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Fwd: [SCFs] SCFs Make Cover of LA CITY BEAT!

  • Subject: [cg] Fwd: [SCFs] SCFs Make Cover of LA CITY BEAT!
  • From: David King
  • Date: Thu, 26 Jan 2006 21:30:16 -0800 (PST)

I hope this comes through ungarbled - this is from the
email list of Los Angeles' South Central Farmers - you
will find their struggle to keep their gardens
compelling.  This is not a short article, but it is
worth reading.

Sorry I don't have the ability to send it in its
original format.


--- wrote:

> To: <>
> Date: Thu, 26 Jan 2006 18:45:13 +0000
> From:
> Subject: [SCFs] SCFs Make Cover of LA CITY BEAT!
> Trouble in the GardenThe 350 families who banded
> together as the South Central Farmers transformed an
> industrial dump into a jungle paradise. But now
> theyre being evicted~ By DEAN KUIPERS ~
> Photo by Steve ApplefordLet it rain: John Brown, 11,
> helps farmer Lucino Cardozo and his son, Enrique, 11
> Aqui estamos y no nos vamos! (Were here and were
> not leaving!)sign hanging on the fence at South
> Central Farm 
> Hear the birds? Where else in L.A. do you hear that
> many birds? says Tezozomoc  pronounced tesomoke,
> or teso for short  an energetic, well-spoken
> Latino man with an ancient-sounding name. He halts a
> discussion with a class visiting from the Pacific
> Oaks School in Pasadena, a seminar in bicultural
> development, to point into the thick, jungle-like
> foliage behind him. 
> We create like this biosphere bubble here, with all
> of this vegetation, he adds. We have 500 trees. We
> have lizards  
> Snakes? asks one of the students, eyes wide open. 
> Only politicians, he laughs. But what we call our
> other relations depend on this space, too. 
> The space is the South Central Community Farm, a
> 14-acre community garden just south of downtown
> smack on Alameda Street, right up alongside the
> industrial warehouses of the City of Vernon. The
> contrast with community gardens elsewhere in the
> city is shocking. These arent tiny weekend projects
> with a few tomatoes and California poppies. The 330
> spaces here are large, 20 X 30 feet, many of them
> doubled- and tripled-up into larger plots, crammed
> with a tropical density of native Mesoamerican
> plants  full-grown guava trees, avocados,
> tamarinds, and palms draped in vines bearing huge
> pumpkins and chayotes, leaf vegetables, corn, seeds
> like chipilin grown for spice, and rank upon rank of
> cactus cut for nopales. The families who work these
> plots are all chosen to receive one because they are
> impoverished by USDA standards, and use them to
> augment their household food supply. These are
> survival gardens. 
> The thick chains, padlocks, and security on the
> entry gates are evidence that these gardens are
> something more, too. Since Los Angeles developer
> Ralph Horowitz took control of the property in late
> 2003, they have become a symbol of resistance. The
> farmers, who have now been working these plots since
> 1992, were given eviction notices in 2004 and are
> suing everyone involved  Horowitz, the city, and
> original permit-holder the L.A. Regional Food Bank,
> whose massive building sits next door just across
> 41st Street  in an effort to turn the block into a
> new city park that would include continued
> gardening. 
> And if that was all it was about, this would just be
> another squatter land dispute. But the reason
> teacher Roberto Flores and his students from Pacific
> Oaks are here, and why activists and academics from
> Bolivia and Venezuela and Palestine and a
> land-holding corporation from Colorado and the
> Italy-based International Alliance of Inhabitants
> have descended on the place is because it has become
> a model for community land-use. Its formal
> decision-making structure, park planning, political
> outreach, and indefatigable presence at City Hall 
> theyve spoken at every City Council meeting this
> year  have transformed the place into a democracy
> workshop. 
> Tezozomoc, one of two elected leaders who represent
> the farmers to the city, insists that the political
> and educational battle is now the point. An academic
> himself, working toward a masters in Linguistics at
> California State University, Northridge, he
> addresses the students in their own language. 
> In human development, we talk about a heuristic,
> right? A tool or strategy that leads you toward a
> solution. If you have tools, then tools lead to new
> theories. Look whats happening here. So, giving
> people this tool  the land  leads to new
> solutions. 
> The gardens, he emphasizes, are a safety net
> program. First and foremost, they feed needy people.
> But, within the democratic process here, part of
> the work that we do is to develop people with the
> ability to be leaders in their communities. We had
> some people here who have come out and become part
