Chess Park is beset by crime and homelessness – Santa Monica Daily Press

It’s an endgame for chess fanatics in Chess Park, an old players’ center. After five years of distasteful behavior and homelessness issues, the Recreation and Parks Commissioners voted to remove all benches and tables and temporarily close the park.

Problems have been brewing in the park for years. Between the declining popularity of chess and the rising number of homeless people, the area has become a lair for drug sales, violent incidents, mental health crises and sexual activity.

“They’ve been stabbed, they’ve been seriously injured, there’s active prostitution going on right now,” said Commission Vice-President Maryanne LaGuardia. “I think the best first step is to close it. I say that with great reluctance, but I don’t know what else we can do.”

According to chairman Lori Brown, Chess Park has long been a subject of discussion with the Recreation and Parks Commission. Brown said commissioners have called for more police patrols, more involvement from the Homeless Liaison Program and the installation of a blue light emergency call box. None of these changes came about in an impactful manner.

The 0.29-acre park is located on Ocean Front Walk at Seaside Terrace, directly behind Santa Monica’s Original Muscle Beach. It includes 14 large tables with four chessboards per table, 10 small tables with one chessboard per table and a large chessboard with large chess pieces on the floor. It is open from dawn to dusk and tables are available on a first come, first served basis.

These tables are often occupied by unhoused individuals and covered with their belongings, leading to low chess play.

“I’m calling because, frankly, Chess Park isn’t safe anymore. It used to be one of my favorite places to go, but the last time I tried to go there, someone threatened me with physical harm, threatened to kill me,” said 13-year-old resident Lucky Bisary during the 21-year commission. October. meeting.

The residents of the two adjacent apartment buildings are also affected by the deteriorating conditions in the park. According to Brown, the Purser Apartment building has been broken into several times in recent months.

“I’ve been here for 30 years with this balcony, 25 of them were heaven, the last five were pure hell,” said Tom Lackey, a Purser resident whose unit overlooks the park directly. “It’s dirty; It’s full of drugs, prostitution, danger, the mentally ill everywhere every day.”

After reviewing residents’ complaints and video evidence of park conditions, commissioners voted unanimously to take action. They advised to remove all benches and tables and to temporarily close the park with a fence.

The park is destined to be activated for a new destination. The commissioners discussed several possible ideas, such as the addition of more Muscle Beach sports equipment or the installation of new sports fields. There is a strong desire to transform the park ahead of the 2028 Olympics, when the beach volleyball games will be played on the nearby sands.

The new destination of the park will be decided at a later date in a process involving the public. Their recommendations will be passed on to city councilors for final approval at an upcoming council meeting.

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