When the Los Angeles City Council sold the 14 acre plot called the South Central Farm to developer Ralph Horowitz, they sold land they didn’t own.
For years the City, the Harbor Department, developers and citizens groups have played a shell game, switching land for money, while trading schemes for sweatshops and trash incinerators in LA’s most polluted corridor for the dreams and demands for a better life in LA’s most prominent oppressed neighborhood.
It has become all-but a cliché to point to the fact that the Farm – the nations largest urban garden arose “from the ashes” of the 1992 Los Angeles Rebellion. Here’s the reality. The rebellion meant the loss of huge investment opportunities in the area for the rich, and the city set out to fix that problem for them. The plan aimed to make high risk investments profitable for the investor by sinking government money into their development schemes.
They were “making deals that make a difference” to everyone but the people whose suffering and oppression had fueled the famous rebellion. The plan the city developed demanded of local citizen’s groups that they make a trade. The City demanded a virtually unrestricted access for industrial development in what is called the Alameda corridor the site of the Farm – in return for bankrolling investor’s plans to set up strip malls and mini-marts in devastated South Central. Otherwise, post-rebellion redevelopment in South Central would grind to a halt. It was an offer the citizen’s groups couldn’t refuse, and the city knew it.
The city and the developers were playing chess a game with profits in the millions as the stakes on the backs of the most oppressed and outraged people in the city.
The cynicism of the top level players is profound; Mayor Villaraigosa, for all his posturing about searching out large donors to “save” the Farm, always had the money to save it at his disposal. He chose not to spend it.
The imminent destruction of the Farm and of the sacred elements of the ancient cultures that thrive there is just part of the “business” of development in LA a negligible cost in the drive for profit at the expense of the people of LA, most especially of its Brown and Black communities.
Los Angeles generates its own reality, its own myths. A small phenomenon becomes a story, the story transmogrifies into a cause, the cause becomes a political force, and the force becomes reality a myth with substance. But since 1848, the story of Mexicans, and later Guatemalans, Hondurans, Salvadorans-most of them Indigenous — has been systematically and institutionally erased. In their place, Los Angeles has stories of their Americanized third-generation granddaughters and grandsons, of itinerant farm workers coaxing patched-together pickups loaded with family and belongings through remote agricultural fields. At season’s end, we are told, they make their way, pockets bulging with a few hundred dólares, back to Mexico.
The real stories are seldom heard; the stories of systematic oppression; racist power politics; anti-Mexican riots, and the stories of deliberate degradation and enforced poverty don’t “sell.” It wouldn’t fit the myth, the image, the marketing ploys that make LA seem something other than what it is.
In the official lexicon Brown people like the South Central Farmers have no place. They farm a 14-acre plot in a strip of South Central LA that was turned into a high profile industrial zone and rail corridor in exchange for rebuilding parts of war torn South Central following the 1992 rebellion.
The site of the Farm – the intersection of Alameda Avenue and 41st Street – has been a battleground for decades, and Farm antagonist Ralph Horowitz has been in the thick of it from the beginning. The city had taken the land from several owners, and paid the largest of them, the Alameda-Barbara Investment Company, owned by Horowitz and a partner, some $4.7M for its 75% share of the ownership.
Ralph Horowitz, to put it bluntly, has Mexican problems. For years his letterhead has carried the clichéd, stereotypical and racist image of a Mexican in a sombrero, sleeping slouched against a large cactus, presumably pierced through by its sharp spines, presumably indifferent, in his lethargy, to the pain.
By 2000, developer Horowitz was negotiating to replace the South Central Farm with “textile-industry tenants”-specifically, a garment industry sweatshop for the popular women’s clothing line Forever 21.
The following year, the LA based Forever 21, worth a half billion dollars in sales annually, was hit with a boycott called by immigrant workers from six of its factories. They were owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in back wages and overtime. A number of workers were fired for speaking out about unsafe and unsanitary conditions.
“We worked ten to twelve hours a day for sub-minimum wages and no overtime,” said Esperanza Hernandez, one of the garment workers. “A lot of our factories were dirty and unsafe, with rats and cockroaches running around.”
It was a case of globalization writ small. Migrant farmers, driven from their lands in Mexico and elsewhere by the impact of US domination of their economies, were to be uprooted by Horowitz once more, so that they and their peers could be reduced to sweatshop laborers for Horowitz’ client.
