We live in a time of great crisis, in which the very life support systems of the planet are under threat. South Central Farms offers a model that needs to be replicated everywhere, a model of restoration, of healing both the land and the human community, of urban sustainability, of possibility in a place where possibility is precious and rare.
When I first learned about the farm, and it’s risk of destruction, I immediately rushed down from Canada to join the encampment, recognizing just how important it is. I am honoured to have experienced what is at it’s essence, an outpouring of love - love for humanity, love for the planet, love for all that is sacred. A luminous example of ‘love in action’ as Martin Luther King would call it. A community rising up, committed to non-violence, peace and life.
Like many, I thought I would be there for a few days, and like many, once I was there, I was captured by the magic, and didn’t want to leave. The days of the ‘habitation’ turned into weeks, beautiful weeks, in which a new community was formed, the farmers coming together with a brilliantly diverse human ecosytem that cut across lines of race, class and gender, drawn to the shining example that is South Central Farms.
After about three weeks of staying on the farm, 24 hours a day, I reluctantly had to return home to Canada, but my heart has remained in South Central. And like you, my heart was broken this week as the bulldozers moved in and so brutally ripped apart this sacred garden of eden. I sat here in Canada, editing the footage I shot of this green jewel in a concrete desert, bawling like a baby. What I felt was not anger, but anguish.
Slowly, my anguish turned to empathy. Empathy for all the precious oases that are being destroyed by the crumbling old paradigm of the industrial growth society. Empathy for Atenco, in Mexico, South Central Farms brothers and sisters in the struggle; empathy for the disappearing forests of the Amazon; empathy for the innocent civilians of Iraq and Afghanistan; empathy for all the children of war and hunger around the world; empathy for all the people who are getting sick from the toxic air, water and land, from the junk food that is being crammed down our throats, sick from the junk that is being crammed into our minds and hearts by a corrupt media, a corrupt establishment. Empathy for all of us who, know it or not, are in the gunsights of a sick society.
My deep sadness brought me back to a great loss in my own life - the loss of my brother, Randy, last year, from cancer. And I remembered the lessons of hope and love that was my brother’s parting gift to his family. He taught us to never give up. Randy was determined to die at home, despite the doctors wanting to keep him in a sterile hospital, and together we suceeded in making that possible. He loved to sit in this backyard garden, with a huge bucket of peanuts, feeding the squirrels and birds. That garden was always filled with birds, hummingbirds, jays, woodpeckers, you name it. He fed them, and they fed his soul. Even when he was no longer able to sit in his wheelchair, we could still wheel him out into his beloved garden on his hospital bed. He was out there the day before he died, wearing an inspirational t-shirt that I had sent him from India, years ago, when I was shooting ScaredSacred. It was the last shirt he wore. On the front it said, 'Never Give Up', and on the back was a long quote from the Dalai Lama:
On the day the bulldozers moved in and began their cruel attack on the farm, I found Randy’s t-shirt, and I put it on, something I had never done before. I put it on, and walked the few blocks to the community garden that grows in my own neighbourhood, the Strathcona Gardens. And I walked through this intact oasis, past the lovingly tended garden plots, and I cried behind my sunglasses. But my tears did not drain away my power. They watered it, like the rain waters the fresh new seedlings, only strengthening my resolve, my determination to dedicate my life to working towards a world that recognizes and fosters all life, towards a world that embraces the vision embodied by South Central Farms. They may have bulldozed the land, but the spirit can never be destroyed. It may be veiled in tears right now, but it is still there, still shining. Try as they might to crush us, we will rise, again and again, like the farm first rose from the fires of Los Angeles, like the phoenix rises from the ashes. The spirit of the people will prevail. Aqui estamos!
Velcrow Ripper is a two time winner of the Canadian Academy Award. His feature documentary, FierceLight, about Sacred Activism around the world, will feature the story of South Central Farms. It is part two of the acclaimed ScaredSacred Trilogy. www.scaredsacred.org
Seeds of Hope, Seeds of War:
Race, Class and the Battle for the South Central Farm
By Leslie Radford and Juan Santos ( email@example.com
The world is literally watching. Media worldwide have covered the case
of the South Central Farm, the largest urban garden in the United
States, the efforts of the city's elites to drive the farmers from the
land, and the farmer's remarkable resistance. On June 13th, the County
moved to evict, concentrating a massive police presence in the area to
uproot the resistor's encampment on the land.
The South Central Farm arose from the ashes of the 1992 Los Angeles
rebellion, and stands as a symbol of hope to millions. Despite the
eviction, the struggle continues, with a court hearing this week
challenging the City's sale of the land to a private developer.
When the Los Angeles City Council sold the 14 acre plot called the South
Central Farm to developer Ralph Horowitz, they sold land they didn’t own.
For years the City, the Harbor Department, developers and citizens
groups have played a shell game, switching land for money, while trading
schemes for sweatshops and trash incinerators in LA’s most polluted
corridor for the dreams and demands for a better life in LA’s most
prominent oppressed neighborhood.
It has become all-but a cliché to point to the fact that the Farm - the
nations largest urban garden – arose “from the ashes” of the 1992 Los
Angeles Rebellion. Here’s the reality. The rebellion meant the loss of
huge investment opportunities in the area for the rich, and the city set
out to fix that problem for them. The plan aimed to make high risk
investments profitable for the investor by sinking government money into
their development schemes.
