Next month will mark the
fifth anniversary of the bulldozing of the South Central Farm, a14-acre island
of tradition, family, community and health, in the industrial core of Los
The Farm, run largely by
immigrants and their children, had provided food for the 350 farmers and their
families as well as thousands of others in the community for over 15 years.
Despite support from
thousands who rallied to save the farm, they were no match for City Hall’s power
and old-school thinking in the face of changing demographics and growing
support for urban farming and a green, community-based vision of the city.
At the center of the
controversy over the farm was Councilwoman Jan Perry, who like other Council
members, has near absolute power over what goes on in the district she
represents. Districts are fiefdoms and Council members are their masters
without interfering with each other’s decisions.
It was Perry’s
opposition to the South Central Farm that doomed it five years ago and still
thwarts efforts to bring it back to life.
With her eyes focused on
her campaign for mayor, Perry has the opportunity to rise above the past
conflict and see the need to heal her relationship with the community and take
a stand for greening the inner city and supporting health in the South L.A.
The South Central
Farmers have learned that the titleholder of the farm at 41st and
Alameda, developer Ralph Horowitz, has an option out on the property so a deal
could close at anytime.
That’s brought the South
Central Farmers out in force to press the city’s power structure for help to
restore the farm.
The Los Angeles Times has called on Perry to get on
board. Non-profit organizations are ready to provide the financial support the
farmers need but they are waiting for a promise from Perry to get on board or
step aside and not interfere.
Given her history of
supporting huge tax breaks and subsidies to high-rise developments and luxury
hotel and entertainment projects for downtown, Perry can hardly afford to be
targeted as the enemy of the poor and antagonistic to green space and healthy
L.A. is awash in
concrete and asphalt. That’s no accident. Money from developers and
allied interests plays a dominant role in political campaigns. This gives
developers enormous clout
with elected officials who can make it as easy or as hard as they want for
projects to go forward in their districts.
Land and water have
always been at the heart of the L.A.’s “Chinatown” history of corruption.
Nothing has changed except both have become scarce, ever precious, resources
that need to be managed for more than private profit.
The history of the South
Central Farm acreage is telling.
Horowitz owned the land before, selling it to the city by eminent domain
in 1986 for use as a city garbage incinerator (Lancer Project). The community fought having another insult
added to their already blighted and bleak streets. And they won.
In 2003, Horowitz sued to get the land back and got a settlement with Perry’s help without even a token for the families that had turned the weed-covered, garbage-strewn eyesore into an oasis with fruit trees, gardens and flowers.
She sold it out from
under them and back to Horowitz without a care for the Latino community; who make up
92 percent of her constituency, or for the farmers who put food on the table from the farm and found escape from the asphalt and concrete of the surrounding area.
Perry had the leverage to cut a deal with Horowitz that preserved the farm and given Horowitz a handsome profit of more than $10 million at the peak of the real estate. boom. She chose to brush off the community and play to the developer.
It was an extraordinary
political calculation, siding with a Westside
developer, against Latinos whose numbers were soaring in her district.
The fight over the farm
became a major controversy, subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary “The
Garden,” a cause célèbre that heated to the point Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
intervened. When Horowitz looked like he might weaken, Perry
sweetened the pot by turning over the Goodyear Industrial tract at Slauson and
Central to him and Horowitz refused to negotiate with the Farmers.
The Farm was bulldozed
in a single afternoon.
Two years later,
Horowitz designed a warehouse and trucking hub for clothing manufacturer and
retailer Forever 21 – a heavy contributor to Perry’s campaign war chest.
Villaraigosa, who by
2008 had gotten nearly $1.3 million in contributions from Forever 21 and its
executives in the previous two years for initiatives ranging from tree
plantings to his mayoral election campaign, got aboard the deal.
With that support the
city Planning Department fast-tracked the Horowitz/Forever 21 deal forward,
waiving an environmental impact report. The Farmers fought back, rallying their
supporters and demanding a full EIR that stalled the project which was
abandoned after the economic meltdown.
Sitting on the property
for five years and seeing Gov. Jerry Brown’s efforts to abolish community
redevelopment agencies threatening to dry up lucrative subsidies to develop the
farm property, Horowitz now is ready to sell and get his cash back with a
handsome profit for doing nothing more than what Perry and power structure
asked of him.
Even in a depressed
property market, Horowitz stands to make a hefty profit if Perry can deliver
the redevelopment money.
Perry brings a lot of
assets to her mayoral campaign. She’s strong-willed, the only Council member
with the courage to stand up to the power of the DWP and its union
But she is at a
crossroads in her political career.
She can stand with the
old guard of Los Angeles’s politicians, those politicians who wheel and deal
their way through the back rooms of City Hall, cutting deals and collecting
Or she can stand with a
band of Farmers and the thousands of voters in every part of the city who
respect the diversity of community and cultural traditions, and want to see
L.A. progress as a greener and healthier city that supports the values and
interests of its residents instead of selling out to the highest bidders, the
For a start, she could
pick up the phone the next time the South Central Farmers expect
a response or, daresay, request a meeting, and
thereby give them the same access she gives the Central City Association, AEG
and other developers of luxury downtown developments and, of course, Ralph