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South Central Farmers Demand Ethics Investigation of Local Officials

by repost Monday, Aug. 18, 2008 at 10:50 PM

Citing an apparent conflict of interest, the South Central Farmers are demanding that California's State Attorney General investigate the sale of the site of the South Central Farm by Los Angeles city officials to local developer Ralph Horowitz for a trucking center for women's clothing manufacturer and retailer Forever 21.

The Los Angeles Times ("Forever 21 development on South Central Farm site is protested," August 18, 2008) reported that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa received $1.3M from Forever 21 in 2006-2007 for the Mayor's pet projects. "The Mayor negotiated on behalf of the Farmers with the developer of a Forever 21 distribution center. And he took money from the company that stood to gain the most if he lost that negotiation to promote his pet projects. The bad faith Villaraigosa demonstrated is unconscionable and suggests to a 'pay to play' mentality in the City's development racket," declared Farm leader Tezozomoc. "We are requesting the State Attorney General investigate not only Villaraigosa, but all the key players in the sale: (City Attorney) Rocky Delgadillo, the Port Commissioners, and the members of the City Council, for entanglements with Forever 21 and collusion to throw the land transfer to Horowitz."

Council members Nick Pacheco, José Huizar, and Jan Perry are on record as receiving contributions from Forever 21 and its founder Do Won (Don W.) Chang, who is a registered City Hall lobbyist.

Rufina Juarez, another leader of the Farm movement, said, "The Mayor's betrayal of poor people supplementing their income by growing their own food is unfathomable. He used the Farm as a backdrop for his mayoral campaign, he promised $5M to help purchase the Farm, he took over negotiations between Horowitz and the Annenberg Foundation. And he used the Forever 21 money to advance his political agenda and his political future. It's a betrayal of the people of Los Angeles, of the people from Meso-America, the people who carried him into office."

The South Central Farm, the world's largest urban farm, at 41st and Alameda, sparked a city-wide and international outcry when, in 2004, the City and the Port of Los Angeles sold the land out from under the 350 Farmers who had worked the land for two decades. For three years, the Farmers were routinely ignored and rebuffed by the City Council until an encampment on the land in 2006 was forcibly ended by county sheriffs in a SWAT-style invasion.

In a report earlier this year, City Controller Laura Chick chastised the Mayor, the City Attorney, and the City Council for not using of $129M in fees, (QUIMBY Fees), collected from developers for parks and recreation, monies that could have saved the South Central Farm if the Mayor and City Council had chosen to do so.

This year, the city's Planning Department approved a mitigated negative declaration for the distribution center, claiming that the 635,000 square foot project, with 2500 trips from diesel-spewing big rigs, would have no environmental impact on local residents, schools, and a recreational area planned to abut the warehouse site. The South Central Farm Support Committee is leading a community challenge to that determination, with over 1700 complainants and reports objecting to the construction from the South Coast Air Management Quality Board, the Regional Comprehensive Planning Task Force, the National Resources Defense Council, Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles, the Center for Biological Diversity, Communities for a Better Environment, and the Acequia Institute. A hundred area residents and Farmers attended a July 23 hearing and forced the Planning Department's Deputy Advisory Board to reconsider its determination. The Advisory Board's final decision has not yet been issued.

Forever 21 is a Los Angeles-based company that, in 2004, settled a notorious "sweatshop" lawsuit with the Garment Workers Center, promising to pay back wages and improve health and safety conditions for its manufacturing employees at six Los Angeles plants. In the same year, at the insistence of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the company finally stopped decorating its clothing line with animal fur. The company's shopping bags carry an imprint referring its customers to the Biblical scripture John 3:16.
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