Enclosure comes to Los Angeles
Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 17 years ago, in 2006, on the World Wide Web.
The news from Los Angeles is that everything old is new again.
The 14-year effort to establish an urban farm in the heart of South Los Angeles came to an end today when authorities evicted the farmers, as well as some celebrities who were supporting them by keeping vigil on the land.
The eviction occurred during a frenzied day both at the farm site and at City Hall as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other city leaders negotiated with the landowner through the morning, failing to reach a deal to save the farm even though the mayor said they had come up with the owner’s $16-million asking price
… About 50 deputies arrived at the property about 5 a.m. and used bolt cutters to remove locks and gain access to the 14-acre property near 41st and Alameda streets. At least a dozen people had remained inside the farm, some chained under trees and others locking hands around 55-gallon drums filled with concrete. At least 40 people were arrested at the site.
… After the 1992 riots, the city leased the land to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, which began the community garden. In 2003, the city sold the land back to Horowitz for about $5 million.
… The site has a contentious history. The city acquired the land from Horowitz through eminent domain in the 1980s for a planned trash incinerator, but the project was stopped by neighborhood opposition.
After the 1992 riots, the city leased the land to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, which began the community garden. In 2003, the city sold the land back to Horowitz for about $5 million.
But the farmers did not leave. In the last three years, and particularly in recent weeks, the farmers have pleaded to stay despite Horowitz’s plans to sell the land for development.
— Hector Becerra, Los Angeles Times (2006-06-13): Farmers, Celebrities Evicted From Urban Plot
The Times’s story has a major defect: it seriously distorts the history of the title to the lot, and dramatically overstates Ralph Horowitz’s personal claim to the land prior to the 1985 eminent domain seizure. The New Standard‘s History of the South Central Farm has a much more accurate and detailed rundown of the site’s history, and the shady means that Horowitz used to get the city to entitle him to the land. The precis is that, some twenty years ago the city government stole some land from a group of private owners. Ralph Horowitz was a partner in a real estate investment firm that owned about 80% of the land that was stolen. The city government planned to use the land for a garbage incinerator, but abandoned the plan, in the face of neighborhood opposition, in 1987. The lot remained abandoned for seven more years, when working folks from the neighborhood set up on the unused land, established gardens and cultivated the land in the lot. Some 350 families in South Central L.A., many of them Hispanic immigrants, now grow their own food on the land. Seven years later, in 2001, Ralph Horowitz went to court to try to force the city to sell the land to him — all of it, apparently, not just whatever share had belonged to him personally when the city government took the land. After two years of legal fighting, the city government cut a closed-door deal with Horowitz, declaring him the absentee landlord in return for a $5 million pay-off. Horowitz planned to force the farmers off of
his land, so he could
develop it by tearing down the farms they had spent the past decade cultivating and putting up a warehouse on the seized land for — guess who? — good old Wal-Mart. After another three years of court fights, he has just called in the city goons to force the farmers off their land once and for all.
Here’s the Times, giving us the neo-mercantilist view of the proceedings:
Some in the community support him, arguing that the area would benefit from the jobs that would come if the land were developed.
Thanks to this textbook example of weasel-wording, we can’t single out the
some in the community for the derision they so richly deserve. But we can, at least, single out the L.A. Times for uncritically repeating the idiot notion that farmland that’s been cultivated for a decade and a half hasn’t been
developed, and for declining to mention whether the 350 families who grow their own food in their own garden are keen on sacrificing their own primary food source for the sake of
Meanwhile, the editorialists at the Times, apparently gunning for a mention in Kevin Carson’s
Vulgar Libertarianism Watch, defended the shredding of property rights in favor of Horowitz’s government-granted property entitlement. We are told that
Horowitz’s actions will not qualify him for a humanitarian of the year award. But it’s still his land, and that means he can sell it to whomever he chooses. If it were his, then of course he could use it as he sees fit, or sell it as he sees fit, or, if he wants to, sit on it and twiddle his thumbs all day. But by what right does the lot belong to him? Because he
bought it from the city government? But the city government cannot sell what it does not own; and how by what right did it belong to them? Because they stole it, fair and square?
