Photo: Jed Wolf
The South Central Farm Saga Continues
(This article follows the continuing development surrounding Los Angeles’ South Central Farm. For more information, read our earlier coverage about The Movement to Reclaim the South Central Farm.)
The saga continues. What will become of Los Angeles’ largest remaining vacant lots? Will the city build another industrial complex or will the roots of the South Central Farm (SCF), planted nearly 25 years ago, grow into a monument of sustainability?
On Wednesday, at Los Angeles City Hall, the City Planning Department Deputy Advisory Agency, represented by hearing officer Jordann Turner and Ray Saidi from the Department of Engineering, held a hearing to “obtain testimony from affected and/or interested persons” and discuss the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) relating to PIMA Alameda Partners’ (an apparel conglomerate of Poetry, IMPACT, Miss Me and ACTIVE) proposed development project at 4051 S Alameda Street.
If the Report is certified, PIMA would be able to begin the process of building four separate design and distribution warehouse facilities on the 14-acre plot, once home to the largest urban garden in the country.
The EIR certification process was previously delayed, primarily due to concerns about traffic and air quality impacts associated with additional trucks coming and going from the proposed facilities. Prior to the hearing, the Department of City Planning said they recommend approving the certification if the total number of permissible truck trips was changed from 264 per day to no more than 75.
PIMA’s legal representative, Patrick Perry, argued that there isn’t adequate legal claim to substantiate rejecting the building proposal.
“What we are proposing is an industrial project…on a property that is designated and zoned for light manufacturing [and] light industrial use,” he said. “It complies with all development standards.”
Although law does not require it, PIMA emphasized the social and economic benefits they claim the warehouses would have on the community.
Julie Yu, the daughter of Tony Yu – founder of IMPACT – defended the integrity of her father’s business, which now employs over 250 people. PIMA isn’t a big bad “corporation” but a group of “family run businesses” formed by people who came here “chasing the American dream,” she said.
“My father is very proud of being able to manufacture domestically and have the ‘made in U.S.A’ label.”
The companies pride themselves on how they treat their employees. For example, Miss Me provides workers with 10 vacation days, 24 hours sick leave, healthcare benefits, discounts on merchandise and “everybody gets free lunch.”
The building itself “is gonna be one of the nicest developments built in the city of LA,” said Richard Lucas, a CEG Construction representative working for PIMA. The buildings will be equipped with solar panels, over 100 bike parking spaces, “future electric vehicle charging stations,” sky lights and lighting that will adjust to the amount of natural light. They are also located near public rail transit routes, although there is no bus stop in the area. The building will meet the city’s green building standards, Lucas said.
PIMA’s supporters added that the project would generate substantial property tax revenue for the city.
“If they fulfill the goals that are laid out in their plan, there is no way we can reject it,” said Derrick Mims, District Director for the neighborhood’s assembly member Reggie Jones-Sawyer.
The Voice of the Farm
“What I hear is a project that is not going to be that harmful for the environment or the community,” said South Central Farm advocate, Nicole Nelson. “What we need is a project that will heal the environment and the community, not another warehouse.”
The former mayor of Santa Monica, Michael Feinstein, made an appearance to oppose the development. The city of Los Angeles has explicitly illuminated the “competing goals of open space conservation and development,” he said. The city’s open space element talks about how “park acquisition is limited due to existing patterns of development and lack of funding.”
South East and South Central LA are some of the city’s poorest regions, and lack access to healthy food and substantial open green-space. The city’s open space element emphasizes the importance of “community stability,” said the former mayor, and the unifying benefits of installments such as “community gardens and farmers markets… a bit of an irony there.”
Feinstein also suggested adding some park space on the property if the project is built. Marie Campbell, the president of the environmental compliance firm that PIMA hired for the project, refuted this idea. She recounted the fact that instead of building court mandated open space, equivalent to 2.6 acres, on the land the former owner, Mr. Horowitz, paid the city an in lieu fee of $3.6 million, in 2011, to fund local area parks. The city essentially took the money instead of a public park. PIMA also made a good faith donation of $2 million that allegedly went to revitalize the LA River Master Plan project.
Public Council representative Nicolas Muñoz stated concerns with the fact that there hasn’t been any specification about the type of jobs that would be offered or if they will provide opportunity to the community. “We do know that these jobs are in an industry that has a history of flagrant wage and hour violations,” stated Muñoz.
A young man who, when probed, claimed he was Ernesto Che Guevara, preached, in Spanish, to the group of PIMA’s Latino employees adorned in T-shirts with the printed words “For a Creative Job PIMA Made in LA.”
“I’ve worked with these factories and in the end they don’t pay… the owners are profiting and the city is profiting but these practice perpetuate exploitation and corruption,” said the revolutionary in Spanish.
From a technical standpoint, the opposition expressed concerns about the how additional truck trips and the new facility itself would increase pollution and congestion in the region, and emit greenhouse gases.
Additionally, If the facility plans to employ 1,000 people or more, the developers would have to go through an additional screening process, which considers regional impacts.
The project states that there will be 994 people on the premises at any given time. “I have to believe that with management and contractors this facility will house at least 1,000 people,” argued South Central Farm supporter Jack Neff, who claimed PIMA may be shortcutting additional red tape by underestimating the size of their workforce.
After roughly four hours of presentations and testimonies, the Deputy Advisory Agency representatives concluded to hold the decision “under advisement for two weeks,” during which the public is permitted to submit additional comments (email them to [email protected] or [email protected]).
Although Turner showed some signs of sympathy towards the farm supporters’ value-based claims, the postponement was attributed to technical issues.
Both Turner and Saidi questioned the feasibility of limiting truck traffic to no more than 75 trucks per day. PIMA’s lawyer explicitly stated that at least three of the buildings have been designed to accommodate multiple tenants; whereas the current project intends to house a single tenant company in each of the four proposed buildings. The combined daily truck trips from PIMA’s current operations amount to no more than 33, so, Perry argued, there shouldn’t be a problem with the trucks.
“When I see truck trip 76 who am I going after?” questioned Turner, who openly doubted whether there would actually be only one tenant in each building.
The wording of the draft should hold someone accountable for violating the truck trip limit, added Saidi, “that would at least reduce the risk of having additional trucks in the future.”
Over the next two weeks, the Deputy Advisory Agency will review the testimonies, the truck dilemma, and PIMA’s request to merge a public road onto the property, which would give them approximately one free acre of land.
Does the Farm Have a Chance?
Amidst the hearing’s commotion, John Quigley, ariel art activist and long time SCF supporter, formally presented himself as the spokesperson for a “buyers group,” which aims to purchase the land for the farm.
In response, Peter Perry claimed that he had heard nothing about the proposed acquisition prior to the hearing and said, “as far as I’m concerned the property’s not for sale.”
After the meeting was adjourned, Quigley approached Perry and requested the opportunity to discuss the potential sale of the property. Perry obliged.
“We have a chance. It’s a small chance but we have a chance,” said Quigley with a grin.