The developer has worked with an immense determination for over 20 years to regain control of the land the city took from him in 1987 for a high-tech trash incinerator, and for 14 of those years the mostly migrant Farmers have been tending the fields he might have turned into a sweatshop.
His efforts to drive them from the land have been met with years of sustained protest the Farm feeds 350 low income families. It’s a place where Mayan and other indigenous families sustain their cultural and spiritual traditions. The loss of the Farm would mean more than the loss of a few vegetables and flowers.
It would mean the loss of ancient traditions of agriculture, of heirloom seeds, some thousands of years old, and the end of the Farmer’s ability to pass their culture on to their children. The struggle is one for the protection of both land and life, for the Earth and for the survival of indigenous cultures which have sustained themselves, already, through 500 years of physical and cultural genocide. The Farmers can pass on their living traditions to their children – many of whom can tell the names of every plant on the land in an indigenous language, in English and in Spanish – or they can pass on a sweatshop. The choices are that stark, and no one is about to give in.
In response to his drive for profit at such costs, Horowitz has seen his mostly-Mexican targets picket his house, “take over” “his” land at 41st and Alameda in an encampment that drew thousands of supporters to the site, and, when he sought to bulldoze the Farm, he saw cucumbers dropped into the exhaust pipes of the machines and people chain themselves down to prevent the destruction.
He’s seen the Farmer’s allies from Willie Nelson to Danny Glover, Joan Baez and Charlie Sheen, stand up to him, creating an international story in which he could play no role other than the fitting one that of the villain. It’s an LA myth he wanted no part of, one of those stories that have always been kept silent here, but one that suddenly burst onto a global stage, shining a spotlight not only on Horowitz himself, but as we will see, on a profoundly corrupt system of cronyism between LA politicians and developers.
The rumors had been circulating for weeks: the Farmers’ pressure and their $16M offer for the Farm were working, and Horowitz was considering selling the Farm back to the Farmers-he was, after all, a business person looking at a triple return on an investment.
For any other buyer, a purchase from Horowitz would bring with it all the ghosts of the South Central Farm, and enough press – bad and otherwise to cause any buyer to think twice.
Suddenly and mysteriously, copies of an Internet article calling Horowitz part of a Los Angeles “Jewish development mafia” started circulating through the corridors of City Hall. Enraged, Horowitz attributed it to the Farmers but, in fact, it was penned by a group with no affiliation with the Farmers.
Horowitz moved to evict, and a massive and brutal law enforcement effort was launched to uproot the Farmers and their supporters from the land, where they had built an encampment.
When Horowitz explained why the Mexican Farmer’s money wasn’t good enough for him, the local NBC affiliate reports that he snarled, “Where does this kind of ‘you owe me’ mentality end? How good is that for America? What they should have said to the taxpayers of LA and to me is, ‘This is a gracious country. Thank you for letting us have our garden here, but we realize our time is up. We’ve had our 14 years.'”
Horowitz has complained widely about the alleged abuse of his “property rights,” and has become an object of right wing pity in response.
But despite his wounded posturing, the truth is that Horowitz doesn’t own the Farmer’s land. The title is still being contested in court, and the city’s sale of the Farm’s land to Horowitz was shady at best or even illegal. The fact is that the city didn’t own the land it sold back to Horowitz the Harbor Department did. And the sale of property one doesn’t own is normally called fraud.
Reality gives a different meaning to the Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s words on the day the South Central Farmers were evicted. He said the matter was “disheartening and unnecessary.” Just how very unnecessary it was, he didn’t say. It would have been saying too much. Far too much.
In 2005 Antonio Villaraigosa was elected in a widely-heralded alliance of white liberals and Latinos, and with about half of the city’s African-American vote – an L.A. myth of cross-racial cooperation seemingly come to fruition. The Mexican-descent community celebrated, and the Mexican and Central American Farmers, who had contested the Farm’s sale since 2003, had new hope. But Villaraigosa sank no roots in the Farm, even though he had used the Farm for campaign photo ops. While constantly reassuring the Farmers behind the scenes, promising them $5M in private fundraising to buy the Farm from Horowitz, he cynically refused to endorse their efforts publicly.
