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
JUST WHEN IT LOOKED LIKE the South Central Farm was doomed, the fate of the 14 acres of contested land at 41st and Alameda streets has turned into a whole new ball game. The arrival of Hollywood celebrities and old-school folk singers to try to save it only masks the real story. It’s a high-stakes political chess match, one in which the media circus at the actual farm is almost the least interesting element.
The Annenberg Foundation has pledged $10 million to the Trust for Public Land, which has been trying to raise money to buy the farm from landowner Ralph Horowitz, for $16.35 million. The Annenberg Foundation itself would not purchase the farm, but pledge the money to the trust.
But a pledge is only a pledge, and nothing has been finalized, said Annenberg Foundation managing director Leonard Aube. It’s unclear whether the $6 million previously raised by the trust is still at play. Bob Reid, the trust’s L.A. area director, did not return phone calls.
One high-level source familiar with the ongoing talks said the Annenberg Foundation might finance the balance of the asking price, which would put the large, powerful foundation in a long-term commitment to the farm, and in an intensely risky situation.
Lauren Bon, a foundation trustee and the artist behind the Not a Cornfield project near downtown, which Annenberg also funded, said the whole situation was too volatile to comment on the specifics. “We were trying to form a public-private partnership. Whether or not [Annenberg is] going to be stepping in is still to be seen.” She would not say what conditions must be met for the foundation to make good on its pledge.
And why now?
“The reason is obvious,” Bon said. “The South Central Farm is an extremely important monument to many things we need to be looking at in our society.”
Bon is not the only player showing some anxiety over the negotiations. All of the players — Horowitz, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, City Councilwoman Jan Perry, the nonprofit Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles, the embattled farm organizers (Tezozomoc, Rufina Juarez and Fernando Flores) and a group of farmers who left or were kicked off the site — have competing or overlapping agendas that seem to change minute-to-minute. Down at the farm, the possibility that sheriff’s deputies could swoop in and enforce an eviction hangs over the place, which has been locked up almost round-the-clock — except, of course, when Hollywood celebrities want to climb up a tree.
The tension is understandable. After all, 14 acres of green land in the middle of an industrial and redevelopment corridor in the densest city in America doesn’t come up for grabs very often. Which serves as a good reminder that although the news media and blogosphere have distorted the visual aspects of the story that appeal to the senses of bourgeois progressives — “humble” farmers, kooky celebrities, fruits and vegetables — the battle over the South Central Farm is in fact a classic L.A. narrative: a development struggle.
Even if the farm remains as green space, someone or some entity will have to be its steward. The land will have to be cleaned, organized, regulated and maintained. The more likely scenario of some kind of mixed-use future, as in green space, soccer fields, a “community center” and possibly some kind of jobs-generating development, opens a complicated set of questions: Who will pay for it? Who will develop it? Who will run it? Who will hold it accountable? Who will run home with the credit?
Organizer Flores, an architect, has floated around his own version of a future development for the site, which helps explain the farm leadership’s quasi militant tactics at preserving their hold on the land. Tezozomoc said Thursday that the Sheriff’s Department has been intimidating the farmers with helicopter flyovers. If deputies move in to evict the activists who have converged on the farm from all over the state, civil disobedience is not out of the question, he said. “We are prepared to exercise our constitutional and civil rights under [the Constitution of] the United States of America.”
Perry, who has been on the receiving end of relentless and race-tinged verbal abuse by farm activists during public comment at City Council meetings, would like to see soccer fields, gardens and environmentally sound jobs created at the site. Along with jobs, private development would also generate tax revenue, which could be pumped back into neighborhoods surrounding the farm, she argues.
“It’s a beautiful space, there’s no disputing that, and I got a good track record already in developing green space in other parts of the district, and I’ll continue to do so,” Perry said Thursday. “But this is a private-property dispute, and to disregard that is not dealing with the realty of the situation.”
In a letter to the mayor dated April 4 and cosigned by council members Herb Wesson, Janice Hahn, Bernard Parks and Tony Cardenas, Perry wrote that her South L.A. district was in dire need of jobs, and that a compromise should be reached on the garden-farm-development: “The lack of solid, low-skilled employment opportunities creates a sense of hopelessness, one symptom of which is the high number of ex-offenders in the area that can not successfully re-integrate into society without viable employment options. These issues can only be addressed by creating jobs that are accessible to the community.”
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