By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
When the two sides later confronted each other at the farm, Juarez went on a verbal rampage, former farmers recount. “She said, ‘I have more pants than all of you.’ She said, ‘Put on your skirts, bunch of ignorants,’ ” recalled Juan Gamboa, one of the South Central farmers involved in a November 8 scuffle with Juarez and Tezozomoc that resulted in his arrest and a hospital visit for his sister-in-law, Irma.
Little by little, farmers have left and have been kicked out. Some were told their monthly dues would no longer be accepted. Others were simply locked out, the locks to the 30-by-30 lots changed without their knowledge. Many of the plots they left behind at the South Central Farm today remain abandoned and in disarray.
“We began to realize that they were most really concerned with the interests of the garden,” said Margarito Salgado, 59, who, like many gardeners, left the South Central Farm earlier this year and now gardens at the new Stanford Avalon Community Garden near Watts. “We’re not opposed to the other farm. We don’t want it to close. But there needs to be another administration .?.?. I would like Zach de la Rocha to know the kind of people he’s dealing with.”
The Stanford Avalon site, near 111th Place and Avalon Street, was offered to the South Central farmers as a possible alternative site in the event they lose their legal challenges to eviction. The offer, Tezozomoc said, was rejected by the farmers.
Some community leaders and activists in South L.A. see drawbacks for the area if the South Central Farm leaders have their way. If they are allowed to stay permanently, no other landowner in the neighborhood will ever permit a community group to use a blighted, vacant property on a temporary basis, said Mark Williams, board member with Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles.
“If you sign an agreement saying you are going to have tenancy on a temporary basis, then when it comes time to go, you have to go,” said Williams, the son of the late Juanita Tate, a pioneering activist whose family moved to the neighborhood in 1905. “We thought it would be two to three years, and it turned into 10 to 12. But that doesn’t mean they should receive squatters’ rights. How will we ever get people to buy property here or do development here?”
Concerned Citzens formed nearly 20 years ago out of the movement to stop the site at 41st and Alameda from becoming a municipal incinerator. Horowitz, who was forced by the city to sell his property so that the incinerator could be built, sued to get his land back after the project was scrapped and transformed into a community garden.
When the City Council settled with Horowitz in 2003, Concerned Citizens made sure that 2.6 acres of the site would be set aside for soccer fields. Williams, who is African-American and still lives near 47th Street and Central Avenue, said his mother worked with nearby Latino families to make sure they got what they asked for.
“When Jan Perry called my mother to ask her what to do about the garden, she told Jan that we needed a soccer field,” Williams said. “Now, not very many black kids in South L.A. played soccer. But our North American Youth Soccer League serves 1,800 hard-working immigrant Latino families, the same makeup as the gardeners. The only difference is, [the soccer families] live in the community.”
Many of the South Central farmers, in fact, do live in Perry’s council district 9, where the farm is located, but scores of others do not. According to a 2003 list of the farmers and their addresses, many come from communities outside Los Angeles such as South Gate, Maywood, Compton, Altadena and Culver City. An office for South Central Farmers Inc., the nonprofit group that is not registered with the state, is listed in Sun Valley. Tezozomoc would not disclose where he lives. A man named Tezozomoc is registered to vote in North Hollywood.
If negotiations by the Trust for Public Land to buy the property from Horowitz are successful, the garden will then be transferred to the L.A. Neighborhood Land Trust, an entity created by the City Council to expand the amount of park space. Villaraigosa aides are already working to line up funding to complete the sale and pay for educational programs at the garden.
Trust for Public Land area director Larry Kaplan left open the possibility that Juarez and Tezozomoc would play a role in a nonprofit garden. “I would imagine they would have a role, because they’ve been so involved in it to date, but that’s not my decision,” Kaplan said.
The first crop at the new Stanford Avalon Community Garden, near Watts, is poking up from the topsoil. Tiny green buds of alfalfa emerge from one of the garden’s 30 plots, most of which are being tended to by former gardeners at the South Central Farm.
There is already a waiting list, said Al Renner, president of the Los Angeles Community Garden Council, after meeting with gardeners there on a recent brisk Sunday morning.
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