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Harbor Commission refers South Central Farm deal to L.A. Council

August 4, 2011 |  1:28 pm

  Photo: Supporters of the community garden known as South Central Farm saw their hopes dashed when the urban farmers were evicted in 2006.  Credit: Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times The Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners on Thursday voted to defer judgment on a controversial proposal involving land that was once home to the community garden known as South Central Farm. The issue will now go before the City Council.

In 2003 the Harbor Department sold the plot to real estate developer Ralph Horowitz and stipulated that he donate 2.6 acres for use as a park.  But last month City Councilwoman Jan Perry asked commissioners to revise the deal with Horowitz to allow him to keep that section of land and instead pay around $3.6 million for renovations and programs at existing parks in the neighborhood.

Perry, who helped craft the original deal, said the land is not a good place for a park because diesel emissions in the area may pose health risks. She also said Horowitz is in escrow with a buyer who wants to build clothing factories that would require all 14 acres of the property. According to a Perry staffer, four Korean-owned garment companies are a part of the deal.

On Thursday, dozens of protesters showed up to oppose Perry’s request. Outside of the meeting, activists beat drums and a group performed Aztec dances. Inside, several speakers told commissioners that the promise of a park was the only redeeming aspect of the city’s sale of the land, which led to the eviction in 2006 of hundreds of farmers who had tilled the land.

“Once it’s gone, it can’t be reclaimed,” said Linda Piera-Avila. “They are going back on a backroom deal.”

Noreen McClendon, the director of Concerned Citizens of South Central, a nonprofit that has clashed with the South Central Farmers in the past, said the groups had united to fight for the park.

“We will join in any lawsuit to prevent this from happening,” she said.

The Board of Commissioners voted to defer judgment in large part, they said, because the issue does not have to do with the Port of Los Angeles. Commissioner David Arian expressed concern that acting on the issue could open the board up to legal challenges.

Commissioner Robin Kramer, former chief of staff to both Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former Mayor Richard Riordan, said that if the commission had decided to vote on the issue, she would not have supported Perry’s proposal.

“This property has a long, tangled and disappointing history,” she said. “If the matter had come up today I could have voted to preserve the 2.6 acres.”

The land in question -- in an industrial section of the Central-Alameda corridor 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.

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-- Kate Linthicum at the Los Angeles Harbor Commission 

Photo: Supporters of the community garden known as South Central Farm saw their hopes dashed when the urban farmers were evicted in 2006.  Credit: Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times

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