The extension opens the
door to reclaim the Farm, but Jan Perry, infamous for running the homeless off
her streets, for gentrifying the downtown section of her district while
"developing" low-wage strip malls, warehouses, and dead-end jobs for
her South Central constituents, is buttressing City Hall's resistance to change.
supporters are back on neighborhood streets. They're making more phone
calls. They're carrying petitions to area gatherings and across the
country. They're asking Angelinos to send an online
petition to the Planning Department, to demand the Recreation and Parks
Commission weigh in and protect the adjacent proposed soccer field, to read the MND
and the rest of the documents at the South Central Farm website,
to offer to help. They're
asking the people of Los Angeles to unite once more, to reach out from our urban
isolation in defiance of all that conspires to divide us, in order to restore the South
Central Farm, the world's largest urban farm, an oasis in the middle of
Los Angeles's industrial wasteland.
This is now: Taking on City Hall, 2008
Today the South Central Farm is a
patch of fertile earth, the sprouts of corn and cactus regularly plowed back
into the earth by
Horowitz, while he leaves the litter and refuse to clutter the land. But the Farm still lives in the hearts of
Angelinos. On July 2, 2008, Farmers, area residents, and their supporters returned to City Hall
after a two year hiatus to protest Horowitz's construction
of a distribution center on the Farm.
In mid-June, the City noticed the South Central Farm Cultural Center and residents
within five hundred feet of the Farm that Horowitz had been issued a
mitigated negative declaration, a "neg dec," permitting him to begin construction
on a 643,000
square-foot distribution center for an unnamed tenant shaped like an
"h," a grotesque monument to development. A neg
dec is a declaration by the City Planning Department's that the project would have no adverse
environmental impact, that an Environmental Impact Report normally required by
the California Environmental Quality Act is unnecessary.
From the security of the upper floors of City Hall, the City
Planning Department's Deputy
Advisory Board had obligingly taken the word of
Horowitz's consultants, Terry A. Hayes and Environmental Planning Associates, that
Horowitz's monstrous warehouse, capable of
transferring cargo from up to 1200 tractor-trailer trucks daily, spewing diesel fumes
and traffic into surrounding neighborhoods 24 hours a day, displacing 57,300
cubic yards of earth for a subterranean garage, would have no environmental
impact. No effect on human health and safety, no effect on neighborhood
noise levels, no effect on possible archeological remains or on the wildlife
that still occupies the land, or on the water table below it. City Hall and Perry were at it again,
subverting the California Environmental Quality Act, the meaning of
Environmental Impact Reports, the point of the 1964 Civil Rights Act's ban on
environmental discrimination, all to grease the wheels for
Tezozomoc, who, with Rufina Juarez, organized the Farmers to save the
Farm in 2003, swore he would stand alone in front of the Deputy Advisory Board's
hearing to protect the Farm if he had to. But a week and a few phone calls later,
and the South Central Farm Cultural Center was filled with people working out the details of
rescuing the Farm, organizing work crews, painting signs and banners, making more phone
calls. Residents were canvassed, petitions went up online and out to area
events, the media was notified. The fight for the Farm was on, or, as the
Farmers had chanted in vigils for two years since the eviction notice, "¡Aquí estamos, y no nos
vamos!" Their cry again echoed across the Los Angeles basin.
Two weeks later, on July 2, South Central Farm supporters staged a rally
at City Hall and then piled into a hearing room deep in the
labyrinth of the bastion of development. There, they defended the Farm, the right to grow food, and the environmental rights of the largely neglected and working-class
neighborhood alongside the Farm.
media flocked to the press conference on the City
Hall east lawn. Fifty supporters in SCF T-shirts, brushed off after two years,
walked the sidewalk in front of City Hall with banners
and signs. A banner was draped over the nearby 110 freeway. The demonstrators chanted, danzantes danced, musicians strummed vihuelas, and car horns gleefully pierced the din of downtown
traffic in support. Thirty
neighborhood residents and Farmers waited in the tenth-floor hearing
room. At ten o'clock,
the ralliers joined those upstairs. The
crowd mushroomed, spilling out of the 100-seat hearing room into the hallways and
an overflow room. City Hall security prowled the sidewalks and the corridors,
prepared to keep City Hall secure from the people of Los Angeles.