> of the neighborhood councils, and others who
> advocate on behalf of people. That is actually what
> is more important: Its not only about saving this
> project, but to develop people with a conscience so
> that they can stand up for what they believe. 
> A Sweet Deal
> Fernando Flores, a young architect who is working on
> future plans for South Central Farm, points out that
> this food safety net program is an extraordinarily
> cheap one  the city provides nothing to the farmers
> and they foot all the bills DIY for water, trash
> service, security, and farming supplies. In fact, it
> is expensive for only one guy: Ralph Horowitz. 
> Horowitz is less than impressed by all the
> empowerment overlay on the political occupation of
> the Farm. If the farmers have all been getting a
> crash political education for the last two years, he
> has been paying for it. The mortgage on the property
> is roughly $30,000 a month, he says, plus theres
> insurance, property taxes, and the legal costs hes
> accrued trying to defend against the farmers
> lawsuit. 
> Theyve had the use of it going on 14 years!
> Horowitz exclaims. Even welfare recipients are
> asked, after so many years, to start to fend for
> yourself and stop asking your fellow taxpayers to
> carry you. These particular individuals should be
> thanking the city of Los Angeles  and suing the
> city isnt the way to thank em. 
> Still, one figures that Horowitz knows what hes
> doing. Maybe its cost him a million bucks to own
> the plot at Alameda and 41st for the last two years,
> but he got a very sweet deal on the property. Even
> if he decides in the end to sell it back to the
> city, he might make eight or ten million in profit.
> And there are some real questions as to why the deal
> happened that way. 
> Horowitz owned this same property once before, when
> the gardens saga really began, in the late-1980s.
> These two city blocks  40th Street runs down the
> middle of the garden, but has been choked off on
> either end by fences  were seized by eminent domain
> to make way for the citys Lancer Project, a
> waste-to-energy incinerator that would have
> generated electricity by burning trash. Horowitzs
> Alameda-Barbara Investment Company was the largest
> of nine co-owners and received $4.7 million in
> compensation after a lawsuit was settled. 
> But there was some fine print. Since Horowitzs
> company owned about 80 percent of the original
> property, he claimed he had right of first refusal
> on the property if the city decided to sell it. 
> And in fact, thats exactly what happened. A group
> called Concerned Citizens of South Central got up in
> arms about the incinerator plan, and the city backed
> away from it, letting the property become an ad hoc
> dump, full of discarded couches and refrigerators.
> In 1992, after the Rodney King riots brought some
> City Hall attention to bear (albeit briefly) on what
> was then called South Central L.A., the L.A.
> Regional Food Bank approached the city and secured a
> revocable permit to use the property as a community
> garden. 
> When we first started out trying to get low-income
> residents to come to the property, we actually had a
> tough time, because nobody would believe that
> somebody would let you come and garden for free,
> says Darren Hoffman, communications manager at the
> Food Bank. But once we got a couple people on
> there, word spread like wildfire. 
> The 14 acres were split into 330 plots, and the Food
> Bank tested the soil for safety and set up the
> trash, toilet, and water arrangements that still
> cost each family only $13 a month. Considering that
> most plots were worked by a family of four or more,
> they were directly affecting anywhere from
> 1,300-to-2,000 people. But the paperwork with the
> city was explicit: It could pull the plug at any
> time. 
> Originally, we were thinking temporary  we thought
> this would be like a two-year project. But two years
> turns into 13-14 years, and nobody sees it as a
> temporary project anymore, says Hoffman. 
> In 1994, the citys Department of Public Works,
> which was going to build the incinerator, sold the
> property to the Harbor Department for over $13
> million. That sale was later ruled illegal and
> reversed. 
> In 1995, the city began negotiations with Horowitz,
> who wanted to buy the land back, this time as the
> Libaw-Horowitz Investment Company. An agreement
> finally went before the City Council, which refused
> to adopt the sale. In 2002, Horowitz sued for
> failure to execute the sale agreement, his second
> suit with the city over this property. 
> In August 2003, the City Council finally approved
> the terms of a sale in a closed session, awarding it
> to Horowitz for $5.05 million. In essence, selling
> it back to him for as much as it was worth during
> the eminent domain process in the late-80s.