Or is it because he used to own the land, before the city stole it from him? Well, he didn’t own it, actually — not all of it. He owned a share in the 80% of the land that belonged to his and his partners’ investment company, but his prior ownership gives him no personal claim at all to his partners’ share of the 80% of the land, let alone to the 20% of the land that did not belong to their company. And whatever share of the land did rightfully belong to him no longer does. Horowitz may very well have a legitimate claim against the city government for stealing land which belonged partly to him.
Eminent domain is theft, and Horowitz was one of the victims. But the city government cannot pay off that debt by
selling back the land out from under the people who have been occupying and cultivating the land for more than a decade. The Times, for its part, derides the fact that
The main argument of the protesters seems to be that because the farmers have been squatting for more than a decade on property they don’t own, they have earned the right to stay there permanently. But
property they don’t own could mean either of two things. Squatting on property that somebody else owns gets you no rights to the property. But squatting on property that nobody owns certainly does; how else should people gain ownership over unclaimed and abandoned lands? What gives farmers the right to stay on their farms is not the fact that they’re squatting on someone else’s land; it’s that, by squatting on an abandoned lot, they became the rightful owners — the city and Horowitz’s piratical agreements over how to divvy up the booty notwithstanding.
So it goes — another robber baron manages to destroy whatever good things working folks in South Central L.A. have managed to build for themselves, and pays a few million to hire the city’s goons to enforce it. The gardens that folks have spent 14 years tilling and growing are torn up in front of their eyes so that a politically-connected real estate developer can put up another warehouse on their land, all in the name of
the area. Meanwhile hucksters pretending to defend property rights come out for the armed defense of arbitrary fiefdoms granted by the city government, and against the rights of the politically dispossessed to homestead abandoned land and enjoy the fruits of their own labor. And a few years down the road, when the
jobs and the
development have come and gone and changed not much of anything, the privileged hand-wringers will go on wringing their hands and wondering why
those people in South Central L.A. are so badly off, and the
Libertarian Dems among them will wonder why can’t the government please do something to help those poor, benighted folks out? Or, as brownfemipower puts it:
But most of all, I am outraged that all the fucking ignorant white folks of the world will continue to look down on people of color and theirurbancommunities with disgust and superiority–and ask so innocently,How canLike that, of course beingthosepeople live like that?typicalnigger/spic/gook behavior like trash on the streets, piss in the elevators, burned out houses, etc etc etc. When every damn thing you ever cared about and took care of is brutally ripped from your fingers and you are told tosay thank youfor that brutal comandeering WHY THE FUCK IN HOLY HELL ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO KEEP CARING, KEEP TRUSTING, KEEP WORKING TO MAKE THINGS BEAUTIFUL?????
WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO LOVE? WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO TAKE CARE OF WHEN WE KNOW THAT EVERY THING WE LOVE, EVERYTHING WE TOUCH, EVERYTHING WE EAT AND BREATH, IS OWNED BY SOMEBODY ELSE WHO CAN TAKE IT AWAY FROM US AT ANY TIME WITH THE VIOLENT HELP OF THE STATE?
— brownfemipower, Women of Color Blog (2006-06-13): L.A. community garden lost to capitalism
The South Central Farmers have contact information, in case you’d like to let Ralph Horowitz and the L.A. city government know what you think of their recent renewal of the Enclosure Movement. You can also make a tax-deductible donation to the Farmers’ efforts to ransom the farm back from Horowitz; if they can’t raise enough to meet Horowitz’s asking price, your donation will be returned to you.
Rad Geek /#
As a sort of P.S., I should note that readers with a discerning eye might notice that what I say about Horowitz’s claims to land stolen from him by the city government seems to conflict with what I argued about compensation for victims of land theft in GT 2006-02-09: Collectivism and Compensation. Actually, I don’t think my claims are inconsistent: there are at least three salient differences between Ralph Horowitz’s situation and the situation of the victims in the hypothetical I discussed with Tim Starr, each of which tends to undercut Horowitz’s right to recover the land itself as restitution for the theft. I’ll leave the question of what those differences are as an exercise for the reader, unless someone demands a spoiler.
This is the best analysis of this issue that I have seen. Thank you.