Deputy Advisory Board of L.A.'s Planning Department relented even before the first
resident spoke. Announcing that the Board would reconsider the MND, she
cited the number of letters they had already
received. Then she extended the comment period. At that, Rufina Juarez handed the Board new petitions with nearly eight
hundred more signatures, and a hundred and forty hand-written letters from Farm
neighbors. City Hall shuddered.
The Board had in front
of them a letter from the National Resources Defense Council, in which its 1.2
million members demanded a full Environmental Impact Report. In a 21-page
analysis, the Center
for Biological Diversity noted "the failure [of the Mitigated Negative
Declaration] to consider
feasible mitigation measures and alternatives to reduce this cumulatively
significant impact" and that "the MND cavalierly dismisses Project
impacts on global warming." Communities for a Better Environment drafted a report on
environmental justice, and the Acequia Institute wrote:
The destruction by
bulldozers of the world-acclaimed South Central Farm and eviction of the
farmers in July of 2006 marks the most controversial episode in the entire
history of urban planning and land use decision-making in the Los
Angeles-area. The decision to proceed with the destruction of the farm met
with widespread, indeed global, condemnation of an act that displaced a rare
and precious cultural and agroecological site of singular importance to the
non-governmental and governmental agencies concerned with the future of our
local food systems and more sustainable forms of urban inhabitation and land
use. . . .
[T]he MND does
not even identify environmental
justice principles, issues, relevant regulations, and assessment methods.
Failing to provide such an analysis means that the proposal, if approved as
is, would constitute the most serious and egregious violation of environmental
justice principles by LA City and County governments, the Port Authority, land
use planning authorities, and other interested parties.
dozen speakers for an hour and a half gave life to the experts'
testimony. They spoke of noise and the dangers of children crossing
traffic. They confronted the Board with the known risks of
diesel fumes, of asthma, cancer, emphysema, and underdeveloped lungs in
children, that the Board had blithely ignored when they waived an Environmental Impact
Report for Horowitz. They testified about living in the backyard of
industrialization and dared the Board to do the same. "With this project, we wouldn't
have any tranquility day or night," said the first resident to speak.
Horowitz's latest consultants, Rosenheim and Associates, a public policy
consulting firm trying to establish the inherent industrial character of the
neighborhood, had testified that forty-six freight trains and
the Blue Line already roared through the neighborhood daily.
left the table facing the Deputy Advisory Board and walked back to the visitors' seats. Three
speakers remained, a couple of them looking nervously at the microphones in front of
them. A fourth came up and sat at the vacant seat, waiting her turn.
speaker said quietly but firmly, "They should have called us before
they did this project, because we have the right as residents to speak of
this. We have children, the fumes there are bad for them, people that are
sick. I don't think this should be built there."
cited Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the California Environmental
Quality Act, and listed the areas frequented by the young, the elderly, and the
sick in proximity to the warehouse: Thomas
Jefferson High School, Ross Snyder Recreational Center, Metro Vernon Station, the Alameda
Swap Meet, Vernon Elementary School, and the City's proposed recreation center
and soccer field adjacent to the truck depot.
a teacher from Vernon Elementary explained to the Board about learning in industrial
of the challenges faced by students are emissions and pollutants in the air that
give off very awful smells and make concentrating on learning very difficult. .
. . Every day they are breathing that unhealthy air, and that isn't acceptable.