Villaraigosa is banking his political future on the categorical support of Spanish speaking Californians. In the meantime, like Horowitz, the Mayor has developed his own Mexican Problem or, at least, the Mexican community is developing a Problem with the Mayor.
It started with his timid handling of this spring’s pro-migrant marches. Millions of Brown skinned people, citizens and non-citizens alike, hit the streets in the biggest demonstrations in LA history the stuff myths are made of. While over a million of his constituents marched to City Hall during the May 1 migrant boycott, Villaraigosa hid in his office fearful of appearing to embrace the boycott, a one day national strike that the marchers were undertaking.
Earlier in the protest season, the Mayor who, as a student activist and MEChista had participated in the mass Chicano student walk-outs of the 1960’s chided students for walking out to defend their parents from mass deportation. For the Brown community, the students were heroes. For the Mayor, they were a problem. “Go back to school,” he told them. The students, arrayed in their thousands on the steps of City Hall, retorted, chanting “Hell, no! We Won’t Go!”
In his support for the Hagel-Martinez immigration bill which will mean the deportation of millions of undocumented migrants Villaraigosa is across the political fence from most of his closest peers the small cadre of Mexican American activists groomed and mentored by the late Bert Corona.
Others from that group, like MAPA boss Nativo Lopez, lead the millions strong national coalition that opposes Hagel-Martinez, which has protested against such establishment groups as the National Council of La Raza on the grounds that their support of the bill sells out their People. The Mayor was a featured speaker at the event his cronies protested. In the meantime there are open calls for MEChA to revoke Villaraigosa’s membership in that organization.
The dust had just settled on the pro-migrant marches when the Mayor rode in a July 4th parade that also featured the anti-Mexican hate group the Minutemen. While other Chicanos who protested the Minutemen’s appearance were assaulted and derided with racist epithets, the Mayor smiled and waved, apparently oblivious of the treatment of the protestors. A letter writing and phone campaign had urged the Mayor not to appear in the same parade with the hate group.
Two days later, the LAPD the Mayor’s police force had brutally assaulted Farm supporters as Horowitz’ bulldozers raped the land; that same week the police launched a vicious and unprovoked assault against anti-Minutemen protestors in Hollywood.
By then, of course, the Mayor had betrayed the Farm.
He had to: the migrants and their supporters had sent the U.S. Congress scurrying, and Villaraigosa had to show his bosses who was boss of L.A. He couldn’t be seen bending under pressure from the Brown community and especially not from migrants.
Contrary to the image he created, Villaraigosa always had the money to save the Farm. He simply chose not to spend it. To do so would have unearthed troubling irregularities better left buried.
In 1994, as part of a broader fundraising plan, the city sold the farmland it had purchased from Horowitz for $4.7M, to the semi-autonomous Los Angeles Harbor Department for the price of $13.3M. The City had turned a significant profit on the sale of the plot to the Harbor, roughly tripling the amount it had paid to Horowitz.
In 2000, the Harbor turned down the offer by Horowitz to use the land for the Forever 21 sweatshop. Horowitz had a ten-year option to repurchase the land, negotiated after the City took the land in 1986 for an incinerator project. Horowitz had approached the City in 1995, objecting to the sale to the Harbor, but the City Council had refused to hear him.
By 2001, Horowitz returned to the City Council; this time, the Council flat out refused to sell the land to him.
In 2003, the City Council abruptly reversed itself, and in closed session arranged to sell the plot back to Horowitz.
But the City, of course, no longer owned the land it was selling. It was the Harbor’s Chief of Operations who signed over the title over to Horowitz, finalizing the sale.
The City had cut a deal with Horowitz and had pocketed the $8.6M leftover from its sale to the Harbor – plus the $5.3M it made in selling the land back to Horowitz.
The Harbor Department confirms that is out the $13.3M, and that the City has not reimbursed it for the loss. The Harbor’s budget is entirely separate from the City’s. Its revenues come from Port activities, not from tax dollars.
The Harbor’s loss was the City’s gain and a massive gain for Horowitz, as well. By 2006, Deputy Mayor Larry Frank announced the value of the property at $25M. Horowitz received property now publicly stated by City officials to be worth nearly five times his cost. Twenty years of patience and two years of property taxes had netted him something over $20M.