Phil R /#
Mises picked up this story, with a predictably different spin. I’d be curious to see what they’d make of your take, but I figured I’d let you decide if you wanted to head over there rather than just linking and pasting a blurb to the message board.
This sort of situation, to me, is why having a view of ownership no more clearly defined than “property” and “not property” doesn’t really clarify a lot of real life situations. A more nuanced set of ideas is needed.
Really, no one can be said to permantly own anything. We’re just using it until we die.
I hope the South Central Farmers manage to hold onto their farm.
Brad Spangler /#
“A more nuanced set of ideas is needed.”
I disagree. That land belongs to the farmers under the most correct application of the version of property rights theory the Mises Institute is supposed to be promoting — but isn’t.
Refer also to my comments on the Mises blog.
The last thing we need is more “nuances” muddying the waters when the elite are stealing from the common people.
I’m far more interested in the debate over the extent to which Horowitz was himself the actual owner. Apparently he was a PARTIAL owner of 4/5 of the land (and is this 4/5 diffused throughout, or a contiguous block, etc.) That seems to be the clincher in the direction of squatter/farmer legitimacy.
So although it’s probably not likely, assuming that Horowitz is a legitimate owner of the land – and purchasing from the state is not necessarily unjust/theft, especially of previously non-homesteaded land (they decree it all theirs anyway) – I don’t see how the squatters/farmers have a right to be the recipient of stolen property. If my bike is taken and sold to someone else, though the recipient is not the true villain, they have no right to continue to possess it.
Brad, in your post at Mises you say that once the property comes into the hands of the state, it becomes unowned. But I don’t see how. (My bike is not now unowned – it still rightly belongs to me.) I had understood the idea of state-property-being-unowned to only apply to that which state agents have decreed theirs or homesteaded without prior legit owners, and not actually stolen from anyone.
“…when working folks from the neighborhood set up on the unused land.”
Hm, unused eh? That also works in favor of the farmers/squatters. The land in fact hadn’t even been homesteaded, which is of course how one asserts original ownership to begin with.
Brad, for every one time there’s a clear-cut property justification for people using land in a fair and reasonable way, there’s dozens of instances of people being evicted with the help of state power when the Landlord has a relatively legitimate claim to “property”.
My point is that even if Horowitz did have clear title to the Land, but wasn’t using it, it still wouldn’t be his to do with as he pleases.
Brad Spangler /#
“Brad, in your post at Mises you say that once the property comes into the hands of the state, it becomes unowned.”
I won’t leave out the possibility that I’m misinformed, but as I understand it that is the orthodox Rothbardian position.
Victims of takings are due restitution and that restitution should ideally take the form of restoration of their particular stolen property.
In this case, though, the return of the particular property is not possible without committing a second theft from the farmers.
If you record the serial number of a bill of currency used to pay your taxes, you have no business confiscating that bill from me if I get it back from the government in a tax refund — even if it turns out to be a rare bill with collector value far in excess of the face value and even though taxation is theft.
To assert otherwise would be to DENY FOREVER the possibility of privatization of state assets.
This is good information, but I’m curious about one aspect: What did the leaseholder, the LA Regional Food Bank, do when the city sold the parcel back to the investor? What were the terms of their lease (yearly? a decade? month-to-month)? Was the rent approximately what the city would have recieved in tax payments, or was it an expediency like a “$1 per year” lease? Was there always an option for the city to sell the plot from under the lease to any buyer? Did the food bank disclose to the sub-leasing farmers any of these considerations?
It seems that either the LA Regional Food Bank would be organizationally interested in maintaining the farms, or it’s a pseudo-government shell and legalistic fig leaf that existed to execute some legalistic steps. Either is the way it is. But how I feel about the farmers’ rights really depends upon the rights, privileges and activities of the food bank organization with respect to the land.
