Archive for June 13th, 2006

I've been following this story for the last half year or so, and I'm still not sure how I really feel about it.

On the agricultural side, and having grown up in a largely rural part of the country in Southwest Missouri, I think there's something to be said about Los Angeles residents maintaining and nurturing the largest urban farm in the United States. The people, who harvest the land of South Central Farm, gaining subsistence for around 350 families, have developed the 14-acres for the last couple of decades.

On the other hand, because of imminent domain enforcement, changes of property title from private owners to the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank and back again, Ralph Horowitz has legally owned the land since the summer of 2003. He has the right to do with it as he pleases. If he wants to sell it and literally uproot the work that has been done at South Central Farm for the last several years, it is his right to do so, regardless of squatters who have become dependent upon the food gained from the urban garden.

As of this morning, that's exactly what he's done. Protestors have chained themselves to cement filled barrels and retreated high into the treetops as Los Angeles sheriffs deputies began forcibly removing them, nearly a month after the eviction notice was issued. At least Horowitz gave them ample time to gather their belongings and remove themselves from his land, but apparently he didn't give them the time necessary to gather the funds needed he was asking as the purchase price for the 14-acres–$16 million. These are poor farmers, not skilled businessmen–too bad for them. Even with the help of semi-famous celebrities, the protestors could not make Horowitz's asking price.

Again, it's his property to do with as he desires. I wonder what he'll end up doing once he sells the land for development. Will those families who had once depended upon South Central Farm for food end up trekking to a new Wal-Mart Supercenter, located on the very same 14-acres, in order to purchase their vegetables and fruits? Most likely.

Deputies Evict Farmers at L.A. Garden

June 13, 2006 9:58 AM EDT

LOS ANGELES – Dozens of sheriff's deputies began evicting people from an 14-acre urban garden early Tuesday as protesters chained themselves to barrels of concrete and others, including actress Daryl Hannah, secured themselves in a large walnut tree.

"I'm very confident this is the morally right thing to do, to take a principled stand in solidarity with the farmers," Hannah said by cell phone. Asked if she is willing to risk arrest, she said, "I'm planning on holding my position."

About 350 people grow produce and flowers on the privately owned land, in a gritty, inner-city area surrounded by warehouses and train tracks. The garden has been there for decades but the landowner, Ralph Horowitz, now wants to replace it with a warehouse.

County sheriff's Sgt. Val Rosario said about 65 deputies from the civil management unit, along with support staff including riot forces, showed up around daybreak Tuesday to serve an eviction order that a judge signed last month.

"It's a massive show of force," said environmental activist John Quigley, who was in the walnut tree. "Our goal is to hold as firm as we can, obviously in a nonviolent manner."

He said perhaps 20 farmers and their supporters were in the urban garden.

Deputies used saws to cut down the chain-link fence around the site. Inside, they sawed through chains used by some protesters to attach themselves to large barrels of concrete. Quigley said he could see sparks flying as they worked and complained that authorities had removed legal observers from the inside the farm.

"It's really an unsafe situation," Quigley said. "There's no legal observers in here. … Basically we need legal observers in here to guarantee people's safety."

A sheriff's spokesman could not immediately be reached to respond to Quigley's allegations.

Several dozen protesters gathered outside the area, sporadically chanting, "We're here and we're not going to leave" in Spanish and blowing whistles. Some flooded onto a street and disrupted truck traffic in the area.

About a half-dozen people wore fluorescent green baseball hats with "National Lawyers Guild Legal Observer" on the front.

The effort to save the farm has attracted the support of celebrities, including "Splash" star Hannah, country singer Willie Nelson, actor Danny Glover, folk singer Joan Baez and tree sitter Julia "Butterfly" Hill.

Some supporters moved onto the property full-time in mid-May and occupied the walnut tree after the judge issued the eviction order.

The roots of the dispute go back to the 1980s, when the city forced Horowitz to sell the land to for $4.8 million for a trash-to-energy incinerator. The project fizzled and the city turned the land over to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, which allowed people to begin gardening there after in the early 1990s.

Horowitz sued to get the site back, and the city settled in 2003 by selling it to him for $5 million, slightly more than the $4.8 million he had been paid.

Garden supporters took legal action, but after a winning a temporary court order last year, an appellate court overturned that decision and the state Supreme Court last month decided against hearing the case.

In the meantime, Horowitz offered to sell the land for $16.3 million to a trust set up on behalf of the farmers. The group was $10 million short when the purchase option expired May 22, and Horowitz got the eviction order.

South Central Farmers

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