They were “making deals that make a difference” – to everyone but the
people whose suffering and oppression had fueled the famous rebellion.
The plan the city developed demanded of local citizen’s groups that they
make a trade. The City demanded a virtually unrestricted access for
industrial development in what is called the Alameda corridor – the site
of the Farm - in return for bankrolling investor’s plans to set up strip
malls and mini-marts in devastated South Central. Otherwise,
post-rebellion redevelopment in South Central would grind to a halt. It
was an offer the citizen’s groups couldn’t refuse, and the city knew it.
The city and the developers were playing chess – a game with profits in
the millions as the stakes – on the backs of the most oppressed and
outraged people in the city.
The cynicism of the top level players is profound; Mayor Villaraigosa,
for all his posturing about searching out large donors to “save” the
Farm, always had the money to save it at his disposal. He chose not to
The imminent destruction of the Farm and of the sacred elements of the
ancient cultures that thrive there is just part of the “business” of
development in LA – a negligible cost in the drive for profit at the
expense of the people of LA, most especially of its Brown and Black
Los Angeles generates its own reality, its own myths. A small
phenomenon becomes a story, the story transmogrifies into a cause, the
cause becomes a political force, and the force becomes reality – a myth
with substance. But since 1848, the story of Mexicans, and later
Guatemalans, Hondurans, Salvadorans—most of them Indigenous -- has been
systematically and institutionally erased. In their place, Los Angeles
has stories of their Americanized third-generation granddaughters and
grandsons, of itinerant farm workers coaxing patched-together pickups
loaded with family and belongings through remote agricultural fields. At
season's end, we are told, they make their way, pockets bulging with a
few hundred dólares, back to Mexico.
The real stories are seldom heard; the stories of systematic oppression;
racist power politics; anti-Mexican riots, and the stories of deliberate
degradation and enforced poverty don’t “sell.” It wouldn’t fit the myth,
the image, the marketing ploys that make LA seem something other than
what it is.
In the official lexicon Brown people like the South Central Farmers have
no place. They farm a 14-acre plot in a strip of South Central LA that
was turned into a high profile industrial zone and rail corridor in
exchange for rebuilding parts of war torn South Central following the
The site of the Farm - the intersection of Alameda Avenue and 41st
Street - has been a battleground for decades, and Farm antagonist Ralph
Horowitz has been in the thick of it from the beginning. The city had
taken the land from several owners, and paid the largest of them, the
Alameda-Barbara Investment Company, owned by Horowitz and a partner,
some $4.7M for its 75% share of the ownership.
Ralph Horowitz, to put it bluntly, has Mexican problems. For years his
letterhead has carried the clichéd, stereotypical and racist image of a
Mexican in a sombrero, sleeping slouched against a large cactus,
presumably pierced through by its sharp spines, presumably indifferent,
in his lethargy, to the pain.
By 2000, developer Horowitz was negotiating to replace the South Central
Farm with "textile-industry tenants"—specifically, a garment industry
sweatshop for the popular women’s clothing line Forever 21.
The following year, the LA based Forever 21, worth a half billion
dollars in sales annually, was hit with a boycott called by immigrant
workers from six of its factories. They were owed hundreds of thousands
of dollars in back wages and overtime. A number of workers were fired
for speaking out about unsafe and unsanitary conditions.
"We worked ten to twelve hours a day for sub-minimum wages and no
overtime," said Esperanza Hernandez, one of the garment workers. "A lot
of our factories were dirty and unsafe, with rats and cockroaches
It was a case of globalization writ small. Migrant farmers, driven from
their lands in Mexico and elsewhere by the impact of US domination of
their economies, were to be uprooted by Horowitz once more, so that they
and their peers could be reduced to sweatshop laborers for Horowitz’ client.
The developer has worked with an immense determination for over 20 years
to regain control of the land the city took from him in 1987 for a
high-tech trash incinerator, and for 14 of those years the mostly
migrant Farmers have been tending the fields he might have turned into a
His efforts to drive them from the land have been met with years of
sustained protest – the Farm feeds 350 low income families. It’s a place
where Mayan and other indigenous families sustain their cultural and
spiritual traditions. The loss of the Farm would mean more than the loss
of a few vegetables and flowers.
It would mean the loss of ancient traditions of agriculture, of heirloom
seeds, some thousands of years old, and the end of the Farmer’s ability
to pass their culture on to their children. The struggle is one for the
protection of both land and life, for the Earth and for the survival of
indigenous cultures which have sustained themselves, already, through
500 years of physical and cultural genocide. The Farmers can pass on
their living traditions to their children - many of whom can tell the
names of every plant on the land in an indigenous language, in English
and in Spanish - or they can pass on a sweatshop. The choices are that
stark, and no one is about to give in.
In response to his drive for profit at such costs, Horowitz has seen his
mostly-Mexican targets picket his house, “take over” “his” land at 41st
and Alameda in an encampment that drew thousands of supporters to the
site, and, when he sought to bulldoze the Farm, he saw cucumbers dropped
into the exhaust pipes of the machines and people chain themselves down
to prevent the destruction.