> Eviction notices were sent out the next month to the
> farmers working the land. 
> Since the 1980s, however, big changes would have
> greatly increased the value of that land. City,
> state, and federal governments had spent $2 billion
> building the Alameda Corridor, a modern rail and
> big-truck super-pipeline from the Port of Los
> Angeles straight through the warehouses of South
> L.A. and Vernon. This was now hot property. 
> All the goods that are for Wal-Mart are going out
> to the Southwest from here, from Long Beach and from
> the L.A. Port, notes Tezozomoc, pointing at Alameda
> Street. About 70 percent of the product that comes
> into the Long Beach 44 port is destined for
> Wal-Mart. 
> The land, the farmers argue, was clearly worth a lot
> more than $5 million. Nine years earlier, the city
> had paid $13 million just to transfer the land from
> one department to another, so even using that as
> lowball number, Horowitz had received an
> eight-million-dollar break. 
> And then there was this matter of the right of first
> refusal. Judge Lawrence W. Crispo ruled several
> times against Horowitz, saying that a landlord could
> not negotiate a right of refusal on a condemned
> property  which is what an eminent domain seizure
> is, a court condemnation. But the City Attorneys
> office, which offered e-mailed responses from
> attorneys via spokesman Frank Mateljan to questions
> submitted about this situation, said the
> Libaw-Horowitz right of refusal was negotiated and
> became part of the stipulated judgment in
> condemnation. City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo urged
> the City Council to concede and sell the property to
> Horowitz. 
> That just doesnt hold, though, says Tezozomoc.
> Go back to the original case of Chavez Ravine,
> right? 
> Chavez Ravine was an impoverished Mexican
> neighborhood of hundreds of households overlooking
> downtown L.A. that was condemned to make way for
> low-income housing to be built by Richard Neutra.
> If that was the case, if the city changed its mind
> about building low-income housing there, then they
> would have had to give the land back to each one of
> those families, the original owners  which they
> didnt, adds Tezozomoc. Who did they give it to?
> The Dodgers. 
> Still, the farm deal was sealed in early 2004, and
> Libaw-Horowitz sent out notices that the gardens
> would be closed as of February 29, 2004. The Food
> Bank agreed to begin tearing out the plants and
> interior fences. 
> We were supposed to return the property in the way
> we received it, said Hoffman. So all of the
> interior fencing would have to go  and, basically,
> all of the foliage. 
> The Food Bank became our enemy, says Tezozomoc.
> We have gained a lot of enemies. 
> Before these notices had even hit the fences, the
> farmers formed a political committee, South Central
> Farmers Feeding Families. Elected representatives
> met with Horowitz. 
> Well, I own it, so Ive been by numerous times just
> to see what goes on, Horowitz says. They called
> me, and acknowledged that Id just bought the
> property, and they asked me if they could stay on it
> another 60 days rent-free. And I said yes. 
> That gave the farmers just enough time to file a
> lawsuit against Horowitz et al., and get an
> injunction, allowing them to stay on the property
> until the suit was resolved. And to buy chains and
> padlocks. 
> ~ Direct Democracy ~
> Alberto and Maribel Tlatoa grew up on their plot at
> South Central Farm. The Tlatoa family has been
> growing food there for eight years, and now Alberto,
> 19, has become one of the elected captains of the
> occupation. He and his sister Maribel, 21, are
> sleeping on the property at least one night a week,
> standing guard, while still going to college  a
> perfect example of the new level of sophistication
> enlivening the farm community. Most of the farmers
> are impoverished immigrants, many still speaking the
> indigenous languages of the Guatemalan highlands or
> growing treasured 5,000-year-old heirloom corn seeds
> brought from Puebla, the heartland of Mexican
> culture. Many of them cant afford to be involved,
> politically. But the kids learn to speak English,
> and learn to make themselves heard. Alberto goes to
> East Los Angeles College and has been to City
> Council meetings every week for a year solid. 
> They know who I am, he says softly. Every week he
> has his name on the list to speak. Hes glad that
> new City Council President Eric Garcetti has moved
> the public comment to the start of the weekly
> meeting, because now he only spends a half-day there
> instead of getting out late. (City Councilmember Jan
> Perry, whose district includes the farm, declined to
> comment for this story, citing the ongoing lawsuit.)
> Tezozomoc is proud of Alberto, saying, He wants to
