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by Cliff Olin
Friday, Jun. 16, 2006 at 3:04 PM
email@example.com 6265526956 103 E. Mission Rd., Alhambra, CA 91801
In this piece I address the many errors and generally shoddy reporting in Steve Lopez L.A. Times column about the "eviction" on June 14, 2006
Here is a letter I banged out to Steve Lopez after reading his simplistic, error-ridden column in today's (June 14) L.A. Times (http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-lopez14jun14,1,3828672.column) about the eviction yesterday at the South Central Farm:
I liked your series on skid row and many of your other columns, but today's cheap-shot attack on the South Central Farmers and on the activists that are trying to save it was beneath you. You suddenly metamorphosed into an a.m. radio right wing wacko with as much respect for accuracy as those ideologues.
You quote Mark Williams, who gave you no facts, only his strange hostility toward a group of dirt-poor farmers engaging in what in effect is subsistence farming on land the city had no moral or probably "legal" right to sell back to Horowitz, especially for the same price he was paid 11 years earlier, despite the veneer of "legality" attached to the re-sale of the property. The property appreciated a lot, yet Horowitz was allowed to buy it back for the same price he was paid in the late 80's?
You didn't look into the veracity of any of Williams' claims like "...the real farmers long ago moved to other spots..." "Real" farmers? You left that unchallenged? How lazy can you be? I have been to the farm about a dozen times and seen and talked to the mostly Mexican immigrants that work the small parcels and make them very fertile. They are very "real" farmers. Almost every plot of land on the farm was filled with exuberant growth of vegetables and fruits. Yet, you did not bother to speak to even one of the farmers. I talked to half a dozen who were out there yesterday afternoon and evening. Why did you ignore them and instead quote Mr. Williams, who is a close ally of Councilwoman Jan Perry who has also been bizarrely hostile toward this huge, gorgeous green space in her otherwise depressing, overcrowded council district?
Mr. Williams has no firsthand knowledge of the farm. Why did you consider him even worthy of being given extensive space in your column, unless of course the purpose of the column was to trash the farm and spin the story toward "west-side leftist dilettantes taking up the cause of the month" and hijacking the cause? Is it Daryl Hannah's fault that journalists like you did not bother to interview any of the farmers and instead resorted to inane comments about her like "Mother Teresa among the poor...laying down her head in a cabbage patch..." Admit it Steve: you bungled this one.
Have you become such a cynic that you can't conceive that anybody would sincerely want to help the 350 farmers keep turning that South-central desert into the green Garden of Eden that feeds all those families? You don't even know Daryl Hannah, and yet you make sarcastic allusions to her movie roles--"the mermaid"--and impugn her motives, with no evidence other than your own cynicism: you would not give up the comforts of your home and live with the farmers and their supporters, and sleep on a ledge in a tree for three weeks to draw attention to an injustice about to happen, so you don't think anybody else would unless they were trying to get free publicity. "El ladrón piensa que todos son de su condición." I assume that your Spanish is good enough to understand that saying.
Steve: Why don't you write another column or two in which you try to get to the bottom of why Councilwoman Perry, Horowitz, and the "South-central Concerned Citizens" were so unremittingly hostile towards the poor immigrant farmers growing food at the South Central Farm? Why did your "source" Mr. Williams spread ridiculous lies about the South Central Farmers being charged rent and being coerced into compliance by a kind of mafia supposedly running the farm, or about the so-called exodus of "real" farmers from the site?
You also quote Williams: "...they are behaving like landed gentry." How? What does he mean? "Landed gentry" do not take up the cause of subsistence farmers in South Central L.A.. Are you satisfied now to just print irrational, illogical name-calling and not challenge the person you are quoting or at least look into whether there is any truth in what the person says?
Does Horowitz have a deal with Perry to develop another property in her district? What else would explain his refusal to accept the 16 million dollars from the farmers land trust? Why not look into backroom deals involving Horowitz, Jan Perry, and the "South Central Concerned Citizens". What is going on there? How is it possible that a group that for environmental reasons opposed building the waste incinerator on the farm site now is so virulently opposed to the verdant garden on the site, with all the healthful effects it has on an area heavily polluted by car and truck traffic? There is something more here than meets the eye in Horowitz's sudden refusal to sell the farm.
By the way, the South-Central Farm is much more than "a disputed patch of salad greens". It contains many herbs and plants not grown elsewhere, like epazote. If you had visited the farm and talked to the farmers even once before yesterday, you would have noticed that most of the plants are not "salad greens" but nutritious and indigenous pre-hispanic plants like chuya(used to treat diabetes), nopales, chayote, quelites, sugar cane, different varieties of corn, etc. etc., and really do (did) feed hundreds of people who can't afford to buy their fruits and vegetables from stores.
Here are a few more of the mistakes in your column: "The money spent on legal fees alone could probably feed the farm's 350 gardeners for years to come..." Wrong. The farm's legal-work was pro-bono.
"This isn't really about gardening at this point. Everyone's got an agenda." Clearly you never attended any of the many vigils, meetings, and candlelight processions: The mantra among the diverse group of supporters was and is always: Save this farm. Save this source of food for 350 families. Support the South Central Farmers.
Any other political leanings were shunted aside despite the diversity of organizations supporting the Farm. Anarchists, socialists, environmentalists, immigrant rights activists, etc. stuck to the message. A few shouts at police do not indicate a separate "agenda" on this issue I attended six or seven evening meetings among farmers and supporters and never heard the factional quarreling that so often destroys progressive coalitions.
"I've got to wonder why she...and other Hollywood supporters couldn't help raise the dough to back up their principals?" Before you speculated, why didn't you ask at least one of them? They did help raise the money! Why do you think that nearly 10 million dollars was raised even before the Annenberg Foundation promised the money? Was it all 25 dollar donations like mine?
Remember: Horowitz asked for 16 million, and the courts granted the farmers about 60 additional days to raise the money. They did, and yet Horowitz then reneged on his asking price and refused to sell the land, though he would have made over 10 million dollars profit on the sale. Do you really think the only reason was that Horowitz did not like the farm's supporters, or supposedly read an anti-semitic comment on an obscure web-page?
"The farm story has been beaten to death for years..but Hannah only heard about it a week ago." "Beaten to death" is wrong. Mainstream media hardly covered the issue until the eviction. Very few people outside of progressive circles had ever heard of the South Central Farm until yesterday.
Then your Limbaughesque closer: "And if they believe poor folk ought to do their farming on private property...I'm wondering when they'll ask their Hollywood pals to open the security gates. ..thousand of acres of fertile soil out there..." Even you admitted earlier in your article that "it's a little more complicated than that.." It is a lot more complicated. Yet you resort to this silly over-simplification as though it illustrated hypocrisy among the "Hollywood supporters". There is no symmetry there, no valid comparison: The land was unoccupied, two large vacant lots. The city used eminent domain, buying the vacant lots in an industrial zone--hardly Horowitz's backyard-- bordering a poor neighborhood, then ten years later sold it back to Horowitz at bargain-basement prices although 350 farmers had been using the land effectively and magnificently for all that time.
I don't get why you wrote the hatchet job on the South Central Farm. Was it your idea to irritate progressives for once, because so many conservatives tend to criticize your columns? When did you become such a bitter cynic? Just a few months ago you wrote a fine series about the atrocious conditions faced by thousands of homeless people on skid-row.
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