City to Remove Mystery Boulders Placed on Koreatown Sidewalk at Homeless Encampment Site

Boulders on the sidewalk in Koreatown block off an area that used to be a homeless encampment. The city says it plans to remove them.

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Jae Soon Bae remembers the afternoon the boulders showed up in his Koreatown neighborhood.

About a dozen of the big rocks were placed at the site of what had been a homeless encampment in the community west of downtown Los Angeles. 

He didn’t recognize the man who brought them, but they arrived in a large truck, he said. They form an imposing barrier at a long-closed entrance to the Shatto Recreation Center on the residential block of Westmoreland Avenue.

Neighbors told NBCLA they've prevented people from setting up tents at the location. Neighbors said the first few tents of the encampment showed up about two years ago.

The boulders seem to have been placed strategically by the back entrance the park, where residents described instances of open drug use, fires and even explosions. One resident said he witnessed a naked man standing in the street and screaming. 

“Ever since we moved here, there’s been some sort of issue with that,” said resident John Lee, who has lived in the area for decades.

Boulders line a walkway in Koreatown.
Boulders can be seen blocking pedestrians right-of-way on the sidewalk.

Lee tried a different approach in response to the encampments. He planted thorny cactus plants in the grassy area next to his home.

But the rocks are next-level effective, neighbors said. They appeared shortly after the city cleaned up an encampment.

No tents have re-appeared since, but the office of Councilmember Gil Cedillo told NBCLA Wednesday that the rocks will be removed. In an email, officials said they learned of the boulders Tuesday.

The Council District 1 office will work with neighboring Council District 10 and city departments to remove the boulders, the statement said. No timeline for removal was provided.

"Illegally placing boulders in the public right-of-way in an attempt to deal with homelessness issues is totally unacceptable," the office's statement said. "As the number one leader of all Council Districts in the number of affordable and number two leader in permanent supportive housing, (Council District 1) is committed to continuing to develop interim and permanent housing and provide support services for our unhoused neighbors."

Ktown for All co-founder Michael Dickerson told Streets Blog LA that the encampments and rocks are nothing new to Koreatown.

"Frequently, following sweeps, we'll see new barriers put up to prevent people from returning to the location where they were camping," Dickerson said. "In K-Town, we've seen local businesses use construction fences and planters to block off public spaces."

Dickerson told Streets Blog the rocks and planters are not often authorized by city officers and private individuals take matters into their own hands.

"The end result is that public spaces are made unusable by anyone, and unhoused people are forced to move along to a new location," said Dickerson.

Anti-camping laws were recently updated by the LA City Council, allowing for more sweeps in areas designated by the local city council member. Within those council-designated special zones, the city can enforce Section 41.18 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code. This code makes it illegal to “sit, lie or sleep in or upon any street, sidewalk or other public way.”

Councilmember Mike Bonin was not a fan of the city's increased anti-camp push and criticized it.

"No person shall… allow items to remain in the public right-of-way," said Bonin. "“items placed in the enforcement zone will be removed by the city.”

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