> be mayor of L.A. one day. 
> Alberto and Maribel turn up to give a tour to the
> Pacific Oaks class and answer their questions. Its
> a day of hard winter sun, and a light breeze flaps a
> row of 20 flimsy-looking tents that stretch along
> 40th Street. Alberto is on duty every Monday night,
> standing around a burn barrel for warmth. I play
> the radio real loud at night, he smiles. 
> Their duties are now pretty well defined. Theres a
> General Assembly meeting every week, where all 350
> or so families can vote on farm matters like marches
> or buying a generator. The captains hear concerns
> and are in charge of security and logistics.
> Tezozomoc and Rufina Juarez are the elected
> representatives interacting with lawyers and city
> officials. And then there is a massive outreach
> campaign in which everyone does his or her part,
> bringing in supporters, money, and outside
> organizing expertise. 
> We used to just like work on a little parcel, do
> our little gardening thing, then just go home, says
> Maribel. We would interact, but mainly just like
> neighbors. But now, since the whole movement,
> sometimes we vote and we gather and tell stories. 
> She means the farm community, of course, but also
> the Latino and indigenous Mesoamerican community.
> Especially being in South Central, with all the
> gang violence and everything  we dont go out much
> in the community due to that. But now the whole
> movement has brought the community together. 
> Alberto says that Mesoamerican community was one of
> the reasons why their parents remained committed to
> the place. The farming was necessary for their
> family of six to survive, but it quickly took on
> another function. Our parents always wanted us to
> learn these farms were not just about putting
> something in our mouths, but to learn to grow our
> culture, he adds. 
> Strangely, other demographics are barely
> represented. There are few blacks, fewer anglos or
> Asians. Perhaps that represents some kind of
> accurate picture of who would garden for food these
> days, but the gardens show a shocking cultural
> homogeneity. 
> This 200 or 300 people wanted to get this property
> for themselves, explains Horowitz. Thats the
> purpose of their lawsuit. 
> Its not like a park, where you and your wife and
> your child can go into a park and use any of its
> facilities, at any time. These farmers are gardening
> these plots exclusively. As long as theyre standing
> on there, you cant use the property. This is not a
> public function. 
> In fact, the park is not even open now, except on
> Sundays for a farmers market. The farmers, it
> seems, are acutely aware of this perception, and if
> they can save the gardens as a city park, they are
> prepared to make big changes. Fernando Flores has
> already mapped them out. 
> Flores, 25, was not, like Tezo and the others,
> someone who grew up on South Central Farm. Last
> year, he was living in Ontario and going to
> California State Polytechnic University, Pomona for
> architecture when one of his mentors there brought
> him over to see the farm. He saw the potential to
> give his work a political perspective, and made it
> his architecture thesis project to redesign the
> place as a public park. 
> You want to check it out? Its in the back of my
> truck, he says, opening the back of a big black
> SUV. 
> His model represents about a quarter of the actual
> land now occupied by the farm, and represents a
> clear answer to those who say its not a public
> place. A central plaza, surrounded by farm plots,
> would feature a square of low buildings with a stage
> area. 
> We just finished this this past summer: A hybrid
> park, he says. This is a community center. We have
> offices, in case we want to have doctors. We have
> health fairs, here. If you want to have social
> services, as well. 
> One of the things that is lacking in South Central
> is, people dont have access to like a community
> center where they can have theater or they can have
> a public event like a concert, right? says
> Tezozomoc. The farm already has a stage set up,
> where bands like Ozomatli and former Rage Against
> the Machine singer Zach de la Rocha have played, and
> has a $5 punk show going on the 27th called Disfest.
> So its a way to help our talent, and our youth,
> and our community. And thats really what the basis
> of this project has been. 
> Flores is now co-chair of the Support Committee,
> networking with community activists outside the
> farm. This is the stuff that you read about and
> watch films about in school, says Flores, walking
> through the plots, chatting with people working here
> and there. I never imagined this would become my
> focus. But this is a movement thats growing out of
> a seed right now. 
> ~ Far from over ~
> Late on a Sunday afternoon, the farmers market is
