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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: California | Environment & Forest Defense
About the South Central Farm in Los Angeles
Synopsis of the history of the 14-acre urban garden located at 41st and Alameda Streets
Since 1992, the 14 acres of property located at 41st and Alameda Streets in Los Angeles have been used as a community garden or farm. The land has been divided into 360 plots and is believed to be one of the largest urban gardens in the country.
The City of Los Angeles acquired the 14-acre property by eminent domain in the late 1980s, taking it from nine private landowners. The largest of these owners, Alameda-Barbara Investment Company (“Alameda”), owned approximately 80 percent of the site. The partners of Alameda were Ralph Horowitz and Jacob Libaw. The City originally intended to use the property for a trash incinerator, but abandoned that plan in the face of public protest organized by the community.
As part of the eminent domain proceedings, the City granted Alameda a right of first refusal if, within 10 years, the City determined that the parcel formerly owned by Alameda was no longer required for public use.
Following the uprising in 1992, the City set aside the 14-acre site for use as a community garden. In 1994, the City transferred title to the property by ordinance to its Harbor Department. When it received title to the property, the Harbor Department contracted with the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank to operate the property as a community garden; the Foodbank has been operating it as such since then.
In 1995, the City began negotiating with Libaw-Horowitz Investment Company (“LHIC”), the successor company to Alameda, to sell it the entire 14-acre property. The City’s negotiators sent LHIC a purchase agreement, and LHIC executed the agreement and returned it to the City in October 1996. The terms of the agreement expressly made it contingent on City Council approval. The City Council never approved the agreement, and the sale was not completed. The proposed agreement fixed the sale amount at $5,227,200.
In 2002, LHIC filed suit against the City for not executing the purchase agreement. The City successfully demurred three times to LHIC’s complaint, but then agreed to sell the 14-acre property to Ralph Horowitz and his business partners for $5,050,000. On August 13, 2003, the City Council discussed and approved the terms of the settlement in closed session, and then passed a motion to approve the settlement.
On September 23, 2003, the City sent the Foodbank a letter notifying it of the sale. The Foodbank, in turn, distributed the letter to the approximately 350 families that were using plots at the garden to grow their own food. The families using the plots are low‑income and depend heavily upon the food they grow to feed themselves. In addition to growing food for themselves, the people involved with the community garden hold Farmers' Markets, festivals and other cultural events for the public at large.
After receiving the notice from the City informing them that the garden property was being sold to a private developer, the farmers formed an organization—South Central Farmers Feeding Families—and began organizing to retain their right to use the property. South Central Farmers Feeding Families appealed to the City Council to prevent the sale from going through. On December 11, 2003, however, the City transferred title to the property to Ralph Horowitz and the Horowitz Family Trust, The Libaw Family LP, Timothy M. Ison and Shaghan Securities, LLC.
On January 8, 2004, Ralph Horowitz issued a notice setting February 29, 2004, as the termination date for the community garden. In the meantime before February 29, members of the South Central Farmers Feeding Families obtained legal counsel (Hadsell & Stormer, Inc., and Kaye, Mclane & Bednarski LLP) and filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the sale of the property. The Los Angeles County Superior Court issued a temporary restraining order and later a preliminary injunction halting development of the property during the pendency of the lawsuit. Both the City and the Horowitz defendants appealed the Superior Court’s order granting the preliminary injunction.
On June 30, 2005, the Court of Appeal reversed the Superior Court’s order granting the preliminary injunction. The South Central Farmers Feeding Families have 40 days from June 30 to petition the California Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeal’s ruling. If the Supreme Court declines to hear the case, the urban garden will be demolished in about three months.
The Court of Appeal ignored the law and sound public policy in overturning the injunction that was in place on the property. The Los Angeles City Charter allows the City to sell real property it determines that it no longer needs. Before selling property it no longer needs, the City must comply with various procedures designed to ensure that the City does not squander resources by selling property it needs. The intent of the Charter is that the City sell only property it no longer needs. The City’s sale of the garden property to the Horowitz interests did not comply with the procedures required for sale of property no longer needed by the City. The Court of Appeal held, nevertheless, that the City did not have to comply with these provisions because it had not determined that it no longer needed the garden property.
In other words, the Court of Appeal ruled that the City can avoid its own charter’s procedure for selling property simply by stopping short of determining whether the property it intends to sell is no longer needed by the City. By keeping the property it intends to sell designated as property it needs, the City can go ahead and sell it without having to comply with the charter provision for the sale of real property. The new procedure being approved by the Court of Appeal defeats the very purpose of the charter provision applying to the sale of real property. It encourages the type of abuse the charter provision applying to the sale of real property was meant to curtail.
Accomplishments by the South Central Farmers
1. When Michael flood and the food bank turned their backs on the poor people of South Central. It was the South Central Farmers that protested, marched, and attended city council meetings. In this process they were able to keep the garden open and challenge the city on the sale of the property. The food bank had an opportunity to place its expensive lawyers on the issue but they chose instead to fight against them and they continue to fight us.
2. The South Central Farmers began a process of eliminating the corruption and self-serving attitudes that the agents of the food bank had fostered for over 11 years. This included cronism, nepetism, and extornsion. In direct violation of the permit given by the city the agents of the food bank and the food bank allowed the sale of plots to poor families. The prices began from 250 all the way up to 1000 dollars per plot. This was hurrendous. The SCFs have been attempting to remove these elements from the community garden.
3. In Feb 15, 2004, the SCF had a general assembly where two leaders were chosen democratically. The rules for governing the community garden were discussed and the type of democracy was also decided, Majority rule. From then on the leadership was given certain executives privileges always governed by the consensus of the community.
4. From that time on the community garden and its rules have been governed by the participatory membership of the South Central farmers. They chose which rules they wanted to be governed by and how transgressions should be dealt with.
5. SCFs have developed community leaders from the community garden. Some of our members have become members of the local neighborhood councils. Some our farmers have also been encouraged to become Master Gardeners. Some of our Farmers have developed their own economic development. One farmer currently rents 6 acres elsewhere and has developed his own distribution system.
6. SCFs have developed opportunities for community members. We have developed the monthly farmers market.
7. The SCFs have addressed the needs of the women membership by providing them the space to have their own cooperative space where only women work.
8. We have sustained City Council attendance, twice a week, only matched by the anti-war movement of the sixties.
9. We have developed the spiritual needs of the community by providing a monthly catholic service and a monthly Christian service. This helps to address the needs of the community.
10. We provide an avenue for up and coming bands during our yearly anniversary celebration. We have had two of them and have showcases many up and coming community bands.
11. SCFs maintain an abundant and resilient seed stock that is grown in the community garden.
12. The SCFs have brought traditional aztec dancers and ceremonies that resonate the cultural traditions of the people who grow food.
13. The SCF have made the community garden available to its memberships to have a family space for fiestas. The SCfs have also made the community space available for cultural exchange programs. Native traditional rural teachers from all over Mexico have used the space to do cultural exchange.
14. The SCFs continue to educate their members on the democratic process and how it applies to their local government.
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* Save the South Central Farm - Photo Essay