The end for South Central Farm?
BY BRENT HOPKINS, Staff Writer
Not legal challenges, not folk singers' entreaties, not even a last-minute infusion of $10 million could save the South Central Farm.
Sheriff's deputies moved in before dawn Tuesday to evict the farmers from the 14-acre plot, a rare swath of green in the otherwise industrial belt between Alameda Street and Long Beach Avenue. Seeking to prolong the multiyear land dispute, protesters chained themselves to pipes inside.
Actress Daryl Hannah, environmental activist John Quigley and a few other demonstrators secured themselves above the fray in a walnut tree. Supporters poured in, chanting and waving signs, as county Sheriff's Department deputies and Los Angeles Police Department officers bearing clubs and shotguns surrounded protesters, making arrests.
"This is the end, my friend," said Tezozomoc, one of the farmers' representatives, quoting a line from Jim Morrison. "But we don't know yet. This is just another chapter."
A chapter in the struggle that dates back to the mid-1990s, one involving celebrities and community activists, political pressure and complex land deals. Developer Ralph Horowitz bought the site two decades ago, lost it to the city through eminent domain, then bought it back for the price the city paid him. In the interim, the sizable site became used by more than 350 families to farm peppers, cilantro, squash and indigenous herbs.
But after Horowitz regained the property with the intent to transform the rows of corn and cactus into a commercial project, the farmers sat on tenuous ground. They fired off 61 claims to block development, all rejected by the court, and requested a temporary restraining order, also turned down.
They enlisted the help of high-profile supporters such as Hannah, folk music icon Joan Baez, musician Ben Harper and his wife, actress Laura Dern.
And they relentlessly lobbied Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to use his clout to keep the site open. Through various sources, his office was able to wrangle $6 million in donations, well short of the $16.3 million Horowitz originally requested to sell the site.
Last week, the Annenberg Foundation announced a surprise offer of $10 million in cash and an agreement to finance the remaining $6 million.
But Horowitz, reportedly furious about being cast as the villain by farm supporters, rejected the offer and demanded the farmers removal. At 5 a.m. Tuesday, 65 helmeted deputies of the Sheriff's Department's Civil Management Unit moved in, with the LAPD and Los Angeles Fire Department assisting.
Authorities cut through the chain-link fence around the farm and extricated the demonstrators who'd locked themselves inside. Then came an earthmover to level off the ground for a fire engine. The truck pulled inside and extended its ladder, eventually plucking the remaining protesters from the tree shortly after noon.
The LAPD arrested 27 people on suspicion of failing to disperse, and sheriff's deputies arrested an additional 17, including Hannah, on suspicion of failing to obey a court order and obstructing a peace officer.
The scene was chaotic, but largely peaceful. There were demonstrators accusing the authorities of breaking apart the community. Then there were counterdemonstrators accusing the farmers of breaking apart the community. Then came the guitar players, then the drummers.
Armed with an ear-splitting whistle and a pot she banged with a rock, farmer Andrea Rodriguez angrily defended the site she's come to rely on.
"We want to go back to Mother Earth, get nutrition for our families," she said in Spanish. "We will struggle. We won't go. We are all together and we will not leave. We're just farmers, we don't have money, but we're still important."
Repeated attempts to reach Horowitz at his office were unsuccessful, though he told The Associated Press that he found the farmers to be ungrateful and wanted his land back. Though Dan Stormer, an attorney for the farmers, said they'll have one more day in court in July to try to claim ownership of the land, Horowitz has already said he will not sell to the farmers or their supporters.
A few hours after the evictions, Villaraigosa spoke with Horowitz on the telephone and reiterated his support for the Annenberg Foundation's $16 million offer.
But Horowitz said the property was worth even more money, Villaraigosa told reporters later. Horowitz also told the mayor he felt personally vilified by the farmers and wouldn't sell until he evicted every single person from the land.
"I told him that from my vantage point, this is a more than fair offer. This is an opportunity for us to have an urban garden in the city that wants to be the greenest big city in America," Villaraigosa said. "And he said, well, that was nice but he wasn't accepting."
While running for mayor, Villaraigosa pledged to help save the farm and, once in office, assigned Deputy Mayor Larry Frank to seek private donations to help the farmers buy the land from Horowitz.
But the price was a moving target, the mayor said, going from about an estimated $6 million to $10 million to $12 million to the final price tag of $16 million.
The mayor and allies had a hard time raising funds to buy the land because many potential donors felt the land wasn't worth the price.
"I understand a businessman's need to invest and make a profit. I also have a high respect for and will defend property rights," Villaraigosa said. "But I also believe that we are called upon by a sense of community and civic duty to do the just and right thing. I had hoped that the landowner would have heeded that call."
NEWS FROM THE FARM - 6/13/2006 8:59am,
8 people have been carried out on stretchers and they have started to bull doze the land!
WHAT: Hundreds of officers with the Los Angeles Sheriff department swarmed onto the peaceful, non-violent South-Central Farmers garden at 5:15am today accompanied by six helicopters buzzing over the sleeping supporters.
Supporters of this 14 acre organic farming community remain outside the locked-down area on the street chanting their protest of this forceful action while 20 are still inside the farm.
Dozens of supporters have been living on the land, sleeping in tents, and taking turns living in the Walnut tree on the premise while fasting to show solidarity with the Farmers. Julia-Butterfly Hill just came down last week after fasting for 23 days. Several celebrities have shown up in the last few weeks - Willie Nelson, Martin Sheen, Danny Glover, Ed Begley, Jr, Joan Baez to name a few.
