website, the permit is free. The flea market takes place both on Saturdays and Sundays.
Who to contact with questions or concerns?
- You can contact Council President Eric Garcetti at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Call 611: the “general police” are supposed to respond, although to be honest they probably won’t and it’s unclear whether or not they can do anything at all.
While community members are looking for more immediate solutions to the swap meet, the Echo Park Lake Rehabilitation project might just solve it all next year, as construction is slated to begin in April 2011, closing the entire park (sidewalks and all) for two years. Check back later for updates on that project.
We will continue to post meeting times and, when available, meeting agendas for all the local community meetings where you can get involved; you can also check our calendar to plan ahead.