Once when I was a kid, probably around five or six, I went to Wal-Mart with my mom. I was loitering in the toy department (where else was a kid my age supposed to go in Wal-Mart?) There I saw a super cool Fisher Price mega toy. It was the city one, with the bi-level parking and an elevator that could fit an entire toy car. You could turn a crank on the side and the elevator would rise to the top, the doors would open and the car would be pushed out and sent down a winding ramp to the bottom so you could do it all over again.
I wanted it so bad, but my mom was adamant. She tried to usher me out of the store, but I wouldn’t go unless I got that damn toy. She threatened to leave me. I still wouldn’t budge. She left. I became nervous. I was concerned she’d actually leave me at Wal-Mart (for a kid, that wasn’t really a horrible proposition.) Finally, I grabbed the huge toy and began walking to the front of the store. This sucker was big, and I was small, so it was a difficult task to lug the large box up to the front. Greatly encumbered, I walked past the cashiers and headed for the exit where I was stopped by a store employee.
“Excuse me,” she said. “Do you need help?”
I looked at her, frightened and hopeful at the same time.
“Can I have this?” I asked.
The employee looked at another workmate and smiled, but she turned back to me and explained that I had to pay for it. I couldn’t just take it.
“Okay,” I said.
I handed the box over to her and ran through the exit where my mom was waiting for me, slightly irritated, but amused nonetheless.
On that day I learned that nothing was free. I learned that money was necessary to get the cool things you wanted, and you had to work to get money. In essence I gained a marginal grasp on the concept of a market economy.
After listening and reading and watching more information about the plight of the families at the South Central Farm, I feel I have to come out on the side of Ralph Horowitz. The man legally owns the land. He can do whatever he desires with it.
The 14-acres that make up the urban garden has been in contention for well over a decade, with Horowitz and some other partners having initially owned the plot. Through imminent domain, the city of Los Angeles claimed the land in the 80’s planning to use it as a trash incinerator. That never came to fruition however, and the land was eventually leased to the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank after the 1992 Rodney King riots; the 14-acres were then shaped into the South Central Farm by various families who came in, most of them squatting on the land, and made the area into what it is today (or before yesterday I suppose.)
Finally, the land was sold back to Ralph Horowitz in 2003, at which time he alerted the people living on and using the farm that they had three years in which to either raise enough money to buy the plot from him, or leave the farm so he could do with it as he pleased. In my opinion, three years is more than ample warning for a group of people who were paying no rent to Horowitz.
In fact, during the time that Horowitz bought the urban garden back from the city, he’s still had to pay over $25,000 each and every month for mortgage and other land costs over those three years.
Here’s a bit from a news story and land owner Ralph Horowitz
“We’ve made, in the last three years, enough of a donation to those farmers,” he said. “I just want my land back.”
I think that’s fair, especially considering its legally his land.
“The gardeners don’t make the rules. They don’t violate court orders at their will, promise to get off the land and not get off, demand that they be given the land for free. There’s an end to this type of thing,” he said.
And here’s where my above story ties in. At one point, the squatters living on that land demanded, demanded that Horowitz give the land to them. Not give them at a fair price, not give them at a ridiculously low price, not rent to them, but give them the land. Just hand it over for free. Wha huh? What?! They wanted a man who had paid $5 million for the land (now estimated at over $20 million) to simply give it to them? What a bunch of fucking idiots! Sure, they worked the land. They nurtured it from the ashes of the 1992 riots like a newborn phoenix, despite the fact that the 350 families who were living illegally on the land were of Hispanic descent and the Rodney King riots were squarely dealing with African-American angst and dissatisfaction.
But is it really so noble to grow fruits and vegetables? Farmers around the country and around the world do it every day. Perhaps it’s noble because theyre doing it in the middle of a large metropolis. Well, my fiance is growing watermelons, cantaloupe, and grapes in our backyard, and we live in Los Angeles as well. Is she nobler for her farming endeavors? Not really, and neither are the farmers of South Central farm. In my opinion, they are less noble since they’ve been breaking the law for three years by squatting on Horowitz’s private property.
Horowitz accused the farmers of ingratitude, saying they had sued him and their supporters had picketed his home and office.
“I feel that the gardeners have been on the land for 14 years, almost 15 years for free. After 15 years, you say thank you,” he said.
I agree. That doesnt seem very gracious at all. Why would I want to sell, let alone give, something to someone who had been taking advantage of me? Apparently there had also been quite a few racial epithets leveled at Horowitz–anti-Semitic remarks mostly–and death threats. Yup. I can see how tactics like that will win someone over to their cause.
Horowitz also said the city had provided alternate locations for the gardeners and most had left. In a statement, City Councilwoman Jan Perry also said many gardeners had moved to new garden sites.
Many of the protestors who are still at the urban garden are professional protestors–students from USC mostly, many of them wearing MEChA t-shirts–people who only do this for the inane reason to marshal a cause.
Most of the people who had been squatting on Horowitz’s land have moved on to another location provided by the LADWP specifically for the farmers to continue growing crops. It’s only 8-acres, but it’s better than not having anything for people who wanted something for nothing.
[At one point] Horowitz offered to sell 10 acres of the land for $16.3 million to a trust set up on behalf of the farmers.
The farmers were not able to raise those funds, despite a $10 million offer from the Annenberg Foundation which never came to fruition. Horowitz got the eviction order on May 22. The farmers still wouldn’t leave. He gave them three more weeks, and they continued to squat on the land. How can they be so shocked that they were forcibly removed from his property?
Horowitz said he intends to find tenants for the land and will not sell it to any gardeners or their supporters.
“This one they’re not getting,” he said.
Clearly, Horowitz was the model of patience. But the farmers at South Central Farm treated him with great disrespect. At one point Horowitz claimed he would have given them even more time if only they’d offered him a simple ‘thank you’ for having lived on his property rent-free for three years. Now he says he wont even sell it to them for $50 million, and I don’t blame him one bit.
I also applaud his determination even in the face of our Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa who yesterday tried to bully him into giving the land to the farmers. Villaraigosa is an idiot, and he should stay out of it. This is a private ownership matter, and city government should have nothing do with it unless it involves zoning issues of some kind.
In a way, I sort of hope that Horowitz doesnt build a warehouse, or other industrial complex on the 14-acres. If anything, I think it would be appropriate if he opened a nursery or built a park there. Regardless, it’s his. He can dig a hole to China if he wants to. Now that would be interesting.