He’s seen the Farmer’s allies – from Willie Nelson to Danny Glover, Joan
Baez and Charlie Sheen, stand up to him, creating an international story
in which he could play no role other than the fitting one – that of the
villain. It’s an LA myth he wanted no part of, one of those stories that
have always been kept silent here, but one that suddenly burst onto a
global stage, shining a spotlight not only on Horowitz himself, but as
we will see, on a profoundly corrupt system of cronyism between LA
politicians and developers.
The rumors had been circulating for weeks: the Farmers’ pressure and
their $16M offer for the Farm were working, and Horowitz was considering
selling the Farm back to the Farmers—he was, after all, a business
person looking at a triple return on an investment.
For any other buyer, a purchase from Horowitz would bring with it all
the ghosts of the South Central Farm, and enough press - bad and
otherwise – to cause any buyer to think twice.
Suddenly and mysteriously, copies of an Internet article calling
Horowitz part of a Los Angeles “Jewish development mafia” started
circulating through the corridors of City Hall. Enraged, Horowitz
attributed it to the Farmers but, in fact, it was penned by a group with
no affiliation with the Farmers.
Horowitz moved to evict, and a massive and brutal law enforcement effort
was launched to uproot the Farmers and their supporters from the land,
where they had built an encampment.
When Horowitz explained why the Mexican Farmer's money wasn’t good
enough for him, the local NBC affiliate reports that he snarled, "Where
does this kind of 'you owe me' mentality end? How good is that for
America? What they should have said to the taxpayers of LA and to me is,
'This is a gracious country. Thank you for letting us have our garden
here, but we realize our time is up. We've had our 14 years.'"
Horowitz has complained widely about the alleged abuse of his “property
rights,” and has become an object of right wing pity in response.
But despite his wounded posturing, the truth is that Horowitz doesn't
own the Farmer's land. The title is still being contested in court, and
the city's sale of the Farm's land to Horowitz was shady at best – or
even illegal. The fact is that the city didn't own the land it sold back
to Horowitz – the Harbor Department did. And the sale of property one
doesn't own is normally called fraud.
Reality gives a different meaning to the Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's
words on the day the South Central Farmers were evicted. He said the
matter was "disheartening and unnecessary." Just how very unnecessary
it was, he didn’t say. It would have been saying too much. Far too much.
In 2005 Antonio Villaraigosa was elected in a widely-heralded alliance
of white liberals and Latinos, and with about half of the city's
African-American vote - an L.A. myth of cross-racial cooperation
seemingly come to fruition. The Mexican-descent community celebrated,
and the Mexican and Central American Farmers, who had contested the
Farm's sale since 2003, had new hope. But Villaraigosa sank no roots in
the Farm, even though he had used the Farm for campaign photo ops.
While constantly reassuring the Farmers behind the scenes, promising
them $5M in private fundraising to buy the Farm from Horowitz, he
cynically refused to endorse their efforts publicly.
Villaraigosa is banking his political future on the categorical support
of Spanish speaking Californians. In the meantime, like Horowitz, the
Mayor has developed his own Mexican Problem – or, at least, the Mexican
community is developing a Problem with the Mayor.
It started with his timid handling of this spring's pro-migrant marches.
Millions of Brown skinned people, citizens and non-citizens alike, hit
the streets in the biggest demonstrations in LA history – the stuff
myths are made of. While over a million of his constituents marched to
City Hall during the May 1 migrant boycott, Villaraigosa hid in his
office – fearful of appearing to embrace the boycott, a one day national
strike that the marchers were undertaking.
Earlier in the protest season, the Mayor – who, as a student activist
and MEChista had participated in the mass Chicano student walk-outs of
the 1960's – chided students for walking out to defend their parents
from mass deportation. For the Brown community, the students were
heroes. For the Mayor, they were a problem. "Go back to school," he told
them. The students, arrayed in their thousands on the steps of City
Hall, retorted, chanting "Hell, no! We Won't Go!"
In his support for the Hagel-Martinez immigration bill – which will mean
the deportation of millions of undocumented migrants – Villaraigosa is
across the political fence from most of his closest peers – the small
cadre of Mexican American activists groomed and mentored by the late
Others from that group, like MAPA boss Nativo Lopez, lead the millions
strong national coalition that opposes Hagel-Martinez, which has
protested against such establishment groups as the National Council of
La Raza on the grounds that their support of the bill sells out their
People. The Mayor was a featured speaker at the event his cronies
protested. In the meantime there are open calls for MEChA to revoke
Villaraigosa's membership in that organization.
The dust had just settled on the pro-migrant marches when the Mayor rode
in a July 4th parade that also featured the anti-Mexican hate group the
Minutemen. While other Chicanos who protested the Minutemen's appearance
were assaulted and derided with racist epithets, the Mayor smiled and
waved, apparently oblivious of the treatment of the protestors. A letter
writing and phone campaign had urged the Mayor not to appear in the same
parade with the hate group.
Two days later, the LAPD – the Mayor's police force – had brutally
assaulted Farm supporters as Horowitz' bulldozers raped the land; that
same week the police launched a vicious and unprovoked assault against
anti-Minutemen protestors in Hollywood.
By then, of course, the Mayor had betrayed the Farm.
He had to: the migrants and their supporters had sent the U.S. Congress
scurrying, and Villaraigosa had to show his bosses who was boss of L.A.