With the profits he may yet accrue form the re-sale of the Farm, Horowitz will have made a considerable fortune in transactions involving the City, and in his role as both manipulator and pawn in at least one highly irregular deal.
In the end, when Villaraigosa offered to “raise” money from charitable sources to buy back the Farm from Horowitz, he had at his disposal both the profit the City had made from the Harbor Department sale, and also the money it had made in the more recent back room sale to Horowitz. The Mayor didn’t have to beg money from anyone. He didn’t have to lose a moment. He only had to use the massive profits from the land to buy it back.
To do so of course, would be problematic; it could only emphasize a question the Farmers are asking this week in court “Why would the City sell land to Horowitz for $5.3M when it was worth at least three times that amount”? Especially when the City had already sold it once before for triple that amount?
Using City funds to buy back property from Horowitz for $16M the same property that it had just sold to him for $5.3M – could only raise questions the Mayor didn’t want asked. Like, “Where would the City’s money come from”? And, “How can the City sell land it doesn’t own”? And, “What happened in the closed session as the Council sold the land back to Horowitz?” These are questions the Mayor and the City don’t want asked or answered. The Council records of the transaction are sealed.
Last week, Farmers stood outside the fences on the sidewalk that surrounds the Farm, weeping as the bulldozers wiped away their spiritual home, years of work, their family’s food, and their community base. Just the week before the Mayor had declared, “Los Angeles and Long Beach are on the eco-urban frontier.” He didn’t note that “frontier” means different things to cowboys than to Indians.
Tanks were in the streets. 55 people were dead. Huge areas were in flames in the most intense uprising in US history – and the LAPD, the Marine Corps, the FBI, INS, and the National Guard, in turn, carried out the largest mass arrest in US history. The 1992 Rebellion shook the city to its core. War was being waged between the cops and the Black and Brown poor of South Central LA.
Nothing’s really changed in South Central – except the name. The powers that be now dub it “South LA,” as if changing the name could change the reality. But it’s still the home of bitter oppression. In the wake of the 1992 Rebellion the City made big promises of housing and redevelopment that have never been realized, although developers swarmed in, looking to make a buck in deals with city hall.
As Michael Slate puts it in his collection Aftershocks: Post Rebellion Conversations in Watts and South Central Los Angeles, “Despite many promises, South Central L.A. and Watts is even worse off than it was. People in these sections of the city spit out a bitter and angry laugh when they talk about all of the promised changes. There has been no rebuilding, no reinvestment, no new investments, no new jobs, no new housing–no new nothing. This has been a rude awakening for anyone who even momentarily believed that somehow the capitalist system would be moved to meet the needs of the people.”
It wasn’t. Instead, the City held the people of South Central hostage, promising new strip malls and mini marts in the war torn neighborhoods but only at a price.
By the time the fires of the 1992 rebellion cooled, South Central faced white panic, and white development money had disappeared. In the aftermath, long-established mom-and-pop groceries couldn’t find insurance to rebuild, and chain stores withdrew their assets.
In an effort to dissipate the anger smoldering in the area, the city the city began what it billed as a massive effort to pour public monies into “blighted” areas, and designated the land that is now the Farm as a community garden.
But the larger effort soon soured, caught up in “pay to play,” a web of favors and trade-offs for land and public funds.
“Rebuild L.A.”, the City’s knee-jerk response to the rebellion, was set up to entice chain stores and local businesses back into now-stigmatized South Central. By 1997 Rebuild L.A. had failed to attract even half the investment it promised. They still hadn’t hit the re-development jackpot.
Former Mayor Richard Riordan plucked Rocky Delgadillo from the rubble of the ill-fated effort and dropped him into the post of Deputy Mayor for Economic Development. Riordan and Delgadillo who would later become City Attorney – began afresh.
The rebellion had meant the loss of huge investment opportunities in the area for the rich, and the city set out to fix that problem for them. The plan aimed to make high risk investments profitable for the investor by sinking government money into their development schemes. Their plan united private money, a promise of public agency efficiency, and access to federal funding to lure commercial and industrial developers to City-designated projects in Los Angeles’s “blighted” areas.