Rad Geek /#
I think it was a mistake for Brad to suggest that any piece of property that the government succeeds in seizing and claiming title to thereby becomes unowned. My understanding of Rothbard’s claims about government property have a lot to do with the fact that in many cases the property was previously unowned (in the case of uncultivated lands that the government arrogated the right to), or else the rightful original owner of the property is not even in principle identifiable (because the rightful owners of many pieces of government “property” would be the people whose money was stolen to fund it; but that money came out of a tax slush fund where you cannot non-arbitrarily determine whose money was used to build what project). There are cases where the victims are identifiable and where they have a direct claim to the property. This may have been the case for Horowitz as a victim of land theft in 1985. But I do think that Brad’s right in this case. Although Horowitz is identifiable as a former partial owner of the land, he left the land abandoned for almost ten years before the farmers showed up, and then left it abandoned for another seven years while they worked it, before he even so much as made a public attempt to recover it. When he did make the attempt, he made no indication that he regarded the city government’s piratical “title” to the land as anything other than legitimate, and he sought to “buy” that title from them, not to recover his own stolen property. (This is reflected, among other things, in his claim to sole ownership over all the land, not just to whatever share actually belonged to him in 1985.) When the farmers started farming in 1994, I think that the land was unarguably abandoned by its former legitimate owners, and since the city has not got property rights in anything, the land could be considered available for homsteading by whomever personally occupied it and transformed it by their labor. Which in this case means the farmers.
Since the land was now rightfully owned by other people in virtue of their use of it, Horowitz cannot rightfully recover it as compensation for the theft — any more than the homeowners or shopkeeps victimized by a land theft on behalf of Wal-Mart could come back 15 years later and blow up the store to evict the “trespassers” and recover their former land.
And since the city never rightfully owned the land to begin with, Horowitz could not buy it from them as he claims he did in 2003. All that he bought with his $5,000,000 was the piratical “title” to the city’s booty. And I don’t dispute that he’s the owner of that, and can rightfully redeem it for exactly what it’s worth.
The details of the Food Bank’s arrangements with the city, and communications with the farmers, might be interesting from the standpoint of historical trivia or points for a brief in court. But I do not think it is relevant at all to the question of justice. Since the city government never had rightful ownership to the land, whatever agreements that the Food Bank made with them over the use of it are mere idle wind. The farmers themselves are severally the rightful owners of the land — not the Food Bank as an organization — by virtue of their personal occupancy and labor on abandoned land.
Otto Kerner /#
Dain has made the only point worth making, I think, which is the question of how Mr. Horowitz and his partners came to own undeveloped land in the first place. Did they buy it from someone who homesteaded it, or what?
Aside from that question, I would have thought it otherwise obvious that trespassers should be bulldozed away if they invade somebody’s private property.
Rad Geek /#
Land owners do have the right to evict trespassers, but the point is that the farm is now rightfully the private property of the urban farmers. Horowitz is no longer the rightful owner of any of the land, not even whatever share of it he used to own prior to the theft from him(by forced sale) in 1985. While Horowitz has a legitimate claim for compensation against the city government, should he decide to demand it, he has no right to demand recovery of land out from under people who homesteaded it while it was abandoned and who have cultivated it for over a decade. And from a libertarian standpoint his current claim tothe whole lot by virtue of having it from the city government are worth less than nothing.
Of course, you could contest my claims that Horowitz is no longer the rightful owner of the land, but just referring to the right to evict trespassers won’t help.
Brad Spangler /#
I’m undecided over something.
What would your response be to the claim (my attempt to summarize stuff from the Mises thread) that since (some of) the land was involuntarily seized from Horowitz that his lack of action can not constitute abandonment (in a moral sense)?
At this point I am determined to know the actual physical state of the land that was, on paper, owned by Horowitz and company circa 1986. If they had actually begun homesteading the land by making some kind of obvious foundation for development then I believe the farmers have committed theft; especially in light of the fact that Horowitz didn’t abondon it, as per Brad above.
Also, his subsequent “cooperation” and granting of “legitimacy” to the state by offering to buy it back is not a sign of someone who has agreed to give up the property, but the actions of someone under duress. (Lysander Spooner…)
But on the other hand not ALL the land was his, and the extent of his personal portion of the 80% is unkown without more knowledge about the co-owners.
I contacted Jessica Hoffman from the New Standard, and she replied that she didn’t know what the state of the land was back in 86 just prior to ED. I’m waiting to hear back from the South Central Farmers themselves.