He couldn't be seen bending under pressure from the Brown community –
and especially not from migrants.
Contrary to the image he created, Villaraigosa always had the money to
save the Farm. He simply chose not to spend it. To do so would have
unearthed troubling irregularities better left buried.
In 1994, as part of a broader fundraising plan, the city sold the
farmland it had purchased from Horowitz for $4.7M, to the
semi-autonomous Los Angeles Harbor Department for the price of $13.3M.
The City had turned a significant profit on the sale of the plot to the
Harbor, roughly tripling the amount it had paid to Horowitz.
In 2000, the Harbor turned down the offer by Horowitz to use the land
for the Forever 21 sweatshop. Horowitz had a ten-year option to
repurchase the land, negotiated after the City took the land in 1986 for
an incinerator project. Horowitz had approached the City in 1995,
objecting to the sale to the Harbor, but the City Council had refused to
By 2001, Horowitz returned to the City Council; this time, the Council
flat out refused to sell the land to him.
In 2003, the City Council abruptly reversed itself, and in closed
session arranged to sell the plot back to Horowitz.
But the City, of course, no longer owned the land it was selling. It was
the Harbor's Chief of Operations who signed over the title over to
Horowitz, finalizing the sale.
The City had cut a deal with Horowitz and had pocketed the $8.6M
leftover from its sale to the Harbor - plus the $5.3M it made in selling
the land back to Horowitz.
The Harbor Department confirms that is out the $13.3M, and that the City
has not reimbursed it for the loss. The Harbor's budget is entirely
separate from the City's. Its revenues come from Port activities, not
from tax dollars.
The Harbor's loss was the City's gain – and a massive gain for Horowitz,
as well. By 2006, Deputy Mayor Larry Frank announced the value of the
property at $25M. Horowitz received property now publicly stated by City
officials to be worth nearly five times his cost. Twenty years of
patience and two years of property taxes had netted him something over
With the profits he may yet accrue form the re-sale of the Farm,
Horowitz will have made a considerable fortune in transactions involving
the City, and in his role as both manipulator and pawn in at least one
highly irregular deal.
In the end, when Villaraigosa offered to "raise" money from charitable
sources to buy back the Farm from Horowitz, he had at his disposal both
the profit the City had made from the Harbor Department sale, and also
the money it had made in the more recent back room sale to Horowitz. The
Mayor didn't have to beg money from anyone. He didn't have to lose a
moment. He only had to use the massive profits from the land to buy it
To do so of course, would be problematic; it could only emphasize a
question the Farmers are asking this week in court – "Why would the City
sell land to Horowitz for $5.3M when it was worth at least three times
that amount"? Especially when the City had already sold it once before
for triple that amount?
Using City funds to buy back property from Horowitz for $16M – the same
property that it had just sold to him for $5.3M - could only raise
questions the Mayor didn't want asked. Like, "Where would the City's
money come from"? And, "How can the City sell land it doesn't own"? And,
"What happened in the closed session as the Council sold the land back
to Horowitz?" These are questions the Mayor and the City don't want
asked – or answered. The Council records of the transaction are sealed.
Last week, Farmers stood outside the fences on the sidewalk that
surrounds the Farm, weeping as the bulldozers wiped away their spiritual
home, years of work, their family's food, and their community base. Just
the week before the Mayor had declared, "Los Angeles and Long Beach are
on the eco-urban frontier." He didn't note that "frontier" means
different things to cowboys than to Indians.
Tanks were in the streets. 55 people were dead. Huge areas were in
flames in the most intense uprising in US history - and the LAPD, the
Marine Corps, the FBI, INS, and the National Guard, in turn, carried out
the largest mass arrest in US history. The 1992 Rebellion shook the city
to its core. War was being waged between the cops and the Black and
Brown poor of South Central LA.
Nothing's really changed in South Central - except the name. The powers
that be now dub it "South LA," as if changing the name could change the
reality. But it's still the home of bitter oppression. In the wake of
the 1992 Rebellion the City made big promises of housing and
redevelopment that have never been realized, although developers swarmed
in, looking to make a buck in deals with city hall.
As Michael Slate puts it in his collection Aftershocks: Post Rebellion
Conversations in Watts and South Central Los Angeles, "Despite many
promises, South Central L.A. and Watts is even worse off than it was.
People in these sections of the city spit out a bitter and angry laugh
when they talk about all of the promised changes. There has been no
rebuilding, no reinvestment, no new investments, no new jobs, no new
housing--no new nothing. This has been a rude awakening for anyone who
even momentarily believed that somehow the capitalist system would be
moved to meet the needs of the people."
It wasn't. Instead, the City held the people of South Central hostage,
promising new strip malls and mini marts in the war torn neighborhoods –
but only at a price.
By the time the fires of the 1992 rebellion cooled, South Central faced
white panic, and white development money had disappeared. In the
aftermath, long-established mom-and-pop groceries couldn’t find
insurance to rebuild, and chain stores withdrew their assets.
In an effort to dissipate the anger smoldering in the area, the city the
city began what it billed as a massive effort to pour public monies into
"blighted" areas, and designated the land that is now the Farm as a
But the larger effort soon soured, caught up in "pay to play," a web of
favors and trade-offs for land and public funds.
