Los Angeles opens newly planted park trampled in Occupy protest

LOS ANGELES Thu Jul 19, 2012 6:31pm EDT

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Police opened the gates to a revived Los Angeles City Hall Park Center on Thursday for the first time since November when a tent city of Occupy demonstrators turned it into a sandlot before they were evicted.

But sign-waving protesters were barred from the $1 million project while local politicians and city workers held a press conference in the park.

Concrete barriers with chain-link fencing remained on the edges of the park that covers a city block and surrounds City Hall. Newly posted rules prohibit camping.

The park had been closed since police raided the Occupy Los Angeles encampment on November 30 and arrested nearly 300 demonstrators.

The encampment lasted two months and was among the largest on the West Coast aligned with the anti-Wall Street movement, which began at Zucotti Park on the edge of the New York's financial district.

The privately owned Zucotti Park was reopened in November after police evicted demonstrators there. The Occupy movement, which protested the excesses of Wall Street and the financial community, roiling cities across the United States last year has largely faded away since a number of police crackdowns.

The Occupy Los Angeles protesters and their tents trampled the grass around City Hall and left behind just dirt. The newly landscaped park has less grass, but more plants many of which, such as the spiky Shaw's Agave and purple Wild Lilac, are native to California and use less water.

"This is Los Angeles after all, and every once in a while, everyone needs a facelift," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told reporters. "We're going to ask Angelenos to respect this park."

Renovating the park cost more than $1 million, including $70,000 in plants donated by the Home Depot and Miracle-Gro maker The Scotts Company.

Los Angeles officials initially welcomed the protesters outside City Hall last fall. Villaraigosa handed out ponchos during a rainy spell in October, and former City Council president Eric Garcetti told them, "Stay as long as you need to."

On Thursday, City Councilwoman Jan Perry said, "I think encouraging people to camp here overnight was an error."

More than a dozen demonstrators, a few carrying signs, were locked outside the gates of the park on Thursday as Villaraigosa and other officials addressed the crowd inside. They chanted "Whose park? Our park."

"They're having a celebration of the park being open to the public, and the park is not open to the public," said demonstrator James Hill, 45, as he stood outside the fence peering in. "That's obscene."

But within minutes, the gates were opened and Hill and others were allowed inside, where they sat down on the grass.

Police Chief Charlie Beck said his officers will enforce the ban on setting up tents and other rules to prevent demonstrators from again taking over the park.

"They are the people," he said. "But so are the other 4 million people in the city of Los Angeles."

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Leslie Gevirtz)

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