As of this time, Daryl Hannah and aerial artist John Quigley are up in the Walnut tree refusing to come down. 20 campers on the land have locked themselves to benches, fences and the base around the tree while L.A. County Sheriffs are attempting to saw their locks off.
Yesterday, a peace offering of organic flowers and fresh produce from the Farm was presented to the developer, Ralph Horowitz at his offices in Brentwood, California and to Mayor Antonio Villagairosa at City Hall. Their response to this appears to be this early morning raid.
Citizens are frustrated with the Mayor because of his apparent lack of political leadership in this, even though he has publicly stated supported of the Farm in the last few weeks.
The Farm supporters are asking people to:
1. Call City Hall to ask that Mayor Villaraigosa step up and exhibit political leadership and interfere with the eviction. PH: 213-978-0600
2. Come down to City Hall to express their support. Address: 200 N. Spring Street - Los Angeles, CA 90029
3. Come to the Farm to Protest this oppressive and destructive action against the Farmers and their supporters
WHERE: 41st & Long Beach Ave. Los Angeles, CA (Alameda exit off Interstate 10)
WHEN: All Day June 13, 2006
****A SPECIAL 7:00PM candlelight vigil will be held on-site The public is encouraged to attend
To learn more about the South Central Farmers, visit: www.southcentralfarmers.com Contact: Fernando Flores: Co-Chair of South Central Farmers Support Coalition PH: 909-605-3136 firstname.lastname@example.org ====================================================== HISTORY:
The South Central Farm, a 14-acre green oasis in the middle of downtown Los Angeles, is in danger of being lost to warehouse development. This community garden has been operated mainly by Latino immigrants for more than a decade and has become an important part of the culture and open space in Los Angeles.
In 1992, the Farm was created in response to the Rodney King uprising to help develop and align the local South-Central community. The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank signed a lease with the city of Los Angeles to set aside the South Central Farm as a community garden. Since then more than 350 impoverished families have banded together as the South Central Farmers to transform an industrial dump into an urban paradise. These families have been successfully augmenting their household food supply with the resultant harvest.
But in 2003 the city sold the land to a private developer to build warehouses. The community was outraged, and the farmers refused to leave the land while they tried to raise the money to buy the property themselves. For the last several weeks -- in the face of a deadline to come up with the money or be evicted -- the farmers, with the help of appeals by activists and celebrities, worked around the clock and successfully raised the money to purchase the property. At last report, the Annenburg Foundation had offered to help raise the 15 million to purchase the land but it seems responding to pressure, the developer has changed his mind and decided not to sell the land to the farmers after all. ***************************************************
Tonight (6/16) Daryl Hannah will be on Larry King Live to talk about the South Central Farm. ***It is important that in this national media
venue, we ensure that the primary sentiment by callers and viewers is a POSITIVE one.***
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE:
1. Call in to the show during the broadcast (it is on at 9pm
Eastern, 6pm Pacific) and ask a question or make a positive comment.
The talking points and suggested questions are below.
2. Email your comments or questions NOW at the Larry King website:
3. Spread the word to other allies who are supportive of the South
Key Information We Want Our Circle of Life Family to Know:
€ The money was raised. Ralph Horowitz changed his mind about
selling the property at the last minute.
€ The farm is an oasis in one of the roughest neighborhoods in
the country. It has literally kept many of the kids who work with
their families on the farm out of gangs. 350 poor families have used
the farm as their primary food source. It is also a community hub
for cultural events and farmers markets.
€ Ralph Horowitz stood to profit $11 million dollars on the
sale to the farmers. That’s about $4 million per year that he
owned the land. He paid only $5 million for it in 2003, so he would
have profited almost 250% in less than 3 years. Yet, he turned it
down citing his anger at the farmers as the reason.
€ Julia Butterfly Hill coordinated the celebrity presence at
South Central Farm. She also did a great deal of the fundraising.
She was at the farm, fasting, for over 3 weeks and had left just 48
hours earlier for a commitment that she needed to keep in NY.
€ This is just the beginning of a grassroots movement to green
South Central LA. People are holding the Mayor to his promise
to green the City, and are demanding it starts in South Central.
Questions you could ask of Daryl— feel free to pepper the questions
with positive comments about the action, or underscoring one of the
bullet points above.
€ Why did you choose to get arrested?
€ Why did you spend 3 weeks at the farm? That’s a lot of time
for a celebrity to commit.
€ Was the money raised or not? The developer keeps saying it wasn’t.
€ Who is being affected by the destruction of the farm?
€ How did The LA mayor help or hurt the case? What was his role in all of this?
€ Why is this farm so important? The farmers are supposedly
being relocated, so why does this particular farm matter?
€ How did you find out about South Central Farm?
€ What challenges did you have to overcome to be at the farm,
sit in the tree and get arrested?
€ Do you think other celebrities should do actions like this?
€ What can I do now?
If you plan to email or call the show, please let us know your name
and where you live. You can email email@example.com to let us
know. We are trying to get as many allies as possible to commit to
this! Thank you for your support of the South Central Farmers.
**** SAVE THE DATE TO TALK WITH JULIA BUTTERFLY LIVE*****
Next week, Circle of Life is hosting our seasonal call and email chat
with Julia Butterfly Hill. It is on the Solstice, June 21st. The
email chat begins at 12 noon pacific time (3pm Eastern). To log in,
http://m1e.net/c?28708313-RNvj.DIyuD3Is%401707629-RhPzfHjITW6nE and follow the directions for logging into the chatroom.
The Partner’s Circle conference call with Julia Butterfly Hill begins
at 1pm pacific time (4pm eastern) and is open to members of our
Partners Circle (anyone who has made a donation to Circle of Life in
the past year). For the login information and password, email