"Rebuild L.A.", the City's knee-jerk response to the rebellion, was set
up to entice chain stores and local businesses back into now-stigmatized
South Central. By 1997 Rebuild L.A. had failed to attract even half the
investment it promised. They still hadn't hit the re-development jackpot.
Former Mayor Richard Riordan plucked Rocky Delgadillo from the rubble of
the ill-fated effort and dropped him into the post of Deputy Mayor for
Economic Development. Riordan and Delgadillo – who would later become
City Attorney - began afresh.
The rebellion had meant the loss of huge investment opportunities in the
area for the rich, and the city set out to fix that problem for them.
The plan aimed to make high risk investments profitable for the investor
by sinking government money into their development schemes. Their plan
united private money, a promise of public agency efficiency, and access
to federal funding to lure commercial and industrial developers to
City-designated projects in Los Angeles's "blighted” areas.
The "South Los Angeles Comprehensive Economic Strategy" of 2001,
prepared for Delgadillo's office, lumped various industrial, commercial,
and residential districts into a single entity called "South Los
Angeles" in a scheme that pitted the needs of one section of South
Central against another. The plan the City developed demanded of local
citizen’s groups that they make a deal.
Cowed by white financial flight from South Central after the rebellion
and lured by the temptation of government money subsidizing area small
business, reform oriented civic organizations signed on to the Strategy.
They promised not to contest industrial development in South Central's
Alameda Corridor – the area including the South Central Farm. In
exchange, the City would bankroll investor’s plans to set up strip malls
and mini-marts in the rest of devastated South Central.
Otherwise, post-rebellion redevelopment in South Central would grind
from a slow crawl to a halt. It was an offer the citizen’s groups
couldn’t refuse, and the City knew it.
The City's priority was clear – develop the Alameda Corridor. The
project was bound to draw the highest levels of investment capital away
from the rest of South Central and keep its residential neighborhoods
devastated, while funneling government money earmarked for the
"rehabilitation" of the area into industry and developer's pockets. The
citizens of South Central would, as always, have to settle for the crumbs.
Ten years before, just prior to the '92 rebellion, the city had planned
low-income townhouses for the site that is now the Farm, offering to
sell the property to the Nehemiah Public Housing Corporation for
After the rebellion, former Mayor Riordan nixed the deal. Instead, the
City sold the land to the Harbor Department for double the price it had
proposed to Nehemiah Public Housing.
The hopes for new post-rebellion housing at the site were crushed
because a feasibility study had designated the Alameda Avenue as the
location for a new multi-billion dollar transportation corridor, with
railway tentacles stretching from the San Pedro ports through the
poorest towns and sections of the City to major rail lines across a
Located between two train lines, the Farm land's industrial value
outstripped its housing value by $6M overnight.
After the City quashed the public housing deal, the Harbor Department
turned the land over to the L.A. Regional Food Bank for temporary use as
a community garden. In court documents, the Harbor Department testified
it had no plans for the property when the Department acquired it: the
Farm was only a financial investment, a tract looking for a developer.
Soon, the Harbor, having handed the City an $8M–plus profit, would move
to re-sell the land itself.
The story of the South Central Farm begins and ends with massive and
artificial inflation of land values, contrived by players in a
development game that arose from the ashes of the South Central
rebellion. It was and remains a game played on the backs of poor peoples
of color - a game whose rules were crystallized in the "South Los
Angeles Comprehensive Economic Strategy" of 2001.
Ralph Horowitz, a partner in the Alameda-Barbara Investment Group, which
once owned most of the Farm tract, had negotiated a side deal with the
city giving it the right of first refusal on any sale for 10 years.
When the Harbor Department called for high-priced development bids,
Horowitz attention approached the City, objecting to the Harbor
Department's plans to sell the land, but the City Council refused to
Concerned Citizens is a citizen's group that had morphed into a
"non-profit developer," made a bid for the land – one backed by then -
City Council member Rita Walters. Caught between Walters' political
clout and Horowitz's unsettled lawsuit, the Harbor accepted none of the
proposals for the land.
Meanwhile, the Food Bank and area gardeners cleared the land of debris
and ramshackle buildings, and made the 14-acre patch arable, adding to
the land's value. And the South Central Farm began to flourish.
As the impasse between Horowitz and Concerned Citizens stretched over
nine years, the Harbor Department formalized the garden's existence by
giving the L.A. Food Bank a permit for an urban garden on the site.
Doris Bloch, then executive director of the Los Angeles Regional Food
Bank, recognized that teaching a person a to till, plant, and harvest
was a better strategy than giving them corn: “Right after the civil
disorders, I decided it was important for people to see that Los Angeles
could be a place where constructive programs that involved and helped
people in tough circumstances occurred,” she noted.
But her dream of empowering people with the means to employ native
skills for self-sufficiency was not part of the Los Angeles story; it
had no place in the South Los Angeles Comprehensive Economic Strategy.
Horowitz returned to the City Council in 2001; this time, the Council
flatly refused to sell the land to him.
The attractiveness of the Alameda Corridor / South Central area was
growing, and the Farm was in a prime location.
In accordance with the Strategy, the city had set up a tangle of city
agencies and officials to designate tracts for redevelopment and dole
out public redevelopment funds. But the Farm land would stay with the
Harbor, where it could entice developers to work the bureaucracy and
contribute to campaign coffers.
