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Harris-Dawson targets vacant lot during first day in office

LOS ANGELES — New City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson said he wants city staff to clean up and fence off a vacant city lot in response to calls from activists who say the site has attracted trash-dumping and homeless encampments.

Harris-Dawson’s first motion as a councilman Wednesday instructed city staff to “take immediate steps to address and ameliorate the matter of a homeless encampment that has just sprung up” at the city lot at 86th Place and Broadway.

This might mean putting up fencing, cleaning up the site and taking other steps, Harris-Dawson told City News Service.

“The owner of the lot needs to be held accountable, which by the way is [the] Transportation Department of the city of Los Angeles, so they’re required to have fencing,” he said.

“They’re required to do just a really basic clean-up so that the health and safety hazards are taken away, and then over time we can deal with the homelessness problem that has congregated there,” he said.

His motion also asks for recommendations from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority on “a long-term solution” to the issue of homeless people camping at the lot.

The motion came about a day after residents held a protest at the site.

“We picked up the phone and asked what they thought should be done, and we tried to shape something that was responsive to that,” Harris-Dawson said.

He said he does not know how long the lot has been used as a homeless camp, but it has been a vacant lot “all of my adult life and most of my teen life.”

“There are a lot of vacant lots in South L.A. like that and it’s not common in the city of L.A. as developed as it is to have vacant lots the way we do on that side of town,” he said.

Harris-Dawson added the vacant lot is “emblematic of a problem we have throughout the district — vacant lots that the private sector and public sector haven’t figured out what to do with, or how to get something done.”

“And as homelessness is pushed out of downtown and homelessness is increasing, those vacant lots often turn into campgrounds,” he said. “This is, for us, a first step in a broader strategy that we have around vacant lots.”

Though just beginning his term, Harris-Dawson was handed the reins July 1 to tackle the issue of homelessness in the city. Council President Herb Wesson appointed him as co-chair of the newly formed Homeless and Poverty Committee.

Harris-Dawson will co-chair the committee alongside Councilman Jose Huizar, who’s own district includes the Skid Row area, where many of the city’s homeless population is located.