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Gardeners Celebrate Victory

Families turn out for a barbecue after a judge's restraining order saves their plot from the bulldozer -- at least temporarily.

March 01, 2004|Erin Ailworth | Times Staff Writer

Sunday was supposed to be a funeral of sorts for a South Los Angeles community garden.

But an event to commemorate the death of the garden took on the air of a celebratory backyard barbecue after a judge's decision last week to at least temporarily halt demolition efforts.

The landowner had planned to begin ripping up the 14-acre garden at 41st and Alameda streets Sunday to begin building warehouses or a cold storage facility for food distributors.

Lawyers for the 350-family group, South Central Farmers Feeding Families, which has nurtured the garden for 12 years, sued the landowner and the city Tuesday after structures on the property were torn down before Sunday's deadline. Superior Court Judge David P. Yaffe granted a temporary restraining order the same day. All parties are scheduled to appear in court March 16.

"Instead of the noise of bulldozers here on the 29th you are hearing the voices, hearts and minds of the people here celebrating a temporary restraining order," said Miguel Angel Perez, who has farmed on the land on and off for eight years.

About 100 of those trying to save the garden shared menudo and goodwill, tacos and memories, home-grown vegetables and hope. A Catholic bishop even blessed the land.

"The garden means life and family and a school to learn of growing vegetables and medicinal herbs," said Josefina Medina, who organized Sunday's celebration. She said the gardeners only want the city to preserve what she called "Adam's paradise" in a city where violence and smog are more common.

The garden is Bonifacio Reyes' pride, as well. He has worked the land for three years. The 79-year-old lounged beneath the awning of a wooden barbecue shack, talking about the photo album he keeps of his crops to show off to friends. The aroma of roasting corn -- grown here -- and tortillas drifted through the air.The battle over the garden originated in the mid-1980s, when the city used eminent domain to purchase the property for a trash-burning plant. Residents defeated the incinerator idea and a community garden rose from the ashes.

According to their lawyers, the gardeners began cultivating the land by 1992. Two years later, the Harbor Department purchased the land for the development of the Alameda Corridor. Only a small portion was used and the flourishing garden came under the control of the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.

Last year, the garden was transferred back to the original owner, Ralph Horowitz, who had sued the city for selling the land without offering it to him first. The food bank was notified that its permit for the land was being revoked.

Horowitz said he empathizes with those using the garden and even called it an "oasis from urban life." But, he said, he never wanted to give up the land, and now he wants it back.

The gardeners said they feel the land is theirs.

Jorge Angulo, 43, has tended his plot for 12 years. He said it's a good place to teach his 5-year-old son, Ricardo, about the land.

If the garden closes, he said, it will be "tragic because there will be no place to bring the kids or grow fresh vegetables."

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