Development in the wealthier sections of the city had been quashed by
slow-growth advocates ranting against pollution and making racist claims
about crime-prone apartment dwellers.
Developers turned to redevelopment—investing public monies into
"blighted" areas – or war torn ones like South Central - for their bread
and butter. They came knocking at South Central council members' doors
for entrée to the land grab, and a knock at the door meant a drop in the
campaign bucket as well. This is called "rehabilitating" post rebellion
LA – and it had finally become profitable.
Finally, however, in 2003, City Council agreed in closed session to
break the stalemate at the Farm, and turned the land over to Horowitz
The Harbor – the actual owner - signed its land over to the developer,
giving up its $13.3M investment. Horowitz' payment for the land went to
The best that can be said for the Harbor Department is that it was out
from under land that had turned into a 13 million dollar headache.
Perhaps a more realistic assessment is that it had done someone in the
City a favor by transferring land in a way that was highly irregular,
perhaps even illegal.
The Farmers, who by now had 14 years of sweat equity on what has become
an internationally-recognized Los Angeles jewel, now became the direct
target of a redeveloper's greed.
But the Farm remains undeveloped and - in LA politics - that means the
story isn't over.
Jan Perry is a pro-development politician, whose 9th District includes
Skid Row and ranges from the rapidly gentrifying historic downtown core
to South Central.
Perry rode into office with the help of the executive director of
Concerned Citizens, and with developers' endorsements and campaign
contributions: city records show nearly ten million dollars from
developers flowing into Perry's coffers.
As City Controller Laura Chick explained to CityBeat last year, "This is
how it happens now: Developers will approach a council office, and say,
'Boy, have I got a deal for you! Look at this project I want to do in
your area.' Convince a council office to approach the CRA [Community
Redevelopment Authority] and say, ‘Do it.'" "Convincing" was a matter
of money, and Jan Perry had grown up in City Hall. She is said to be a
master of the game.
After fighting off a redistricting plan that would have moved downtown,
a major redevelopment center, out of her district, she led a charge to
criminalize downtown's homeless residents, sweeping them from the
streets into city and county jails and distant shelters, shelters
anywhere, everywhere, as long as the homeless were forced out of the
center of the city.
Backed by the Central City East Association, a business improvement
district which represents industrial and manufacturing companies with
over 600 properties - many located in Skid Row - Perry proposed an
ordinance that would prohibit downtown homeless people from erecting
tents and that would penalize groups that provided food for them.
She urged police sweeps of homeless residents. Downtown was turning into
a redevelopment dream, and developers and their new tenants wanted the
homeless out of downtown. Flea bag hotels that served Skid Row were
being converted into loft space for the upper middle class and newly
rich. LAPD and city hall announced they would arrest people for sleeping
on public sidewalks.
The Central City East Association had met with LAPD chief Bill Bratton
and police began citing people on Skid Row for jaywalking, for sleeping
– even sitting in front of building or standing and talking on the
As one homeless advocate put it, Central City East security personnel
began to "operate as an arm of the police," ordering them to move,
confiscating their bags, their blankets their beds and other belongings.
To hear Perry, who spearheaded the effort, tell it, she was doing the
homeless a favor. The ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild didn't see it
that way, and sued.
Perry called it a "nutty lawsuit," but U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
agreed with the ACLU, ruling that arresting people for sleeping or
sitting on public sidewalks of skid row constitutes cruel and unusual
punishment. The court noted that sleeping is an involuntary act, and
that there are simply not enough beds in homeless shelters. People have
no choice but to sleep in the street.
Perry called the ruling "a loss for skid row," and called for the City
to appeal the decision to the US Supreme Court.
In a word, Perry acts as a high level enforcer for developer's
interests. On the streets she would be called a thug.
Using her experience targeting the homeless and their encampments, Perry
would later mastermind the plan to evict Farm supporters from their
tents, deprive farmers of the food, and bulldoze the Farm while
protestors were beaten by LAPD. The aim was to clear the Farm land for
Ralph Horowitz the same way she'd tried to clear the homeless from
downtown for other developers.
Perry had other friends with an interest in the Farm, and, in the
developmental feeding frenzy that her district had become since the '92
rebellion and the implementation of the South Los Angeles Comprehensive
Economic Strategy, she had other obligations.
Among them was Perry's friend Ayahlushim Hammond of the Community
Redevelopment Agency, who'd been honored in 2004 as a "Catalyst of the
Downtown Renaissance" by the Central City Association.
In 2003, Hammond survived a scandal at the CRA over City funds she had
routed to her developer husband Chris for redevelopment projects.
Chris Hammond, a former Los Angeles Parks Commissioner, became the most
prolific redeveloper in South Central, with forty redevelopment projects
spread across his three companies.
His company, Capital Visions, was hit with five tax liens, and then
bounced checks to the city, along with campaign checks to the Mayor and
council members. The LA Times notes three dozen instances in which
Hammond bounced checks for more than $200,000 total. Among the results
are a number of lawsuits that complicate his redevelopment projects.
In early 2004 Chris Hammond approached the Farmers and offered to buy
the Farm "for them." The Farmers rejected the offer, having read of
Hammond's financial misbehaviors, and believing the offer was a trap set
for them by Jan Perry. In light of later developments, the Farmers
intuition served them well. Perry was their enemy, and so was Hammond.