> just closing up. They dont sell produce on South
> Central Farm  although individual farmers might
> sell you a pumpkin or slice off some cactus for you,
> if you ask  but Sunday vendors do make hot food to
> whip up a little cash. There are quesadillas
> calabasitas (squash), tacos, fried plantains with
> sweetened cream and shaved cheese, and super-sweet
> tamarindo and hibiscus drinks. Only a few dozen
> people mill about, but theres still time to have a
> huarache  like the shoe, a vendor explains  a
> folded pastry filled with squash and smothered in
> sticky nopales, white cheese, beans, and hot chili
> sauce. A lot of this prepared food comes from
> outside the gardens, including the chicken or pork;
> they dont raise any livestock there. 
> The place is tranquil, smelling gorgeously of
> cilantro and hoja santo, a leaf used to wrap tamales
> which gives off a perfume like licorice when you rub
> it. If it werent for the frequent passage of Metro
> trains bombing past on their way to Long Beach, you
> could almost forget these gardens were in the middle
> of a heavy industrial district. 
> On June 30, 2005, a state appeals court overturned
> the Superior Court injunction on the property,
> giving Horowitz the right to remove the farmers.
> That was immediately appealed to the California
> Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case in
> October. Some elements of the farmers case,
> however, are still alive in the courts. Part of
> their suit claimed the city violated municipal code
> by selling the land cheap to Horowitz and partners
> Jacob Libaw and Timothy Ison. And Judge Helen Bendix
> had refused to allow the farmers to depose Libaw and
> Ison  but was recently reversed by a higher court.
> So, that part of the case moves forward. 
> We are going to write another Temporary Restraining
> Order, because now, were saying you cannot destroy
> this because we need access to these other people,
> and then we have a good chance to win this, said
> Tezozomoc. Its not clear what information the other
> partners would have that might swing the case in
> favor of the farmers. But on the day Tezozomoc was
> meeting with the class from Pacific Oaks, he said he
> was spending the night with the lawyers to get
> that next TRO ready to file. 
> If its not already too late. On January 13,
> Tezozomoc and the captains among the South Central
> Farmers were gearing up for what they thought might
> be an imminent raid by L.A. County Sheriff deputies.
> According to the e-mailed responses from the City
> Attorneys Office, Horowitzs company has sued the
> L.A. Regional Food Bank for unlawful detainer, since
> they were the group administering the gardens, and
> once thats settled, the eviction might begin. A
> judgment is anticipated this week in the unlawful
> detainer case, said the Monday e-mail from city
> attorneys. That case is between Libaw-Horowitz and
> the L.A. Regional Food Bank, which administers the
> garden. The Food Bank is not resisting. A judgment
> for possession can be enforced using the County
> Sheriff. 
> So the Food Bank, which Tezozomoc considers the
> farmers enemy, is all that is standing between
> them and eviction. The Food Banks Darren Hoffman
> says theyre not sure that, if the city were to take
> possession of the land again, their permit would
> still be in place or not. He says they have to wait
> for the quagmire in the courts to be settled. 
> From my window here, I can see this beautiful urban
> garden, says Hoffman. Wed be sad to see it go. It
> would definitely be a loss to the community. 
> Horowitz, for his part, says he would consider a
> buyout offer from the city. 
> I wouldnt agree with their rationale for doing it,
> but if they wanted to pay fair market value for the
> property to solve what they foresee is a problem, I
> wouldnt stand in the way, he says. 
> Meanwhile, the South Central Farmers are appealing
> to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has visited the
> site with his family, and to members of City
> Council, while they gear up for civil disobedience
> when and if the eviction comes. 
> Ive been so busy organizing I havent had time to
> eat my own produce, says Tezozomoc, snatching sweet
> guavas off a tree planted by his dad. I just want
> this place saved so I can get back to farming, get
> back to school, pay some bills. But this fights a
> long way from over.  
> 1-26-05
> Express yourself instantly with MSN Messenger!
> Download today it's FREE!
> Southcentralfarmers mailing list

David King, Garden Master
  The Learning Garden  
  office  310.722.3656 

 A garden, where one may enter in and forget the whole world, 
 cannot be made in a week, nor a month, nor a year; it must
 be planned for, waited for and loved into being.

 Chinese Proverb

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