Lead Story West Edition

Urban farmers win legal battle with city officials

By Dorany Pineda

Contributing Writer

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Urban farmers and activists celebrated their lawsuit win Aug. 9 against the city of Los Angeles and the owners of a 14-acre plot in South Los Angeles challenging the city’s traffic and air pollution analysis of a new development project.

Residents of South L.A. and the South Central Farm Restoration Committee argued that the environmental impact report (EIR) on the warehouse and distribution center proposed for 41st Street and Alameda Avenue was not adequately conducted and that the city approved the project before the analysis was complete.

And a Los Angeles Superior Court judge agreed. The plaintiffs claimed that if constructed, the project would increase truck and car congestion, leading to critical levels of local pollution.

“The city’s methodology for considering cumulative impacts of new development is fundamentally flawed,” said Mitchell Tsai, the plaintiffs’ attorney, in a news release. “Instead of considering the potential cumulative impacts of only five already approved new developments in the project study area, Los Angeles needed to have considered the potential impacts of up to 82 projects already filed with the city in the project study area, but not yet approved.

“This kind of glaring omission grossly understates potential negative environmental impacts of new proposed developments in the region, and is one reason why traffic, pollution and congestion are such endemic problems in much of Los Angeles.”

The court ruling has renewed hope for residents and committee members in the reconstruction of the former South Central Farm on the plot.

“Winning this fight to get the EIR reevaluated means that we have another chance to say that we think there’s going to be more harm done in the neighborhood than good by building another warehouse in the area,” said Rosa Romero, a member of the South Central Farm Restoration Committee.

She and the other plaintiffs will now attempt to convince the City Council not to re-approve the project and to consider other locations for it.

The farm, which thrived from 1992 to 2006, was considered one of the nation’s largest urban farms and fed hundreds of South L.A. families. But the farm was sold in 2004 and farmers were evicted two years later.

The controversy and civil disobedience that ensued when the bulldozing began became the subject of a 2008 Academy Award-nominated documentary film called “The Garden.”

“Environmental impact reports are all about analyzing trade-offs,” Romero said. “This extended EIR process gives the Los Angeles City Council more time to consider issues of social equity and environmental justice regarding this historic parcel of land. We think when this is done, restoring the South Central Farm is the clear, best alternative for the site.”

Though city officials could not be reached for comment, Rob Wilcox, spokesman for City Attorney Mike Feuer, wrote to the Los Angeles Times that “the city prevailed on all but one ground and we believe we can easily comply with the court’s direction on the remaining issue.”

With the court ruling, the city will now have to revoke the approval of the warehouse and redo its EIR, Tsai said, but Wilcox said city officials were still evaluating whether the project would again have to be approved by the City Council.

Albert Tlatoa, a committee member whose family tended a plot of the garden, said following the court ruling that the farm had “provided local economic reliance and food security for the community.”

He continued in a press release, “Today, in a part of Los Angeles where traffic is failing and pollution is at already dangerous levels, the city should be looking at steps to mitigate that overall crisis by taking transformative actions like restoring the farm, not exacerbating the environmental crisis with yet another warehouse.”

Now, Tlatoa and the plaintiffs are looking into reclaiming the land.

“The plaintiffs remain ready and willing to raise money to purchasing the project site to be used as a farm,” Tsai said. “This is a big victory for the community, for open space and for recreation in an area that is seriously deprived of those kinds of resources.”

Though the fight over the farm isn’t over, neither are their demands for the well-being of their neighborhoods.

“I think that this project along with many other projects that are happening in the city and being fought against by the communities is just really looking at what we want to make a priority,” Romero said. “Are we just going to be looking at the economic sector or are we really looking at overall health in our communities?”