Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Urban Farmers vs. the Bulldozers of L.A.

Once upon a time on 41st and Alameda Street in South Central Los Angeles, a garden arose. Not just any garden, but a community garden, where the people in a low-income neighborhood gathered to grow food and so feed themselves. And it was good.

Until now.

It's no fairy tale, but it's turning into a horror story even now. Fourteen years ago, a 14-acre piece of land became the property of the City of Los Angeles under the laws of eminent domain. Landowners were compensated, and the city planned to build an incinerator on the site. Because of complaints of people in the surrounding neighborhood, the city abandoned the plan. However, if within 10 years the city determined that it no longer needed the land, the former owner, a large investment firm, was granted rights of first refusal. The city then set the land aside for a community garden, allowing the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank to manage it.

The garden has been a tremendous success. People from the neighborhood have been growing masses of food from the reclaimed land, which they use to reduce the cost of their own groceries, as well as helping others. The garden has become a community center, with special events, fairs, and a Farmer's Market.

But behind the scenes, the city was busy negotiating with another investment firm to sell the land. Back and forth negotiations went, with the investment firm at one point raising a lawsuit against the city for demurring on their deal. After several years of negotiating, the city finally settled with the firm and sold the land. Only then did they inform the food bank of the deal, which was the first notice that the gardeners had of their garden's impending doom. At no point was the food bank nor were the gardeners allowed to make an offer of their own. The gardeners banded together and raised a lawsuit of their own against the city for breaking the charter with the food bank, but the city claims it no longer needed the land, and that this loophole in the law took priority over the charter.

This morning, police in riot gear arrived to evict the farmers. Fire trucks were on the scene, ladder trucks to pluck protesters out of trees -- yes, trees, which shows how far this garden has come from the old vacant lot it once was. Trees planted by the gardeners themselves, and bearing fruit.

This evening, the bulldozers arrived. Tomorrow, Los Angeles' own Eden will be a dirty scar.

Cheers, L.A.

The gardeners haven't given up, however, in spite of the imminent destruction of fourteen years worth of hard labor. They're still trying to raise funds to buy the land themselves, and will return all donations if they can't buy the land. Their site is here: South Central Farmers

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