Wednesday, June 21, 2006

South Central Nonsense

I head back to work in Connecticut this afternoon, and I must say I will miss the dry summer weather of the west. There are a few very good reasons to live in northern California despite the high cost of living.

In a few circles I run in, the South Central Farm (SCF) fiasco has been a big issue as of late. Personally, I think the farmers who have been working the land are making a really big deal out of a rather simple issue. But I am getting ahead of myself; here is a little background courtesy of Wikipedia.

“The South Central Farm, also known as the South Central Community Garden, is an urban farm and community garden located at East 41st and South Alameda Streets in an industrialized area within South Los Angeles, California (formerly known as South Central Los Angeles). At 14 acres (~0.056 km2), it is considered one of the largest urban farms in the United States.
Before the creation of the garden, the land belonged to nine different owners, the largest of which was Alameda-Barbara Investment Company, a real-estate firm which purchased its share in 1980. The company held 80% of the property that would become the present urban garden. The city of Los Angeles acquired the land, by eminent domain, in 1986 for the purpose of building a waste-to-energy incinerator known as the Los Angeles City Energy Recovery Project (LANCER). This idea was abandoned due to community opposition, led by Juanita Tate and Concerned Citizens of South-Central Los Angeles. The city paid $4,786,372 for the property.
The final order of condemnation under eminent domain included a right to repurchase the land should the city sell it for non-public or non-housing purposes within ten years of the condemnation for the largest land owner, Alameda-Barbara Investment Company. The City sold the property to the L.A. Harbor Department in 1994.
July 1994 the Harbor Department granted a revocable permit to the L.A. Regional Food Bank – a private, nonprofit food-distribution network housed across the street from the Lancer incinerator site – to occupy and use the site as a community garden.
In 2001, Ralph Horowitz, a partner in former property owner Alameda-Barbara sued the City for breach of contract, for failure to honor the original right of repurchase. The City denied his claim.
In 2003, the City of L.A. settled with Horowitz, in a closed door session. The sale was for $5,050,000, above the $4.8 million the city paid for it in the eminent domain seizure, thereby undoing the earlier forced sale, and enforcing the repurchase clause as the court had mandated. Horowitz agreed to donate 2.6 acres of the site, valued at nearly $3,000,000, for a public soccer field, as part of the settlement. The City Council discussed and approved the terms of the settlement in closed session. The South Central Farm's Lawyer, Patrick Dunlevy, claims that despite repeated requests, negotiation documents relating to the session, have never been released.”

What I keep getting back to with the South Central Farm is the fact that Horowitz bought and owns the land. I recognize that the farmers using it enjoy the rent free property they were previously using, but our society must respect the rights of the property owner. That may sound a bit cold and un-egalitarian, but by not protecting the legal property rights of an individual, the government and LA County are asking for trouble in the future. It is this type of thinking that has allowed imminent domain cases like the recent seizure of property in New London CT to flower and swell. If the legal landowners right to his/her property is not respect, who is to say someone can not start using my land for their own personal use and then claim ownership?

Furthermore, I don’t buy the claims made by the SCF that this farm was truly a community endeavor. As Horowitz has documented, “the SCF is not an “open” organization, since the entire city cannot be members nor can all residents have access to farm on the land.” A select number of people hold “title” to their specific plot. On top of that, Horowitz has “proposed to build a soccer field for the community, built on a set aside portion of three acres. The field would be accessible to all city residents, unlike the SCF is only accessible to the SCF or by the organization's permission. Horowitz states that the use of the remaining portion of the property would be “market driven”. He has also stated that he would consider giving preference to a “quality tenant”, alleging that anything that he does with the property will generate jobs in the community, unlike its current use by the farmers.”

I have seen a number of solidarity marches while in California, and one of the recurring slogans that pops up is “South Central Farm Feeds Families”. While I figure this is theoretically true, jobs also feed families. In fact, jobs support families and give them a home. I would much rather see economic development in South Central than a community garden, even when the garden sounds noble.

And all those Hollywood celebrities who have come out in support of the South Central Farm, put your money where your mouth is and buy up the land or some other property in the area. Why should the current owner of the land have to pay for their political posturing?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

But, I am an anarchist!

Finally looked into the South Central Farm thing...seems to me neither side was right or wrong - the real problem was Eminent Domain. The land was seized by the State, taken from the rightful owners, and given away to people who believe that government has a right to do such things. I'll leave it up to you whether I'm talking about the Tongva and Chumash, or Ralph Horowitz. But in all seriousness, people who would otherwise be on the dole through no fault of their own (warehoused in prisons or collecting food stamps), did something very bedrock libertarian capitalist/libertarian socialist (despite many of them being ché-tards): they homesteaded *unproductive land and started wealth creation, self-reliance and commerce in a market void.

And Ralph Horowitz was done dirty as well; besides Eminent Domain always paying pennies on the dollar, his property was stolen. However, he could have been compensated for Fair Market Value (in cash), whereas the farm was a terrestrial source of wealth for the farmers. So, by seizing the land (for the third time) and giving it back to Horowitz, the "Tax Payers" (supposedly) didn't have to shoulder the costs of the damages done to Mr Horowitz.

Until you factor in the cost of the next round of forced-poverty motivated riots in South Central, crime, and the fact that these wards of the Welfare State were un-welfaring themselves. Economics is not a zero-sum game, except when real wealth is destroyed. Whereas Horowitz' engine of wealth creation is the act of investment, the farmers' was laboring the land. Both parties' sources of wealth could have been respected in this instance (with both parties' creation of wealth being substantial enough to overcome and outpace the 'inefficiencies' of the State). Instead, the State did what the State does best: redistributed wealth (again), and clubbed poor people.

On the plus side, Progress - for those who believe in such a thing - was not stopped. Where there is (again) a vacant lot, there might soon stand a paragon of jobs creation: a Forever 21 distribution center. So, the families that once alleviated grinding poverty by growing their own food and teaching their children about farming, will soon be lucky enough to work in a modern factory (still in grinding poverty - materially and spiritually), making cheap shit in the day time, and shoveling said cheap shit back into the ground at the local dump by night (since they'll need a second job to subsidize their new diet of Doritos, Taco Bell, and Ho-Hos). Luckily, they need not worry about their kids while working the extra job. That's because being one of the Productive Members of Society and a Tax Payer means they get all the benefits that come with such honors: their burdensome children can be raised by South Central's finest public education facilities during the day, but also by their children's very own peers by night. Hazah!

Anyway, my point is that Ralph Horowitz was hardly the only victim in all this, and that the State's handling of this (or rather, its mere existence) was the problem start to finish - no matter how far back you go. Although, I do think Horowitz is an asshole, because instead of suing the State for damages, his course of action was perpetuating the myth of zero-sum economics, as well as the cycle of State-sponsored wealth destruction and redistribution. I also think he's an asshole for being such a cartoon caricature of the wealthy landlord/railroad baron fucking the peasant farmer, but that particular gripe is based on style, not principle (much like me calling some of the farmers "ché-tards").