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December 9, 2005 | Page 8

South Central farmers' rights

SINCE 1992, 14 acres of property located at 41st and Alameda Streets in Los Angeles have been used as a community garden or farm. The land has been divided into 360 plots and is believed to be one of the largest urban gardens in the country.

The City of Los Angeles acquired the 14-acre property by eminent domain in the late 1980s, taking it from nine private landowners. The city originally intended to use the property for a trash incinerator, but abandoned that plan in the face of public protest.

Following the Los Angeles uprising in 1992, the city set aside the site for use as a community garden. In 1994, the city contracted with the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank to operate the property as a community garden, but in 1995, the city began negotiating with developer Ralph Horowitz to sell the entire 14-acre property.

On August 13, 2003, the city council agreed to selling the property in closed session, and a month later, the city sent the Food Bank a letter notifying it of the sale. The Food Bank, in turn, distributed the letter to the approximately 350 families that were using plots at the garden to grow their own food. The families using the plots are low-income and depend heavily on the food they grow to feed themselves. In addition to growing food for themselves, the people involved with the community garden open up their space to community and cultural events.

After receiving a notice from the city informing them that the garden property was being sold to a private developer, the farmers formed an organization--South Central Farmers Feeding Families--and began organizing to retain their right to use the property. South Central Farmers Feeding Families appealed to the city council to prevent the sale from going through.

On December 11, 2003, however, the city transferred title of property to Ralph Horowitz, who issued a notice setting February 29, 2004, as the termination date for the community garden.

Members of the South Central Farmers Feeding Families filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the sale of the property. The Los Angeles County Superior Court issued a temporary restraining order and later a preliminary injunction halting development of the property while the lawsuit was pending.

Both the city and Horowitz appealed the Superior Court's order granting the preliminary injunction, and the Court of Appeal reversed the injunction. Now, Horowitz can come in anytime and evict the farmers and raze the crops.

One farmer Tezozomoc said that the needs of the community outweigh property rights. "We are not starving for warehouses," he said, "but on the contrary, there are families in this community who are starving."

So far, the South Central Farmers have protested, marched and attended city council meetings. In this process, they were able to keep the garden open and challenge the city on the sale of the property.

The Food Bank had an opportunity to put its expensive lawyers on the issue, but they chose instead to fight against the farmers. The South Central Farmers began a process of eliminating the corruption and self-serving attitudes that the agents of the food bank had fostered for over 11 years.

Some of the 350 farmers say they would turn to civil disobedience in a last attempt to save the garden.

Horowitz has said in interviews, "The gardeners want to use the land forever without ever having to pay for it." He has also said that these gardeners "should be grateful that they are not homeless." These callous remarks reflect the attitude of business developers in a city that is suffering from a shortage of affordable housing and open green space.

The reality for many people in impoverished neighborhoods is that of slumlords and greedy developers who implement environmentally racist policies. As Rufina Juarez, one of the leaders of the campaign, has explained: "The garden serves as a place of self-empowerment that the city and developers want to take away. Considering the health and community crises facing our communities today, the city needs to consider the farm here as a possible solution to these problems."

Against the backdrop of an exaggerated animosity between the Black and Latino communities, this farm has served as a veritable oasis for the poor families and their children of all ethnicities here who lack a space for developing community ties.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa promised more of these spaces in his run-up to being mayor, but has now neglected the plight of the people here. The mayor can step in anytime and find the developers an alternate space to build their warehouse while allowing the community to flourish along with their garden.

The farmers are asking for your support. Let the mayor know: Our people need more food, not more warehouses!
William Figueroa, Los Angeles

War crimes in Falluja

THANKS FOR Elizabeth Schulte's "U.S. used chemical weapons on Falluja" (November 18). As usual, you are ahead of the ruling-class media in reporting the news.

However, "The Fight for Fallujah" (Field Artillery, March-April 2005) goes much further in undermining the credibility of the State Department than your article suggests. In addition to the brief passage cited, the Field Artillery article also states: "The munitions we brought to this fight were 155-mm high explosive (HE) M107 (short-range) and M795 (long-range) rounds, illumination and white phosphorous (WP, M110 and M825), with point-detonating (PD), delay, time and variable-time (VT) fuses...

"WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE. We fired 'shake and bake' missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out...We used improved WP for screening missions when HC smoke would have been more effective and saved our WP for lethal missions."

Why anyone should believe that a chemical weapon effective for "lethal missions" would have been reserved to obscure the movements of U.S. troops almost defies rational explanation.

Perhaps the answer has something to do with a mass media that believes covering the news means parroting the latest official line. Keep up the good work.
Mark Clinton, Northampton, Mass.

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