On January 7, 2006, Perry offered the Farmers _ of an acre if they would
abandon the 14 acre plot at 41st and Alameda. On December 17, 2003, in a
meeting of the Council's Environmental and Waste Committee, Perry had
the Farmers removed from the agenda, and then tried to have them removed
from the room - a move that shocked even her fellow Council members, who
objected to their expulsion.
Then Perry had Rufina Juarez, elected representative of the South
Central Farmers, investigated twice on her job. Both allegations proved
For three years, on two or three mornings of each week, the Farmers left
their crops and their jobs to speak at City Council meetings and ask for
the Council's help in returning the Farm to them.
Perry led the City Council in its determined disdain of the Farmers: the
Council members rescheduled and cancelled public comments, and routinely
and sometimes literally turned their backs on the Farmers' when they
were allowed to speak.
Not a single Council member requested the City Attorney's opinion on
ways to help the Farmers, offered a motion in support, or held a public
meeting to address the Farmer's plight. Perry was not alone in her
devotion to developers, and Mayor Villaraigosa had his own motives.
The Farmers raced against the eviction clock in their search for the
$16.3M Horowitz demanded of them for the Farm. Meanwhile, the land
remained pristine, unsullied by industry and redevelopment.
But Perry never saw a piece of undeveloped land she couldn't wrangle
into a deal for her development buddies.
She became Ralph Horowitz's new best friend and advisor. U.S.
Representative Maxine Waters referred to Horowitz and Perry as "business
Now, a City Council representative from South Central was advising a
Westside developer on how best to turn a parcel of South Central land
into a sweatshop - or perhaps a Wal-Mart warehouse. Perry shepherded
Horowitz through the purchase of the Farm and the eviction of the Farm
After the eviction, Perry's other friend, Chris Hammond, returned to the
Farmers with strong-arm threats. He promised "ghetto style" retribution
if the Farmers targeted Perry politically for her role in attacking the
Days later, on June 13, 2006, Perry dined with Horowitz at his home to
plan one more operation: the 16-hour bulldozing of the Farm. They hoped
to destroy not only the land, but the community there and all it means.
They hoped to break the resistance of a people whose spirit of
resistance has endured for 500 years. They hoped to return South Central
to business as usual. They hoped, finally, to shatter the one shining
hope that had arisen from the 1992 war that the people of South Central
had waged against their oppressors.
That had been the plan all along.
As we go to press, an unidentified security guard in the pay of
developer Ralph Horowitz has attacked a supporter of the South Central
Farmers, causing two breaks in the nose and a broken eye socket. The
attack took place on a public sidewalk outside the disputed land. Though
notified of the attack immediately, the LAPD was slow in responding.
In the morning, the Farmers return to court, pressing their case that
the City's sale of the Farm land to Ralph Horowitz in 2003 was illegal.
U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, who has declared Mr. Horowitz’s bulldozing of
South Central Farm “unconscionable" told the Farmers “You are not alone
. . . No matter what the court decides on July 12, we will not let this
Juan Santos is a Los Angeles writer and editor of Mexica Tlahtolli. He
can be reached at Juan_Santos@Mexica.net
Leslie Radford is an adjunct professor of communications and a freelance
journalist living in Los Angeles. She can be reached at
“Mayor: Eviction Is 'Disheartening, Unnecessary,’” NBC4 TV, 14 June
Figueroa Media Group, et al.,
DMJM /Moffatt & Nichol, "Draft Report: Alameda Corridor, Employment,
Construction Supplies and Materials, a Summary of the Economic
Opportunities Provided by the Alameda Corridor Project, March 1995
Hoffman, "History of the South Central Farm," The New Standard, 5
Apr. 2006 http://newstandardnews.net/content/index.cfm/items/3028
Bobby Murray, "Laura Chick: The Los Angeles City Controller on the
City's Shady Contracting Process and Why Hahn Hasn't Done Anything About
It," City Beat 5 Feb 2005
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WHO OWNS THE FARM? by Lila Garrett
In Los Angeles, the 16 million dollar question is who owns the 14 acres in South Central Los Angeles, affectionately referred to as The Farm. Is it the City? Is it developer Ralph Horowitz? He certainly thinks so and
before the courts had a chance to disagree he had a bulldozer come in last week and level a big patch of edible green into a mud hole. It was heart stopping. Aside from the legal issues, there are gnawing questions like, do you rip 350 people from their land which feeds their families, beautifies the area and provides blocks of clean air in the middle of industrial pollution? Someone paid for the land, true. But other people gave it life. So the question is, to whom does that land really belong?
We found that question so compelling, six of us formed a committee and went to see Mr. Horowitz to ask him to reconsider. Our purpose had to do specifically with the spate of anti Semitism he said he had suffered from the Farmers. The farmers denied that any anti-Semetic remarks were made by any of their people. In fact they felt so bad about it they sent him a basket of fruits, vegetables and flowers as an apology for a crime they did not commit. Our committee’s first concern however was that this accusation of anti-Semitism, which was rumored by Horowitz himself, could have a ripple affect which would be bad not only for the Jews, but for the city. Any group can grab onto a hate movement, and use it as an organizing tool for its own agenda. It may have nothing to do with the original issue which is invariably forgotten. Nothing works to as an organizing tool like prejudice. Milosovich used to with the Serbs against the Croats. Hitler used it against the Jews. The Hutus used it against the Tutsies. You know how that goes.
