Disputed L.A. Garden Is Plowed Under

Supporters of the South Central Urban Garden rush after a bulldozer to stop it from destroying land, Wednesday, July 5, 2006, in Los Angeles. AP Photo/Ric Francis

A bulldozer plowed down the greenery of a 14-acre urban garden despite the efforts of protesters who tried to save the inner-city plots that had been farmed for years.

"This project took 14 years to build," 20-year-old Alberto Tlatoa lamented Wednesday as he clutched the perimeter fence of the garden, where his family grew fruit and vegetables for eight of those years.

Demolition came three weeks after authorities evicted growers and celebrity supporters who defied the efforts of landowner Ralph Horowitz to reclaim the property.

The effort attracted the support of activists and celebrities including Daryl Hannah, Joan Baez and tree-sitter Julia Butterfly Hill.

A small group of protesters rushed the bulldozer as it entered the garden and several climbed aboard, but were forced down by security guards.

Police spokeswoman April Harding said eight protesters were arrested for trespassing and vandalism for shoving vegetables in the bulldozer's exhaust pipe and chaining it to prevent it from moving. The incident damaged the machine.

Two also would face battery charges for punching the bulldozer driver and throwing a milk crate at an officer, she said. The officer and driver were not hurt, Harding said.

Earlier, one protester chained himself to the bulldozer and firefighters had to cut him loose. Another was arrested for lying down in front of the bulldozer.

"What was once a beautiful set of gardens ... will now be a pile of rubble," said Dan Stormer, an attorney for the farmers.

The confrontation came a week before a judge is scheduled to hear a lawsuit over the sale and ownership of the land. The legal action challenges the city's sale of the land to Horowitz, arguing it was undervalued.

Horowitz originally owned the property, but the city seized it through eminent domain in the 1980s. When the city's plans for the land fell through, it passed control to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, which arranged for the garden plots.

Horowitz sued, and the city settled in 2003 by selling the property back to him for $5 million, just over the $4.8 million it paid when it took the land away.

A judge agreed in May to evict the people still gardening on the property. Since then, dozens of protesters have been arrested.

"We are not going to surrender to all these acts of psychological harassment and intimidation," protest organizer Dele Ailemen said. "Our people believe our cause is just."
  • Andrew Bridgman

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