The “South Los Angeles Comprehensive Economic Strategy” of 2001, prepared for Delgadillo’s office, lumped various industrial, commercial, and residential districts into a single entity called “South Los Angeles” in a scheme that pitted the needs of one section of South Central against another. The plan the City developed demanded of local citizen’s groups that they make a deal.
Cowed by white financial flight from South Central after the rebellion and lured by the temptation of government money subsidizing area small business, reform oriented civic organizations signed on to the Strategy. They promised not to contest industrial development in South Central’s Alameda Corridor the area including the South Central Farm. In exchange, the City would bankroll investor’s plans to set up strip malls and mini-marts in the rest of devastated South Central.
Otherwise, post-rebellion redevelopment in South Central would grind from a slow crawl to a halt. It was an offer the citizen’s groups couldn’t refuse, and the City knew it.
The City’s priority was clear develop the Alameda Corridor. The project was bound to draw the highest levels of investment capital away from the rest of South Central and keep its residential neighborhoods devastated, while funneling government money earmarked for the “rehabilitation” of the area into industry and developer’s pockets. The citizens of South Central would, as always, have to settle for the crumbs.
Ten years before, just prior to the ’92 rebellion, the city had planned low-income townhouses for the site that is now the Farm, offering to sell the property to the Nehemiah Public Housing Corporation for development.
After the rebellion, former Mayor Riordan nixed the deal. Instead, the City sold the land to the Harbor Department for double the price it had proposed to Nehemiah Public Housing.
The hopes for new post-rebellion housing at the site were crushed because a feasibility study had designated the Alameda Avenue as the location for a new multi-billion dollar transportation corridor, with railway tentacles stretching from the San Pedro ports through the poorest towns and sections of the City to major rail lines across a 12-mile route.
Located between two train lines, the Farm land’s industrial value outstripped its housing value by $6M overnight.
After the City quashed the public housing deal, the Harbor Department turned the land over to the L.A. Regional Food Bank for temporary use as a community garden. In court documents, the Harbor Department testified it had no plans for the property when the Department acquired it: the Farm was only a financial investment, a tract looking for a developer. Soon, the Harbor, having handed the City an $8Mplus profit, would move to re-sell the land itself.
The story of the South Central Farm begins and ends with massive and artificial inflation of land values, contrived by players in a development game that arose from the ashes of the South Central rebellion. It was and remains a game played on the backs of poor peoples of color – a game whose rules were crystallized in the “South Los Angeles Comprehensive Economic Strategy” of 2001.
* * *
Ralph Horowitz, a partner in the Alameda-Barbara Investment Group, which once owned most of the Farm tract, had negotiated a side deal with the city giving it the right of first refusal on any sale for 10 years. Horowitz sued.
When the Harbor Department called for high-priced development bids, Horowitz attention approached the City, objecting to the Harbor Department’s plans to sell the land, but the City Council refused to hear him.
Concerned Citizens is a citizen’s group that had morphed into a “non-profit developer,” made a bid for the land one backed by then – City Council member Rita Walters. Caught between Walters’ political clout and Horowitz’s unsettled lawsuit, the Harbor accepted none of the proposals for the land.
Meanwhile, the Food Bank and area gardeners cleared the land of debris and ramshackle buildings, and made the 14-acre patch arable, adding to the land’s value. And the South Central Farm began to flourish.
As the impasse between Horowitz and Concerned Citizens stretched over nine years, the Harbor Department formalized the garden’s existence by giving the L.A. Food Bank a permit for an urban garden on the site.
Doris Bloch, then executive director of the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, recognized that teaching a person a to till, plant, and harvest was a better strategy than giving them corn: “Right after the civil disorders, I decided it was important for people to see that Los Angeles could be a place where constructive programs that involved and helped people in tough circumstances occurred,” she noted.
But her dream of empowering people with the means to employ native skills for self-sufficiency was not part of the Los Angeles story; it had no place in the South Los Angeles Comprehensive Economic Strategy.
Horowitz returned to the City Council in 2001; this time, the Council flatly refused to sell the land to him.
The attractiveness of the Alameda Corridor / South Central area was growing, and the Farm was in a prime location.
In accordance with the Strategy, the city had set up a tangle of city agencies and officials to designate tracts for redevelopment and dole out public redevelopment funds. But the Farm land would stay with the Harbor, where it could entice developers to work the bureaucracy and contribute to campaign coffers.
