By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
The struggle has created some strange bedfellows. Last Saturday, the farm organizers met with Noreen McClendon and Mark Williams of the Concerned Citizens group to work out a deal to make a new alliance, Williams said.
Over the years, South Central Farm activists battled with Williams’ mother, the late Juanita Williams, over what to do with the land. Williams wanted soccer fields, while the farm leaders said they weren’t necessary. The acrimony took on a racial tone, with not entirely accurate perceptions forming that the Williams clan represented the interests of established black residents of South-Central, while the farm leaders represented the aspirations of immigrants from Mexico and Central America – even though the soccer fields would have mostly benefited the new immigrants.
So, in exchange for coming out in support of the farm, Mark Williams sought from the organizers a public statement in which they would apologize for suggesting his mother was racist. Along the way, the talks broke down. “They had to be able to say that they were wrong to call my mother a racist and an elitist for advocating for Latino families,” Williams said.
Williams on Wednesday said he now supports Tezozomoc and Juarez, but that “Westside environmentalists” are improperly influencing them. “The Westside environmentalists, they want the land for their damn selves.”
WOULD CONCERNED CITIZENS of South Central Los Angeles be interested in managing it?
“It doesn’t have to be us, but why not us?” asked Williams. “Our capacity to manage property is well established. We want to open it up so it’s a place for everybody, so why not consider us along with any other of these nonprofit corporations? The elected leadership have been surrounded by a bunch of folks who are not stakeholders. They’ve turned this into some kind of symbolic struggle.”
Then there’s the political element of the story. Nothing would reenergize Villaraigosa’s progressive street cred as one of his vintage I’m-a-uniter finishes: Mayor Steps In, Saves the Day — Again, especially after he’s spent so much time and energy recently on vacuous media appearances, the expansion of his powers through the school takeover plan and the courting of large business interests such as the National Football League.
At a press conference two weeks ago, Villaraigosa said: “Let me publicly, publicly, ask Mr. Horowitz to sell his property for what he bought it for,” which was $5 million. Villaraigosa also said he was “the only elected official in the city of Los Angeles” who has fought on behalf of more urban gardens, a claim that negates the work done for gardens by members of the City Council.
In the center of all this, one wonders where the actual farmers stand on the future of the site. Difficult to say, as the farm has effectively transformed into a fortified encampment, with activists standing as sentries at the locked gates and at the corners that ring the garden. Meanwhile, the plots at 41st and Alameda appear to have fallen into neglect.
Plants are dying or overgrown with weeds, and many plots are covered with rubbish. Hoy and La Opinion, the local Spanish-language dailies, have been running stories for months delving into the internal fighting at the South Central Farm. Some reports have suggested that many of the farmers care less about staging demonstrations and fighting to the finish than they do about simply having room to grow their herbs somewhere in peace, even if it means going elsewhere.
In fact, maps detailing the distribution of the South Central plots, which were obtained by the L.A. Weekly, show a high level of attrition in recent years, as more and more farmers were turned off by the leadership or were forced out of the farm — their plants destroyed, their plots locked shut — by Tezozomoc, Juarez and their allies. Many moved on to a new community garden at 111th Place and Avalon Boulevard farther south, where representatives from the mayor’s office have been dropping by to figure out a long-term lease and help the displaced farmers set up a governing and maintenance structure.
At the Stanford-Avalon garden on Wednesday afternoon, as a group of men stood around a barbecue grilling carne asada tacos with nopales, a new South Central Farm defector arrived, saying he was fed up with being locked out of the farm, being unable to water his plants, and being crowded by “hippies” and “gabachos” who’ve taken up their cause. The farmer said strangers at the gate are now charging a $1 entry fee at the South Central Farm.
“It’s a mess. Everything is drying up because there’s no watering,” the farmer said.
“They don’t even let you take out nopales to eat,” another farmer chimed in.