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South Central Farmers object to L.A.'s change in park plans

Los Angeles Councilwoman Jan Perry seeks a change to a deal to build a park in exchange for a developer taking over land that was once the South Central Farm.

August 04, 2011|By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times
  • Supporters of the South Central Farm weren't able to keep the land in 2006 but saw the plan to put in a park nearby as a silver lining. Now that the city of Los Angeles may change that plan, farm supporters are upset.
Supporters of the South Central Farm weren't able to keep the land… (Los Angeles Times )

Controversy is again brewing over the 14-acre plot that was once home to the South Central Farm.

When Los Angeles sold the land in 2003 to real estate developer Ralph Horowitz, it required him to donate 2.6 acres for use as a park. For many of the farmers whom Horowitz later evicted from the land, the promise of a park for soccer fields was a silver lining.

But now City Councilwoman Jan Perry says the land is not suitable for a park because diesel emissions in the area may pose health risks.

She has asked the city to revise the deal with Horowitz to allow him to keep that section and instead pay around $3.6 million for renovations and programs at existing parks in the neighborhood.

In a letter to the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners, which will consider the proposal Thursday, Perry said Horowitz is in escrow with a buyer who wants to build a clothing factory that would require all 14 acres of the property.

The South Central Farmers, who have galvanized around the issue, want to know why the land hasn't already been transferred to the city. They say Perry is using concerns about health risks as a pretext to push the development through.

The group's leading activist, known as Tezozomoc, said the farmers and community members feel they are "are being sacrificed in favor of the developers."

The land in question — several blocks of a gritty, industrial section of the Central-Alameda area of Los Angeles — was originally owned by Horowitz. But it in the 1980s, the city seized the property through eminent domain, eventually transferring it to the Harbor Department.

Decades later, Horowitz sued to get the property back. In 2003 the city settled by selling it back to him for $5 million — with the stipulation that he donate space for a park.

The 350 families who had been tilling the land for years, growing food and flowers, were evicted in a dramatic incident that was captured in an Oscar-nominated documentary, "The Garden."

In her letter to the commissioners, Perry said health concerns are the "primary reason" she thinks the city should not build a park on the land.

But she also praised the site's potential commercial development, which she said could help put 600 people to work, given the city's "immediate need for jobs and tax revenues." Los Angeles has a 13% unemployment rate.

Perry has proposed that the money from Horowitz be used to make improvements at Pueblo Del Rio, a nearby housing development, and at Fred Roberts Park and Ross Snyder Park.

The South Central Farmers, who are planning a protest at Thursday's meeting, point out that those sites are only blocks from the planned park.

"She says it has become impractical to build it here, but what she is proposing is moving it two blocks away," said Tezozomoc.

kate.linthicum@latimes.com

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