. . .This body should
work with the community for what is in the community's best interest, not the
developer's. I urge you to deny, deny, deny the developer's plan. No
matter how you design it, it is still another polluting warehouse."
fell to Communities for a Better Environment to drop the first hint of reclaiming the
Farm: "The [Environmental Impact Report] needs to establish
the baseline as when this land was home to the community garden, and compare it
to the impact of the proposed project. The EIR must take into account
issues of air quality, noise, public health, storm water discharge, aesthetics,
traffic, cumulative impacts, and environmental justice."
Rosenheim and his associate had argued that the warehouse would create jobs, and
now they sat on one side of the front row, leaning back with their legs splayed
and arms crossed. They sat, impassive and withdrawn, as a former warehouse worker told the Board and the residents about warehouse
It's not a nice job, and I don't
think any of these men would have their sons and their nephews working in these
warehouses, much less if they didn't say it was going to be union jobs.
I'm sure it's going to be twelve hundred non-union jobs, low wage, long hours,
and let me tell you what happens in those kind of warehouses. If things
are spilled, you sweep it out of the way. And trucks have to wait, let the
engine run, because they don't want to shut it off and have to start it back up
and waste gas. There's hazardous materials that are open and need to be
taken care of immediately, that are left in the corner, put off to the
side because production has to keep moving and we can't slow down because
profits have to be made. . . . So I implore you, please,
please, I implore you to deny this plan, and to take into consideration
everything that the community has talked about here, including the things that
these power brokers smirk at, like the kids and the hawks and the trees.
That's what's important to us. That's what makes up our sacred
church. So please, I implore you, it's not as easy as they make it sound,
there's a lot of complicated things involved here, including the health and the
lives of our children.
after speaker rotated up to a place at the speakers' table, and each firmly, with clear conviction, confronted
the Board across its buttress of desks.
"The idea of putting a
child's recreational center next to a distribution center packed with evil
trucks, doesn't anybody feel compelled to care for or take some responsibility
for the health and safety of the children of the Ninth District?" At
moments, Board members looked nonplussed at the heartfelt outpouring in front of
A teacher's assistant at Jefferson High
School explained what the Farm meant to her students. "They
have to deal with a lot issues in their life, and the
South Central Farm provided a place of refuge. It was one of the few after
school programs offered for our students. . . .
I'm a bilingual T.A. with English learners, and the students I work with,
they're extremely isolated and they're cut off from their homes, from their
culture, and the Farm was really the only place where they were able to
reconnect with that, to learn from the people that were role models for
them. [The Farm] built up a sense of pride in their culture, in their
history, and in their people, and to take something away like that was
really heartbreaking for them."
"Air pollution does not stay in
one area. It will affect children and the elderly the most, people who
live and work and play around that vicinity. We're using taxpayer dollars to
clean up this pollution, to pay for the health care of these kids with asthma.
We're taxpayers as well."
member of the Regional Comprehensive Planning
Force for the California Association of Governments noted that the regional plan
requires open spaces for Southeast and South Central Los Angeles, specifically
community gardens and farmers' markets, and that community stability and economic
self-reliance were values recognized in the regional plan. He declared that the City had violated the
plan when it facilitate the destruction of the Farm.
And another: "There are students and workers
behind me that have made sacrifices to be here today. Our community in
South L.A. is drowning in warehouses, and the few jobs that are projected to be
provided by this warehouse are not guaranteed to go to the community."
for an Environmental Impact Report and the reclamation of the Farm continued,
with warnings about traffic and safety hazards, about
the seventy-foot water table
endangered by the proposed underground parking garage. A truckers'
organizer for the IWW testified that trucks would have nowhere to wait except to
idle along the streets surrounding the warehouse, that the warehouse truck docks were too narrow to turn in.
member of the Longest Walk, a cross-continental walk to protect Native American rights
and the Native way of life, turned the morning's message back on the Deputy
Advisory Board: "See that
picture right there? You can clearly see the sky above it, and all that brown
stuff right there, you're breathing that too, no matter where you live, it's all
southern California. If you open up that window right there, you'll
probably get a better look for yourself and see exactly how nasty it is
. . . So you
guys got to think about your own health and your own children's health and their
children's health too, because this doesn't just affect us who live in poor
speaker said much the same: "We don't want any more asthmas or
respiratory or lung illnesses. We want clean air. We don't want any
more invasion of poor communities. Just like they share their project with
us, we would love to share our illnesses with them. I would love for them
to live there, so they can understand what's going on."