My hunch is that this will still work out in the farmers’ favor, as I’m sure the only “homsteading” action on the part of Horowitz and pals was a sign and maybe a small fence or something declaring the land to be more or less waiting to be homesteaded. (Like those signs “Future home of KFC”…months and years later.) This does not constitute original ownership. And just to put my cards on the table, I too am rooting for the farmers, and hope that my hunch is right.
Brad Spangler /#
“especially in light of the fact that Horowitz didn’t abondon it, as per Brad above.”
Just to clarify, I was only restating one position in the argument, one I don’t subscribe to yet.
My gut hunch remains that the land is the rightful property of the farmers.
My initial rationale for that has proven flawed, though (reference my comment posted 2 June 16, 2006 11:57 PM), so I wanted to ask RadGeek’s opinion of the arguments against his superior version of the pro-farmer case.
Rad Geek /#
I think the argument confuses Horowitz’s right to compensation for lost property (which he retains even though he acquiesced to the seizure for years) with his right to recover the actual property lost (which he does not necessarily retain if someone else establishes a legitimate moral claim to the land).
The ideal outcome for a process of restitution is to get the actual property back (plus damages for time and trouble), but victims cannot reclaim their property by taking it out from under third parties who (1) came to the property while it was effectively abandoned, and (2) have transformed it by occupancy and labor over a significant period of time.
When the farmers came to the land in 1994, it was unused, no-one in possession of the land had any effective plans to use it, and the claimants who might try to recover it (Horowitz et al.) were making no attempts to do so, had made none for years, and (as far as I know) made no public indication of an intent to make them in the future. They had no basis for treating the land as anything other than long abandoned by its former rightful owners. That it was abandoned under duress means that Horowitz does not count as having lost his right to demand compensation for the loss, but it does not mean that his claim to the land itself takes precedence over those who occupied and used it continuously for over a decade.
The case is just as if a band of marauders burned down Smith’s house and ran her off her farm, and then Jones came to it seven years later, while Smith has no active plans to return, managed to convince the marauders not to attack her, and set up her own farm on the old plot of land. If Smith later decides to return and try to recover the land, only to find that Smith has now using it for years, she retains her right to demand compensation from the marauders, but no right to seize the farm out from under Smith.
I think it’s interesting, incidentally, that Vince is urging the line of argument you suggest in the Mises thread, and arguing that both Horowitz and the farmers have moral claims to the land. If he recognizes that the farmers do have a moral claim to the land, then what gives Horowitz the right to bring in the city goon squad to haul them off the land once they were already in possession of it? If Vince’s position were correct, then it would be sad for Horowitz that he couldn’t exercise his moral claim (in the way that he wanted to) without violating the rights of the farmers, but Horowitz has no right to forciblyproperty from people who count as its rightful owners.
I’m not claiming that Horowitz’s surrender of the property to the city government, or his participation in the rituals of afrom it, constitute consent to the transfer. I agree that if that were the claim, Spooner’s objections against similar claims of tacit consent would condemn it beyond appeal. What I am claiming is that they constituted a long-standing abandonment of the property at the time that the farmers came to it and began to use it. That it was an involuntary abandonment is not the farmers’ fault, and does not count against their right to use the abandoned land, if Horowitz was not actively trying to recover it at the time that they were occupying and transforming it.
Incidentally, let me know what you find out about the use of the land prior to the city’s seizure of it. I do not think that the farmer’s right to the land turns on how it was being used or unused prior to 1985, but I would be interested to know out of curiosity. One of the best places for you to look, if you can find it, would be the legal paper trail relating to the eminent domain seizure: from what I gather the formal basis for the seizure was a condemnation order by the city government, which might mean nothing more than thator whatever was a handy excuse for making the seizure at the time, or which might mean that the lot actually was vacant or otherwise abandoned.
Brad Spangler /#
If anyone is in LA and can do research on the ground, it appears that the records for the land can be found at the EAST DISTRICT Office of the LA County Assessor, 1190 Durfee Avenue, South El Monte, CA 91733.
Unless I am mistaken, my research appears to indicate the Assessor ID Numbers for the two plots of land are 5117-021-023 and 5117-021-020.
