Fifteen years ago, a student at Jefferson High School wrote
a paper about how the African-American community fought to kill the Lancer
trash-to-energy project at 41st and Alameda a decade earlier.
“Residents feel that South
Central Los Angeles took a large step towards earning some political respect
and not get stepped all over,” wrote the student, L. Garcia. “The community
held to the belief that health always comes first, no matter how good the benefits
It was a rare victory against the power of City Hall,
especially by a minority community fighting for environmental justice and finding a key ally in then Assemblywoman Maxine Waters who helped cut off state funding..
Now, a quarter century after the Lancer incinerator
project went up in smoke, the 14-acre property remains a political battleground
like no other in the city.
Seized under eminent domain by the Public Works
Department, the land sat idle until nearby residents began turning it into a
community garden. It eventually became the South Central Farm whose struggle
for economic and environmental justice was captured in the Oscar-nominated
documentary “The Garden” about their unsuccessful fight to keep the city from
bulldozing the community gardens of hundreds of people.
The tale of how city officials have manipulated public
money in buying and selling the property, promoted various unsuccessful schemes
for its development and created a variety of legal fictions to justify their actions
goes to the heart of what has gone wrong across Los Angeles over the last three
The rights of property owners like the interests of the
community have been trampled time and again by city officials who rewrite the
narrative to suit their own interests of the moment.
With pro-development, jobs-at-any-price Councilwoman Jan
Perry leading the way, the latest chapter in the saga of the Lancer property
will be written on Thursday before the L.A. Harbor Commission. (See Agenda Item No. 13)
On July 12, Perry wrote the commission that she wanted
the settlement agreement with property owner Ralph Horowitz torn up to free him
from the obligation to cede 2.6 acres to the city for a park – a provision she
had fought so hard to get back when the settlement was reached in 2003.
“Since the pledge agreement
was authorized in 2003, there has been an emerging field of research regarding
air pollutants and the harmful impacts they can have on sensitive receptors.
Considering the health risk posed by diesel emissions, the propriety of
establishing an active use park in the middle of this heavily industrialized
corridor should be questioned and is the primary reason why I am requesting the Harbor Commission
to consider amending the pledge agreement,” Perry wrote.
Instead, Perry, the wannabe mayor and downtown football
stadium champion, has worked out a new deal that allows Horowitz – who was the
principal owner of the property back in the early 1980s and sued to get
it back 20 years later – to pay $3.6 million into a special fund that she has
designated for recreational activities in a nearby housing project and two
parks, one of which is around the corner from the environmental hazards at the
Normal city rules split the sale of city assets 50-50 for
use within the district and for the general fund. In this case, Perry gets all
the money and can still channel it through Concerned Citizens of South Central
as she has done in the past and intended to do with the Lancer park.
Horowitz, who saw his property seized under eminent
domain by the city nearly 30 years ago and then re-sold from the Public Works
Department to the Harbor Department and then sold back to him at a fraction of
the price, is now in escrow to finally sell the entire 14 acres for what Perry
says will be for “garment design, manufacturing and warehousing” that “could
potentially create up to 600 new jobs.”
Many deals have come and gone for the property over the
years, including efforts of the South Central Farmers that Perry squelched, and many promises of jobs that would be created.
Back in the early 1980s when City Council members were
great characters and the corruption was of the traditional kind, envelopes of
cash not the kind of penny ante political contributions and small-time favors
now in vogue, Councilman Gil Lindsay promised the Lancer incinerator would
provide electricity for 40,000 homes, provide nearly $15 million in community
benefits and make the area a “Garden of Eden.”
The Public Works Department dutifully seized the property
for the Lancer project under eminent domain from owner Ralph Horowitz, his
partners and others who held title to smaller parcels.
A woman named Juanita Tate became the driving force
fighting the project, forming Concerned Citizens of South Central and in 1987
got the project killed, an extraordinary achievement aided by environmentalists
in the face of a big-spending campaign by promoters of the trash-to-energy