A woman challenged the Board: "Look what they have done to this
area. There's no trees, there's no parks: What are you trying to do to
these people? I wish you could have to go there, take your lunch on a few occasions,
and leave and see how these people are suffering."
When the neighbors, the supporters,
Farmers had finished, a lone representative from Councilmember Perry's office sat at the table. Perry chairs the
City Council's Energy and Environment Committee and sits on board of the South
Coast Air Quality Management District, which touts that "AQMD Board members
have an understanding of the air pollution problems facing the general
public." But Perry had determined to oppose growing healthy food and protecting the air, the earth, the water,
and the quality of life for this strip
of her district. Speaking for Perry, her aid warned the crowd and the
Board: "Councilmember Perry recognizes a lot of the problems
that were brought up. I think that some of them have to do with the site,
others of them are larger issues that face the community. . . . The warehouse
being located here, we do feel it is an appropriate site for the warehouse and
are supportive of that."
Perry must have been asleep at the switch. The day
of the hearing, the SCAQMD faxed a letter to the City Planning Division roundly
denouncing the neg dec and recommending that the Planning Commission,
"specifically prohibit land uses that would include sensitive receptors or
industrial land uses that would further expose existing sensitive receptors
nearby," apparently referring to the proposed recreation area next to the
warehouse. The SCAQMD went on to fault the findings for using incorrect
references for soil handling, for referencing anti-pollution devices that may
not exist, and for comparing the truck emissions of the proposed facility to a
much smaller facility. It recommended, among other adjustments, that the
project include a 300 meter buffer zone between the distribution center and
sensitive receptors, constructing freeway off-ramps to the facility, and
reconfiguring the architectural plans to move the main entrance off Long Beach
Avenue. With the SCAQMD restrictions, industrial development on the land
may be impossible.
In 2006, Perry had enough clout to force Mayer
Villaraigosa and the rest of the City Council to defy their constituents and
give in to the developer Horowitz. Today, rumors are that, after two years of waiting, Jan Perry
counted the Farm Movement out. And, reports continue, that since the
people of the Ninth District condemned the project, Perry is on a rampage to salvage her job.
And that was then . . .
Mostly, Los Angeles is an assortment of adjacent but
isolated enclaves transversed by the freeways and major transportation arteries. We locate ourselves in relation to
them. I live at the 405 and the 710, or just east of the 110 near the 5,
or on the other side of the 101. The freeways have been cultural and economic borders
at least since the 1980's, when the Westside (west of La Brea,
north of the 10) was closed off by expensive, single-family homes, gated
communities, and not-in-my-back-yard lines in the asphalt. Drive across L.A. on the 10, and your windshield becomes a
movie screen of the income gap, and of ethnic and cultural collisions. As
Spanish-speakers came and stayed, East Los, unable to flow west, spilled into
South Central and Inglewood, bastions of African-American tradition. We in L.A.
rarely leave the freeway any more.
Except if you happened down the Alameda Corridor a couple
of years or more ago. Through Los Angeles proper, the Alameda Corridor overlays Alameda Street. It was designed to connect
trucks and trains to the Port of Los
Angeles. Along its path have sprung up warehouses, manufacturing plants,
shipping centers and the rest of the repugnance of industrialization that cities try to keep tucked
out of sight. In some places, industrial development overlays the homes and schools and playgrounds of
people living in its shadow.
