The future of the 14 acre plot of land, at 41st and Alameda is once again under dispute. Previously the site of the famous South Central Farm, once known as the largest urban farm in the country, if the not world, the land has become the most disputed plot of real-estate in the city. (At the time of its demolition circa 2006, there was a massive community mobilization to save it, and the goal of the farmers to reclaim the land has not died.)
The land was originally acquired by the city in an eminent domain deal in 1986 from the Alameda-Barbara investment company and was turned over to the community in 1994 as part of the healing process after the 1992 uprising in response to the trial verdict in the police beating of Rodney King.
While the garden flourished and became a healthy green oasis and important community center, providing organic produce to 350 families and neighbors in the middle of industrial squalor, Ralph Horowitz, one of he original Alameda-Barbara partners, worked dogmatically behind the scenes to reclaim the land.
The original deal to sell the land back to Horowitz was conducted in a closed-session meeting, a meeting which has recently been deemed illegal by a Superior Court judge, as reported in the LA Times.
The deal cut in a closed-session meeting is described in the New Standard News:
In closed negotiations in 2003, the City of L.A. settled with Horowitz, selling him the land for just over $5 million, less than half the amount for which the land was sold to the Harbor Department in 1994 and less than the $6.6 million the City Council described as “less than fair-market value” in its canceled 1991 sale to the Nehemiah Public Housing Corporation. As part of the 2003 settlement, Horowitz agreed to donate 2.6 acres of the site for a public soccer field. The City Council approved the closed-session agreement between Horowitz's attorneys and City Attorney Delgadillo's office. Councilmember Jan Perry, who represents the 9th Council District, in which the farm was located, [recently] began seeking alternate sites to relocate the gardens.
This agreement has posed a problem for Horowitz, making it difficult for him to resell the land for warehouse purposes. Now, again with Jan Perry’s support in a deal tagged PIMA (a conglomeration of clothes companies: Miss Me, Poetry, Active, and Impact), the Los Angeles City Council is being presented with a measure, drafted by Perry, exempting Horowitz from his commitment, and allowing him to sell the entire 14 acres. Under the new deal, he would be required to supply funding intended for existing parks and infrastructure for the low-income housing project Pueblo Del Rio. (Although how we can be sure Horowitz's money would go to anything of value to the people is yet another question, given the outrageous lack of accountability we have been witnessing.)
Are members of the City Council colluding with real estate moguls to illegally make bad real estate deals? It's possible.
Not only has Horowitz underpaid for the land, he's now seeking to extract more value from it than agreed before. The City should demand the terms of the original agreement. That was the deal negotiated – a community benefit of green space, the value of which cannot be measured in simple dollars and cents: our city needs more recreational space, particularly in the east side of South Central Los Angeles.
The community should go one step further, and demand a review of the entire deal between the City and Ralph Horowitz, because it may have been illegal.