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Deal to Buy South L.A. Community Garden Running Short on Time

May 20, 2006|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

A deal to save a controversial community garden in South Los Angeles appeared near collapse Friday after a nonprofit group trying to acquire the parcel said it was still $10 million short of the owner's asking price.

The owner, developer Ralph Horowitz, wants $16.35 million, said Deputy Mayor Larry Frank. The option to purchase the property expires Monday.

"There is the possibility that some miracle happens between now and Monday at 5 p.m.," Frank said. "There is not a deal in the works, but there are a lot of irons in the fire. We don't have the confidence that we can put the money together for the deal."

That means evictions could begin next week at the 14-acre site at 41st and Alameda streets, where as many as 350 families have been growing fruit and vegetables for years.

Earlier this spring the nonprofit Trust for Public Land said it would try to acquire 10 acres on the site from Horowitz and then turn the land over to another agency to manage as a garden.

The Trust for Public Land negotiated a 45-day period to raise money but is $10 million short of the goal, said Bob Reid, Los Angeles director for the trust. "I'm sad to report that the required funding has not materialized.... We saw this as a wonderful opportunity."

Horowitz could not be reached Friday.

The site has a contentious history. The city acquired the land from Horowitz through eminent domain in the 1980s for a planned trash incinerator -- the infamous Lancer project -- that was stopped by neighborhood opposition.

After the 1992 riots, the city leased the land to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, which began the South Central community garden. In 2003, the city sold the land back to Horowitz for about $5 million.

But the farmers did not leave and in the last three years -- and particularly in recent weeks -- the farmers and their representatives have frequently pleaded with the City Council during public testimony to intervene and save the land.

"We're going to exercise our Constitutional rights to the fullest extent," said Fernando Flores, an organizer with the farmers. "We're looking at midnight on the 24th when we'll probably be facing the Sheriff's Department" and evictions.

Flores said that there will be protests and demonstrations in the coming days and that the farmers will make a pilgrimage this afternoon to Villaraigosa's residence in Hancock Park, where they will pray for forgiveness and better results.

Frank said the mayor's office has been trying to help the farmers move to other sites. The largest is an eight-acre plot at 111th Street and Avalon Boulevard, which can accommodate 200 farmers. Thirty are already farming there, and the city, with the nonprofit Los Angeles Community Garden Council, will probably develop a lottery system to help divide up the land.

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