By way of explanation, what we’d be looking for would be old tax records for those two lots prior to 1985.
All property tax assessments will contain valuations for both the land AND improvements (buildings, et cetera).
A vacant lot has a valuation of “$0” listed for improvements, of course.
If as far back as records go, improvements are listed as “$0” — then while that wouldn’t be a perfect indication the land had never been homesteaded, it would count as a preponderance of the evidence indicating so.
That, if true, would mean that the original official title of Horowitz would have to be discounted as a fraudulent statist fiction among honest libertarians.
Jeez, you all get very into the theoretical stuff.
The odds are, the land title was granted to someone by Spain, then was divided up and sold over time. The land was ED’s by the City, and H was compensated.
The City had title of it until 2003, when it sold it to H. There’s some implication that the City had to sell it back because the incinerator wasn’t built, but I’m not convinced that this would hold up in court. H lobbied the City Council for the land, but they never gave it up. The deal had to be brokered by Rockard Delgadillo.
The big scam is that H got the land for approximately the price at which he sold it. In that interim, the value of the land tripled.
I don’t think there was any valid reason for doing that. Some may belive that, somehow, you should get the land back at the old price. It has the ring of moral rightness to it. However, it’s somewhat absurd to paint H as a victim of the government. In the interim, H could have invested his $5 mil into other properties, and profitted from market gains.
So, really, H got a free $10 million profit, at the City’s (and taxpayer’s) expense. I’m sure that H is LAUGHING all the way to the bank, espeically at the so-called libertarians.
Now, I bet he’s laughing again, because he was able to potentially extract $11 from the situation. What a scam artist!
The most disgusting part of all this is that there is a credible rumor going around that H was doing Jan Perry’s bidding, in exchange for an opportunity to develop a shopping center on a parcel of land that was ED’d several years ago. Perry needed the Farmers neutralized. She also wanted to cut off the legs of the group involved in the development, Concerned Citizens of South Central LA, who recently lost their leader (and, I imagine, their political power).
Otto Kerner /#
The crux of the matter is that we don’t agree that cities can own the title to things. We’re trying to tease out the implications of that idea as far as who gets the land now.
(Just to clarify: no one, I think, involved in this discussion here, thinks that exactly the right thing was done. Clearly, nothing gives Ralph Horowitz as an individual a claim to the entire plot. In my mind, the question is whether Horowitz + his firm’s other partners have a just claim to 80% of it.)
Sounds like the farmers have rights under “adverse poscession” where a person has rights to propertyr that they have used and improved without dispute for a period of time. Have heard of several instances where someone bought a remote property, didn’t visit it for years and when they did found somone living there and found that they had lost all rights to it.
Rad Geek /#
While the farmers’ use of the land was long enough to meet the standards for adverse possession under California’s positive law–California requires only 5 years ofadverse possession–I don’t think that they could build a legal case around such a claim, for a couple of reasons. First, the California laws generally require a claimant to have paid property taxes on the land which she is adversely occupying. Second,after July 1994 the farmers were supposedly using the land with the permission of the (that is, the L.A. Harbor Department) through a lease to the L.A. Regional Food Bank. Adverse possession only comes into effect if the possession of the land is and i.e., done openly without or against the permission of the land’s owner.
From the standpoint of justice, I think both of these factors have no significance: taxation is theft and surrendering taxes is never a condition on property rights; and the city government has no right to own any property at all, and it cannot lease what it does not own, so any agreements between them and the food bank are mere idle wind. But, for the same reasons, there’s no special reason why the arbitrary time limit that the California state government set for a transfer of title is the right limit to set, and if one favored longer time limits (such as the 15-20 years typical of east coast states), or no time limit at all, then the farmers wouldn’t have been around long enough to make a claim, and the fact that California law says such-and-such would have no bearing on the matter at all.
That said, I do favor shorter time limits for adverse possession over longer ones (and I also favor standards based on the degree of transformation of the land more than I favor standards based on arbitrary astronomical magnitudes). So I’d tend to agree with you that the sort of reasoning behindstatutes is similar to the sort of reasoning that justifies the farmers’ claims.