The Mt. Washington Local Issues Committee of the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council came a step closer this past week to eliminating a rest stop bench on the Jack Smith Trail that one nearby resident referred to as a “public safety hazard to Mt. Washington.”
Located on the stretch of Sea View Avenue that connects to Sea View Drive, the bench invites “late night revelers who smoke and drink as well as daytime loitering by teenagers and adults from Mt. Washington and beyond,” Robin Scherr, a Sea View Lane resident told the committee at a meeting Thursday at the Carlin G. Smith Recreation Center.
“There are also issues of loud noise, graffiti, trash, homeless people sleeping, vehicle break-ins and dogs off leash in the area,” she said, adding: “However, our primary concern is about the risk of fire from discarded cigarettes in the dry brush.”
To protect the Sea View Trail, the committee voted unanimously, 12-0, to seek the advice of Councilman Ed Reyes’ field rep Daniel Andalon on relocating the bench to a more appropriate location that has a higher public visibility.
The committee also granted permission to Scherr to contact the Department of Recreation and Parks on its behalf to receive and relocate the bench, possibly at Cleland Park. (The committee declined a suggestion by Scherr to include Jessica Triangle, on the crossing of Jessica Drive and Cleland Avenue, as one of the relocation destinations for the bench—see the next section of this article for a possible reason.)
In addition, Scherr was given the green light to contact the Los Angeles Fire Department or the Department of Transportation to post fire hazard and “No Smoking” signs on the trail.
Just last week, a discarded sleeper couch was found in a trail area partially hidden from public view, Scherr said, showing the committee a photograph of the brown-colored couch. The couch was within spitting distance of a spot where a second rest stop bench was located until October 2012, when it mysteriously disappeared, only to resurface along San Rafael Avenue, next to a bench overlooking Moon Canyon.
“We believe that eliminating the bench will discourage congregations of people and the placement of furniture at this location and thereby reinforce, rather than negate, fire safety measures taken by residents,” Scherr said, adding that Sea View Trail has a long history of attracting outsiders, including European tourists who could be found there camping in tents in the 1980s, as if having read about the area in the Lonely Planet guide.
"It seems to me that removing the bench is a band-aid solution," committee representative and ASNC Treasurer Andrew Ptashnik said before the meeting's vote. "If this is a congregation place, people are going to keep coming."
Scherr presented a petition for the rest stop bench’s removal signed by 16 residents who live on Sea View Lane residents, four who live on Sea View Avenue and two who live on Rome Drive across the ridge from Mt. Washington Elementary School.
“We are a group of residents who take stewardship of the trail seriously,” Scherr said. “We have organized neighborhood watch activities and we pick up trash regularly, call the police when there is excessive loud noise, fighting and underage drinking, and provide access to water for plantings and dog walkers. We are doing our part to keep Mt. Washington safe from fire.”
The local issues committee was also briefed by committee representative Andrea Jayasekera about a so-called “squatter situation” at 4713 Jessica Dr. (Jayasekera talked about the latest developments in the area based on her discussions with Los Angeles Police Department Senior Lead Officer Nina Precidao, who had been invited to the meeting to give an update about the situation but was unable to attend because of a conflict in her schedule.)
Jayasekera said that the house on 4713 Jessica Dr. has a new owner who bought the place at an auction about three weeks ago. Preciado has contacted the owner, who is aware squatters live on his property, and the senior lead officer has begun legal proceedings to evict them, Jayasekera said.
The formerly foreclosed two-bedroom house has gained notoriety for loud disturbances, Jayasekera said. LAPD Sgt Ruben Arellano, who was present at the local issues committee, confirmed that when Preciado went to survey the house a few weeks ago she found 14 people inside.
Arellano told the meeting that it becomes harder for the police to evict squatters once they get the LADWP to provide power and water to a home. If residents see outsiders in or near vacant homes in the neighborhood, they should ask them if they are lost, Arellano said.
“Just let them know politely that we know they don't belong here,” he said, adding that any suspected illegal activity should be reported to the police.