In the middle of your drive
down Alameda, between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and 41st Street, a couple of years ago you would have seen the South Central
Farm. Back in 1986, the City had purchased the land from Ralph Horowitz and others
as a site for a mammoth trash
incinerator for .8M, but local residents rose
up in one of first environmental
justice movements in the country and defeated the notorious Lancer
Project. In tribute to the people, Mayor Bradley gifted the area to the residents after the Rodney
King beating and the ensuing rebellion, in 1992. Forced past in the flow
of moving traffic, you might barely have had time to glimpse the
14-acre Farm, but, if your windows were open, the sudden jolt of oxygen-laden air was
The City sold the land to the independent Port of Los Angeles in 1994 for M, and the Harbor
let the food bank across the street use it for a community garden. It
blossomed into the largest urban farm in the world, feeding over 350 families
and many in the neighborhood. Then, eleven years after it was
purchased, in backroom
dealings that have yet to be explained, the City sold the land a second time,
to Horowitz, the developer who owned it before 1992, for just 0,000 more than
they price they paid him for it, a questionable gift of taxpayers' money to Horowitz.
For two years, the Farmers took time from their jobs and their farming to make twice-weekly trips to City Council meetings to implore the City to return the
land to them, but by 2006 developer Ralph Horowitz had lined up the
support of the Ninth District's councilmember, Jan Perry. Early in the spring, the
that divided Angelinos crumbled--people from all walks of life contributed to
saving the Farm when, at the behest of Horowitz and Perry, county sheriffs posted an eviction notice on the
Spanish-speaking Farmers and committed, mostly young, people
from across the City occupied the Farm day and night. Movie and music
stars and famous activists dropped in for publicity photo ops, and some stayed to
tree-sit. Thousands of visitors from across southern California headed
east or north or south or west to attend rock-star concerts and indigenous
ceremonies to benefit the Farm. People drove across the country to
visit. Prayers were offered in Africa and by Zapatista supporters in Atenco, Mexico.
Something essential, something like a connection to the land and these campesinos,
had swept across Los Angeles. City Hall was quaking.
But Horowitz, proclaiming "developers' rights" over the
outrage of Angelinos, put the
land on the market for .3M.
When the Annenberg Foundation and others came to the Farmers' rescue and offered
Horowitz his asking price, he brusquely refused to sell it to the Farmers.
Three months later, on July 3, 2006, the media filled TV screens and radios with
the sights and sounds of tree-sitters plucked off branches by hook-and-ladder trucks rolling
across ripe food. Supporters locked down in the fields, their arms chained in
concrete-filled oil drums. A cucumber in the tailpipe of a bulldozer shut
it down for more than a day. Forty-four people were arrested, as the
bulldozers destroyed fourteen years of labor in an afternoon. City Hall
settled back on its foundation: development, industrialization, and exploiting
Angelinos for the sake of globalization.
And for tomorrow: Reclaiming the South Central Farm
It's happened before, a groundswell of Angelinos uniting
to keep patches of green safe from asphalt and concrete. Back in 1999, the people
organized and stopped the construction of downtown warehouses at the Cornfields,
after the Cultural Affairs Department determined the site was not historically
significant. With dramatic justice, now the Cornfields houses the Los Angeles State Historical
Park. In that same year, nearly forty community organizations banded
together to save Taylor Yard from warehouses. Taylor Yard was purchased by
the State of California and is now a state park.
In 2006, Angelinos found one more treasure in their back
yard, and they drove off the freeway grid, found each other, and fought City
Hall for the South Central Farm and the Farmers who brought it to life. Across the world, people held their
breath in hope, but City Hall recovered its footing and industrial developers heaved a
sigh of relief. Now, the public comments will continue until July 23, from
both the Farm supporters and, no doubt, from whomever Rosenheim and Associates can round
up. A week or two later, the Deputy Advisory Board will either stand by
its Mitigated Negative Declaration or require an Environmental Impact
Report. In either case, an appeal to the full Planning Commission is
likely. The question is, can Angelinos muster their connection to the land
and culture in time and with enough
determination to pry City Hall from the grip of developers? Can they
recover their city government and the South Central Farm for the people?