Los Angeles, March 3, 2006--Unimpeded by the morning's chill and rain, the
South Central Farmers and several dozen supporters repeated their weekly trek to the faux-marble corridors of
City Hall to demand the mighty institution find a way to rescue their 14-acre Farm
from the eviction
notice and bulldozers of developer Ralph Horowitz.
Unlike the very public demonstration
of two weeks ago, today's smaller group of forty or so worked the halls with
urgency and intensity born out of the now-imminent eviction order.
City Council Unmoved
For months, the Farmers have gone through a weekly ritual of trying to engage
a disinterested City Council during public comments. This time, the
Council heard six of about twenty people who wished to speak, when Council
President Garcetti cut them off, saying the Council had already indulged in an
extra ten minutes of public comments. He hurriedly mentioned that a
Council member could move to extend the time and rushed on to other
business. In fact, no Council member appeared to have much interest in
hearing from the Farmers.
The Farmers Push on the Mayor's Office
The band marched out of Council chambers, around the corner, and through the
Romanesque hallway to the Mayor's office. Demanding to speak with the
Mayor, Rafael Gonzalez, Associate Director for Mayor Villaraigosa’s Office of
Neighborhood and Community Services, eventually emerged from the maze of offices
behind the reception desk. He was introduced to the group, including
representatives of LA-ANSWER, the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, the
Independent Action Center, Global Women's Strike, the USC Planners Network, and
the Westside Greens.
The Farmer's put forward their demands: that the Mayor hold a public meeting
to explain his new plan for greening Los Angeles and respond to the Farmers,
that the Mayor intercede in the eviction process, and that the City stop harassing
the Farmers with parking tickets at the Farm. Gonzalez told the assembled
crowd that they needed to talk to Deputy Mayor for Neighborhood and Community
Services Larry Frank, but that Frank was tied up in meetings. Clearly, the
Mayor wasn't going to come out from the labyrinth.
The Mayor's Office Steps Out
The Farmers peppered Gonzalez with questions, until he brought Frank to
them. After some generalities and faced with sharp questioning, Frank
responded to the Farmers' questions for about half an hour in the 3rd floor
Frank explained that the Mayor's Office was trying to negotiate an option to
purchase the land, to forestall the eviction. The eviction is expected to
occur in seven to fourteen days after a court hearing. The land developer, Ralph Horowitz, has indicated to the Mayor's office his
willingness to sell the land to the Farmers for .35M, more than threefold the
.05M he paid for the property when the City sold it to him two years ago.
Horowitz is demanding K for a thirty-day option to buy and double that
for sixty days. According to Frank, the Mayor is seeking to raise the
money from the Trust for Public Land.
Thus far, the Farmers have raised M, including M from an anonymous source
which insists that the Farm be kept intact, and much of the rest from the Trust
for Public Land.
Frank suggested that, "as a backup," that the Farmers settle for
"four or five acres" at their current location and small plots
scattered elsewhere throughout the city, and "you can take this as a
revolution for open space, and I can get the Mayor to stand side by side with
you." He was met with several loud No's and a wall of
resistance. It was clear that for the Farmers the issue was the farm
community, not token scraps to save face.
Frank showed his frustration when he admitted that the developer was
"using you guys as hostages" to hold up the city. When asked
about using eminent domain to reclaim the property, Frank said that eminent
domain would require that the city pay Horowitz fair market value and cited
Horowitz's claim that it was worth M, a return of five to one on his
purchase price and a loss of M to city coffers when the sale was
negotiated. According to Frank, Horowitz is offering the Farmers a deal at
If the land is returned to the Farmers, title and administration would be
under the Trust for Public Land and the Los
Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust.
Where's the Mayor?
The Farmers continued to insist that the Mayor appear at a community meeting
to answer their questions and commit to the Farm. Frank claimed that the
Mayor has been acting on the matter for six months and had interceded in two
earlier eviction attempts. He noted that the Mayor had assigned Frank to
try to resolve the disagreement. But Frank also questioned whether the
city, "not just the Mayor" has the "political will," noting that
"there are many other significant needs the city has."
Frank flatly and repeatedly rejected the demands for a community forum with
the Mayor about the Farm and the Mayor's call for a green Los Angeles (which is
likely to begin with razing the Farm), citing "practical concerns." He
added that the Mayor was ready to "stand side by side with you to raise
money." When asked about the forum again, Frank snipped, "The
answer is no. Not yet."
A few minutes later, in an elevator heading to the upper echelons of City
Hall, Frank, Gonzalez, and an unidentified woman were clearer: the Farmers
just didn't understand the practical situation, that the politicos who had the
Mayor's ear were insisting he not be seen with the Farmers until the Farm was
secured and Villaraigosa could take credit for rescuing the Farm.
If the Farmers do manage to raise .35 M before the options run out, the
true heros will probably go unnoticed and unacknowledged, but they probably
won't care. It will be a late start on the planting season, and they'll be