Development in the wealthier sections of the city had been quashed by slow-growth advocates ranting against pollution and making racist claims about crime-prone apartment dwellers.
Developers turned to redevelopment-investing public monies into “blighted” areas or war torn ones like South Central – for their bread and butter. They came knocking at South Central council members’ doors for entrée to the land grab, and a knock at the door meant a drop in the campaign bucket as well. This is called “rehabilitating” post rebellion LA and it had finally become profitable.
Finally, however, in 2003, City Council agreed in closed session to break the stalemate at the Farm, and turned the land over to Horowitz for $5.05M.
The Harbor the actual owner – signed its land over to the developer, giving up its $13.3M investment. Horowitz’ payment for the land went to the City.
The best that can be said for the Harbor Department is that it was out from under land that had turned into a 13 million dollar headache. Perhaps a more realistic assessment is that it had done someone in the City a favor by transferring land in a way that was highly irregular, perhaps even illegal.
The Farmers, who by now had 14 years of sweat equity on what has become an internationally-recognized Los Angeles jewel, now became the direct target of a redeveloper’s greed.
But the Farm remains undeveloped and – in LA politics – that means the story isn’t over.
* * *
Jan Perry is a pro-development politician, whose 9th District includes Skid Row and ranges from the rapidly gentrifying historic downtown core to South Central.
Perry rode into office with the help of the executive director of Concerned Citizens, and with developers’ endorsements and campaign contributions: city records show nearly ten million dollars from developers flowing into Perry’s coffers.
As City Controller Laura Chick explained to CityBeat last year, “This is how it happens now: Developers will approach a council office, and say, ‘Boy, have I got a deal for you! Look at this project I want to do in your area.’ Convince a council office to approach the CRA [Community Redevelopment Authority] and say, ‘Do it.'” “Convincing” was a matter of money, and Jan Perry had grown up in City Hall. She is said to be a master of the game.
After fighting off a redistricting plan that would have moved downtown, a major redevelopment center, out of her district, she led a charge to criminalize downtown’s homeless residents, sweeping them from the streets into city and county jails and distant shelters, shelters anywhere, everywhere, as long as the homeless were forced out of the center of the city.
Backed by the Central City East Association, a business improvement district which represents industrial and manufacturing companies with over 600 properties – many located in Skid Row – Perry proposed an ordinance that would prohibit downtown homeless people from erecting tents and that would penalize groups that provided food for them.
She urged police sweeps of homeless residents. Downtown was turning into a redevelopment dream, and developers and their new tenants wanted the homeless out of downtown. Flea bag hotels that served Skid Row were being converted into loft space for the upper middle class and newly rich. LAPD and city hall announced they would arrest people for sleeping on public sidewalks.
The Central City East Association had met with LAPD chief Bill Bratton and police began citing people on Skid Row for jaywalking, for sleeping even sitting in front of building or standing and talking on the sidewalk.
As one homeless advocate put it, Central City East security personnel began to “operate as an arm of the police,” ordering them to move, confiscating their bags, their blankets their beds and other belongings.
To hear Perry, who spearheaded the effort, tell it, she was doing the homeless a favor. The ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild didn’t see it that way, and sued.
Perry called it a “nutty lawsuit,” but U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the ACLU, ruling that arresting people for sleeping or sitting on public sidewalks of skid row constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. The court noted that sleeping is an involuntary act, and that there are simply not enough beds in homeless shelters. People have no choice but to sleep in the street.
Perry called the ruling “a loss for skid row,” and called for the City to appeal the decision to the US Supreme Court.
In a word, Perry acts as a high level enforcer for developer’s interests. On the streets she would be called a thug.
Using her experience targeting the homeless and their encampments, Perry would later mastermind the plan to evict Farm supporters from their tents, deprive farmers of the food, and bulldoze the Farm while protestors were beaten by LAPD. The aim was to clear the Farm land for Ralph Horowitz the same way she’d tried to clear the homeless from downtown for other developers.
Perry had other friends with an interest in the Farm, and, in the developmental feeding frenzy that her district had become since the ’92 rebellion and the implementation of the South Los Angeles Comprehensive Economic Strategy, she had other obligations.
