Los Angeles: struggle for the land

Leave it to Los Angeles. The media start paying attention when big-name stars flock to the cause. Meanwhile, heartening to know that this grassroots effort at urban-renewal-from-below has lasted as long as it has. From the LA Daily News, May 25:

Farmers facing imminent eviction from their urban plots of land played the ultimate trump card Wednesday: They called folk singer Joan Baez and stuck her in a tree.

The Los Angeles South Central Farm has been an oddity for the past 14 years. Tilled by mostly Mexican and Central American immigrants amid warehouses and train tracks, the 14-acre plot stuck out as a verdant block in a drab, industrial sector off the Alameda corridor.

Created in the wake of the 1992 riots, the farm has a future that looks increasingly imperiled. An attempt to raise $16.35 million to buy the land from developer Ralph Horowitz came up $10 million short, paving the way for the closure of the more than 300 plots and creation of more industrial property.

Though the farmers’ attorney vowed Wednesday to appeal an eviction order, they elected to augment their legal strategy by bringing in folk singers and movie stars.

“Do I have to get all of Hollywood down here to save this place?” said Tezozomoc, an organizer in the struggle to keep the area open.

To plead for money and support from City Hall, the one-name farmer assembled an unusual scene beneath a walnut tree in the middle of the farm plots.

Slide guitar ace Ben Harper arrived with actress-wife Laura Dern to speak up, actress Daryl Hannah read some prepared remarks, while a ponytailed former Santa Monica mayor eagerly anticipated some possible civil disobedience.

Up amid the branches, Baez, whose music fueled many a 1960s protest, dangled on a small platform a few boughs away from renowned tree-sitters Julia “Butterfly” Hill and John Quigley. Though the folk singer said she’d eventually have to go home and leave the tree-sitting to her more seasoned counterparts, she praised the farm as an important cultural icon and sang a few powerful bars of “We Shall Not Be Moved” in Spanish to illustrate her point.

Hill spent more than 700 days aloft to save a 100-year-old redwood in Northern California, and Quigley gained notoriety for his two months in an old oak tree in Santa Clarita in 2002. The tree was moved rather than chopped down.

“This farm is irreplaceable and priceless,” Hill said, occupying the more precarious of the pair of perches. “It’s the heart and soul of South Central, it’s the heart and soul of Los Angeles, it’s the heart and soul of this community.”

To Lucy Maldonado, who’s worked the land for the past 10 years, the farm represents a link to the past and a place where her kids can run around freely. Amid rows of cactus, paplotl, pipicha and alachi, a collection of more than 150 different indigenous plants, vines and herbs, she grows food she couldn’t otherwise find at the grocery store.

“It’s important because it’s something for our children,” she said in Spanish. “They can learn about the land and their culture here. We can get the food we need.”

But to Horowitz, who bought the plot in the early 1980s and has since seen it shuffle back and forth in a confusing series of deals with the city, the farm represents a property dispute. As the rightful owner of the land, he wants to be able to develop it however he sees fit.

“They’ve been on the land for 14 years for free now,” he said. “It’s time for them to say thank you instead of demanding to stay.”

Since the funds weren’t available to meet Horowitz’s asking price, Deputy Mayor Larry Frank said the city found eight acres at 111th Street and Central Avenue owned by the Department of Water and Power that could accommodate up to 200 farmers.

“We have 30 farmers here now to see how it works and hope to add the others on a lottery basis,” Frank said. “We’re trying as best we can to accommodate the farmers, but the costs are higher than we anticipated, and it’s difficult to raise money for the project.”

Harper, who said he wished he had “super, deep, stupid dough” to just buy the farm outright and keep it open, appealed to the landowner’s sense of fairness. The guitarist implored Horowitz to lower his price.

“I bet he can recognize what this community has been through and what it means to them,” he said. “It is his land, but life isn’t all about money. There are far more valuable things than money, and this is one of them.”

This from SF Indymedia, May 24:

Farmers and community activists have established an encampment on the South Central Farm to resist eviction from it’s owner Ralph Horowitz. The South Central farmers were unable to raise 16.35 million to save the farm and face eviction this week. Joan Baez, Darryl Hannah and Julie butterfly hill joined in calling for the mayor’s last minute efforts to save the farm. Christina Aanestad reports.

Unable to raise the 10 million more dollars needed to buy the South Central Farm, farmers and community activists are camping out and refusing to leave. Tezozomoc is the elected leader of the South Central farmers.

“Mayor villaraigosa said that he had given up in raisign the remainig 10 million dollars that was necessary to purchase this land. That same day the city council and the mayor of course, were able to find 800 million dollars to renovate a stadium, but they can’t find 10 million dollars. And what we’re saying to the mayor is that he can’t give up that easy. This is the beginning of something larger. We’re calling out to all our supporters. We’re gonna camp
here and we’re gonna try to take a principle stand for a liveable city.”

In the middle of an industrial area, the 14 acre urban farm feeds over 350 families. But owner Ralph Horowitz plans to demolish the farm and build warehouses; some community activists say the farm will become a Walmart.

Alyssa Albina has been growing food at the south central farm since it began over 13 years ago. “We don’t want warehouses. We want to be able to plant cabbage, nopales, all kinds of vegetables. We have to struggle here as much as we can, to see if they let us stay, because there are a lot of people that have been here struggling, just so that we can save this little space.”

Community members and activists are calling on the developer to sell the land for the price he bought it for at 5 million dollars from the city, instead of the 16.5 million he is asking. Among those calling on the city to save the South Central Farm were folk singer and activist Joan Baez, actress Daryl Hannah and activist Julia Butterfly Hill. Darryl Hannah and Julia Butterfly Hill.

I’d like to put a call out to that developer to swallow his greed and a call out to the mayor to fulfill his promise to come out and hellp save this farm.” “We are here to say that this community farm represents a community that’s
growing. Everyday I’m on the phone calling new people and new people are coming. So I hope those who want this place destroyed are listening, this isn’t getting smaller, it’s getting bigger….”

Farmers and community members refuse to leave the south central farm without a struggle.

Reporting from the south central farm, I’m Christina Aanestad.

More at the South Central Farmers homepage.