From the Los Angeles Times
Forever 21 development on South Central Farm site is protested
Bulldozed garden's supporters demand stricter
environmental review and say profits and hefty donations from Forever 21 may
compromise L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa's judgment.By David Zahniser
Angeles Times Staff Writer
August 18, 2008
Two years after it was
bulldozed, the 14-acre Los Angeles community garden known as the South Central
Farm is being developed for a clothing chain with strong ties to Mayor Antonio
Forever 21, one of the city's fastest-growing women's
apparel businesses, wants a warehouse and distribution center on the site owned
by real estate developer Ralph Horowitz.
Supporters of the garden --
still angry that Horowitz tore it up despite support from such Hollywood
luminaries as Daryl Hannah and Danny Glover -- have been trying for weeks to
kill the proposed project by demanding more rigorous environmental
Villaraigosa, who championed the farm's preservation two years
ago, is staying out of the latest fight.
He has received nearly $1.3
million in contributions and commitments from Forever 21 and its executives over
the past two years for initiatives ranging from tree plantings to his own
That troubles the activist known as Tezozomoc, who
has used noisy protests and persistent lobbying to try to prevent development on
the land. He called Villaraigosa's relationship with Forever 21 "distressing for
the community" and voiced doubts about the sincerity of the mayor's effort to
save the farm two years ago.
Villaraigosa spokesman Matt Szabo said that
the mayor did "absolutely everything he could" to save the farm in 2006, but
that Horowitz wouldn't make a deal. Szabo said the mayor has no opinion on the
level of environmental review needed for the proposed Forever 21
"It's being treated like every other proposed project in the
city," he said.
The proposal for Forever 21 is the latest event in a
22-year political saga over a site once filled with cactus, fruit trees and
vegetable gardens. The effort to preserve it drew worldwide attention two years
ago, attracting celebrities such as folk singer Joan Baez and serving as the
subject of a documentary film.
The development proposal for the farm site
could force Villaraigosa to choose between activists willing to protest outside
his home and office and a business that has a huge effect on the region's
Forever 21 Senior Vice President Christopher Lee has said the
site at 41st and Alameda streets is critical to the expansion of his business,
which has been doubling each year.
If Forever 21 doesn't find a large
expanse of land soon, it could leave Los Angeles -- taking important
manufacturing jobs with it.
"That's going to be really detrimental to Los
Angeles because we pump in hundreds of millions of dollars here," said Lee, who
was recently appointed by the mayor to the city's Industrial Development
Lee and Forever 21 founder Don Chang were two of several
business leaders who accompanied Villaraigosa on his trade mission to Asia in
Six months later, Forever 21 gave $100,000 to Villaraigosa's
successful campaign to elect three school board members. In recent months, the
company agreed to give $1 million to Villaraigosa's Million Trees L.A.
initiative, which encourages residents to plant more trees.
also gave $150,000 to Villaraigosa's staging of the annual U.S. Conference of
Mayors meeting in Century City last year, a donation so significant that Lee was
given a speaking role at the event's closing reception at the Griffith Park
Tezozomoc said such contributions make it difficult for
Villaraigosa to deal fairly with the former farm site.
Szabo, on the
other hand, said the mayor has "an absolute obligation" to ask businesses such
as Forever 21 to contribute to such causes as a recent community cleanup on the
"I mean, we're talking about planting trees and donating
T-shirts for kids," Szabo said.
Supporters of the proposed development
say a distribution center would create much-needed jobs in South Los Angeles.
Foes say the neighborhood, which sits near the freight route known as the
Alameda Corridor, does not need more warehouses.
A city zoning officer is
expected to decide this month whether to require an environmental impact report
on the proposed distribution center, which probably would add a year to the
Opponents have forwarded hundreds of e-mails to the
city's planning department, saying the 2,400 daily truck trips expected to be
generated by the project merit a lengthier review.
"At this point, there
is no way any diesel-truck, industrial warehouse is going to do any good in that
community," said Leslie Radford, spokeswoman for the South Central Farm support
Radford contends the project would add to the neighborhood's
air pollution and create "dead-end jobs."
But Faye Washington, executive
director of the YWCA of Greater Los Angeles, said she was impressed with the
wages the company would pay. Her YWCA's Job Corps program is negotiating with
Forever 21 to try to make sure it would hire local residents.
Councilwoman Jan Perry, a longtime supporter of the project, said Villaraigosa's
clean truck program would significantly limit the emissions created by the
distribution center. She said most of the trucks driving to the Forever 21
facility would come from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, where trucks
will be required to have cleaner burning engines over the next 3 1/2
The fight over the 14-acre site dates back to 1986, when city
officials used the power of eminent domain to force Horowitz to sell his land so
a city incinerator could be built there. That plan was abandoned amid community
protests, and in the wake of the 1992 riots, the land was converted into a
community garden overseen by the Los Angeles Food Bank.
residents carved the site into tiny plots filled with vegetables, herbs and
flowers. But with the incinerator plan scrapped, Horowitz sued the city, buying
back the land in a settlement.
By then, the farm had become one of the
largest community gardens in the region.
Despite last-minute efforts by
Villaraigosa to have a nonprofit group acquire the land, Horowitz had the garden
demolished and its gardeners removed in 2006. It was a media spectacle:
Protesters and police squared off as helicopters hovered overhead.
two years of relative calm, Horowitz and the farmers are battling again.
Horowitz took his development plan to a public hearing last month. Activists,
some with baskets of fresh fruit, testified against it.