Among them was Perry’s friend Ayahlushim Hammond of the Community Redevelopment Agency, who’d been honored in 2004 as a “Catalyst of the Downtown Renaissance” by the Central City Association.
In 2003, Hammond survived a scandal at the CRA over City funds she had routed to her developer husband Chris for redevelopment projects.
Chris Hammond, a former Los Angeles Parks Commissioner, became the most prolific redeveloper in South Central, with forty redevelopment projects spread across his three companies.
His company, Capital Visions, was hit with five tax liens, and then bounced checks to the city, along with campaign checks to the Mayor and council members. The LA Times notes three dozen instances in which Hammond bounced checks for more than $200,000 total. Among the results are a number of lawsuits that complicate his redevelopment projects.
In early 2004 Chris Hammond approached the Farmers and offered to buy the Farm “for them.” The Farmers rejected the offer, having read of Hammond’s financial misbehaviors, and believing the offer was a trap set for them by Jan Perry. In light of later developments, the Farmers intuition served them well. Perry was their enemy, and so was Hammond.
On January 7, 2006, Perry offered the Farmers 3/4 of an acre if they would abandon the 14 acre plot at 41st and Alameda. On December 17, 2003, in a meeting of the Council’s Environmental and Waste Committee, Perry had the Farmers removed from the agenda, and then tried to have them removed from the room – a move that shocked even her fellow Council members, who objected to their expulsion.
Then Perry had Rufina Juarez, elected representative of the South Central Farmers, investigated twice on her job. Both allegations proved unfounded.
For three years, on two or three mornings of each week, the Farmers left their crops and their jobs to speak at City Council meetings and ask for the Council’s help in returning the Farm to them.
Perry led the City Council in its determined disdain of the Farmers: the Council members rescheduled and cancelled public comments, and routinely and sometimes literally turned their backs on the Farmers’ when they were allowed to speak.
Not a single Council member requested the City Attorney’s opinion on ways to help the Farmers, offered a motion in support, or held a public meeting to address the Farmer’s plight. Perry was not alone in her devotion to developers, and Mayor Villaraigosa had his own motives.
The Farmers raced against the eviction clock in their search for the $16.3M Horowitz demanded of them for the Farm. Meanwhile, the land remained pristine, unsullied by industry and redevelopment.
But Perry never saw a piece of undeveloped land she couldn’t wrangle into a deal for her development buddies.
She became Ralph Horowitz’s new best friend and advisor. U.S. Representative Maxine Waters referred to Horowitz and Perry as “business partners.”
Now, a City Council representative from South Central was advising a Westside developer on how best to turn a parcel of South Central land into a sweatshop – or perhaps a Wal-Mart warehouse. Perry shepherded Horowitz through the purchase of the Farm and the eviction of the Farm supporters.
After the eviction, Perry’s other friend, Chris Hammond, returned to the Farmers with strong-arm threats. He promised “ghetto style” retribution if the Farmers targeted Perry politically for her role in attacking the Farm.
Days later, on June 13, 2006, Perry dined with Horowitz at his home to plan one more operation: the 16-hour bulldozing of the Farm. They hoped to destroy not only the land, but the community there and all it means.
They hoped to break the resistance of a people whose spirit of resistance has endured for 500 years. They hoped to return South Central to business as usual. They hoped, finally, to shatter the one shining hope that had arisen from the 1992 war that the people of South Central had waged against their oppressors.
That had been the plan all along.
As we go to press, an unidentified security guard in the pay of developer Ralph Horowitz has attacked a supporter of the South Central Farmers, causing two breaks in the nose and a broken eye socket. The attack took place on a public sidewalk outside the disputed land. Though notified of the attack immediately, the LAPD was slow in responding.
In the morning, the Farmers return to court, pressing their case that the City’s sale of the Farm land to Ralph Horowitz in 2003 was illegal.
U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, who has declared Mr. Horowitz’s bulldozing of South Central Farm “unconscionable” told the Farmers “You are not alone . . . No matter what the court decides, we will not let this land go.”
Leslie Radford is an adjunct professor of communications and a freelance journalist living in Los Angeles. She can be reached at LRadford@RadioJustice.net
Juan Santos is a Los Angeles writer and editor of Mexica Tlahtolli. He can be reached at Juan_Santos@Mexica.net