City crews on Friday took an initial step toward securing an unfinished complex of downtown Los Angeles high-rise towers that have been vandalized with graffiti and used for dangerous social media stunts after the developer ran out of money.

Workers began removing scaffolding protecting a temporary walkway that officials say said has helped trespassers enter the property.

“They were able to hide inside the walkway area and tunnel their way in by tearing holes in the fence,” police Sgt. Gordon Helper said.

The next step will be to install a better fence at the project, which is drawing significant police resources and where city leaders fear someone will die, especially after social media videos showed people BASE jumping — parachuting from the towers.

“We can’t have anybody getting hurt here or injuring themselves or even a fatality,” Helper said. “We don’t want that to happen here.”

The towers were going to house a hotel and luxury condominiums, but the project stalled in 2019 when the Beijing-based developer ran out of money, the Los Angeles Times reported. Locally dubbed the “graffiti towers,” they are a project of China Oceanwide Holdings, a real-estate developer that is being wound up (i.e., liquidated) in Hong Kong, according to a January filing with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

Oceanwide had first announced the ambitious project in downtown L.A. in 2015, an era when it was expanding aggressively in the U.S., only for the election of Donald Trump in 2016, and Xi Jinping’s reaction to it, to drastically change each country’s policy climate for heavily leveraged Chinese conglomerates. In San Francisco, for instance, Oceanwide was planning a billion-dollar development that would become the city’s second-tallest building, but shortly after breaking ground in 2016 that was left similarly unfinished to L.A.’s graffiti towers.

The extent of tagging and vandalism began drawing attention in recent weeks, becoming a civic embarrassment in a high-profile area that includes Crypto.com Arena — home of major sports teams and events such as the Grammys — as well as the Los Angeles Convention Center and the L.A. Live dining and events complex.

City Councilmember Kevin de León, who represents the area, has said a developer is needed to complete construction. He told a recent council meeting that by conservative estimates it would take $500 million to buy the property and $1.5 billion to complete it. He also issued a motion this week, the Financial Times reported, in which he called Oceanwide Plaza a “black eye on an otherwise vibrant part” of downtown LA. He said it goes beyond graffiti and stunts . like parachuting, as bandits have taken to stripping the building of its copper wire.  

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