We sat down in Mr Horowitz comfortable office and introduced ourselves. Our all Jewish committee of six was clearly progressive, so Horowitz, also quickly identified himself as a conservative. He spoke bitterly about the farmers, although when pressed he could not come up with who called him an anti-Semitic name. When we asked if he had accepted the farmers’ apology he nodded, I thought reluctantly, but then added he wouldn’t sell them the land if they gave him a hundred million dollars. His bitterness was palpable. And we couldn’t really figure out the root cause of it until he suddenly burst out: "These immigrants, they come over here, they think they own the place"…And behold, immigrant bashing filled the room and we spent an uneasy hour being regaled with it.
In the end of our attempt to stem the tide of violence and anger in our community, we realized that our meeting with Mr. Horowitz had fallen on deaf ears. He proudly announced that he was a hero to his conservative friends. When we asked if he was concerned about the ripple effect of his accusations of anti-Semitism, he said "No". As long as he was true to himself, that’s what mattered. Then he referred us to Councilwoman Jan Perry, and we suddenly got the impression that she’s the one who’s really running this show. Horowitz is the man in the middle. ‘Show me the money’ is all he really needed to say and we all could have saved a lot of time.
Our little committee did contact Councilwoman Jan Perry, who agreed to have a meeting with us. Her agenda promises to be a lot more interesting. In the meantime, it felt good, as a person with no particular portfolio to help avoid violence in our city. It felt good not to leave it to the other guy. It felt good to decide to be on the side of the farmers, not just for their talent, courage and perseverance, but for their lack of violence. Yesterday was their first day in court. If they prevail the land will revert to the city and they’ll have a chance to restore their gardens. Maybe. Wherever it goes I’ve decided to go with it. I like people who hang tough for a good cause. I like to be one of those people. They may have leveled the land, but the farmers are still standing. Tall.
It’s not over till it’s over. I’m Lila Garrett
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SOUTH CENTRAL FARMERS
Wednesday July 19, 2006,
Media Contacts: Fernando Flores (909) 605-3136, Leslie Morava (310) 428-9380, Amira Diamond (415) 722-2024
Lawyers Contact: Dan Stormer, Patrick Dunlevy, Cornelia Dai (626) 585-9600
South Central Farmers and International Supporters Prepared for Judge to Rule on Facts of the Law
Daryl Hannah, Farmers and their supporters express hope for victory and vision for a healthy future of Los Angeles
WHAT: Press Conference
WHO: Lila Garrett and the Los Angeles Committee for Fairness to the South Central Farmers, Bishop Marvin Bernheim, and South Central Farmers including elected Representative Rufina Juarez and youth farmer Alberto Tlatoa
WHY: To call for Judge Bendix's ruling on the side of justice for the South Central Farmers and to declare ongoing support by Los Angeles community for the vision of a re-grown South Central Farm and community center providing jobs in South Central
WHEN: 11AM, Thursday, July 20
WHERE: Sidewalk alcove just North of Grand Avenue Entrance to Downtown Superior Court (cross street is 1st)
Daryl Hannah takes action in Italy as the International Days of Solidarity with the South Central Farmers spontaneously extend from their mid-June dates. Yesterday in Italy 60 media outlets came to cover Daryl Hannah and John Quigley speaking about the City of Los Angeles and the call for justice on behalf of the South Central Farmers. Today’s Italian newspaper quotes Quigley, “With Daryl we want to save this oasis that is offering a job to so many people.”
Here in Los Angeles, Emmy Award winning television director and producer, Lila Garrett, Founder of the Los Angeles Committee for Fairness to the South Central Farmers and the group have called a Press Conference for 11AM, Thursday at Downtown Superior Court to declare ongoing support by Los Angeles community for the South Central Farmers and their vision of a re-grown farm and community center providing jobs in South Central.
Garrett, currently a radio commentator of KPFK's Connect the Dots, and the Committee met with developer Ralph Horowitz in early June on behalf of the Jewish community to facilitate a just resolution to this issue, and now support the victory of the South Central Farmers through the court.
Committee members Stanley Sheinbaum, the former Head of Los Angeles Police Commission; Rabbi Steven Jacobs; Daniel Sokatch, Executive Director of Progressive Jewish Alliance; Marci Winegrad, Chair of Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles; and Stephen Rohde, the former Chair of Southern California's ACLU are calling for a fair resolution for the farmers and to use this issue to bring attention to Los Angeles's commitment to a healthy, livable city. Garret said, “We are here to see that the farmers get back on this land which they nurtured and developed so devotedly.”
Bishop Marvin Bernheim, a religious leader in South Central, has been supporting the farm for its 14 years and stands in hope for a ruling on the side of justice. Bernheim made a pledge in early June to walk barefoot until the Farm was saved as a penance. He will appear in solidarity to speak on behalf of the Catholic community of South Central.
Elected Farm Representative, Rufina Juarez will call for Judge Bendix's ruling on the side of justice and will share the vision of the South Central Farmers including a community center and prosperous re-grown urban garden. The Farmers will acknowledge the hundreds of thousands of individuals who have joined on to support the South Central Farmers and to realize the vision of healthy, livable cities.
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