Image: Rufina Juarez, Julia Butterfly Hill
Damian Dovarganes  /  AP
Farm leader Rufina Juarez, left, takes over a vigil from activist Julia "Butterfly" Hill, who descends after a 19-day stay and 26-day fast in a tree Saturday at a 14-acre urban farm in south Los Angeles.
updated 6/13/2006 5:39:04 PM ET 2006-06-13T21:39:04

Dozens of sheriff’s deputies descended on an urban garden near downtown around daybreak Tuesday and began evicting farmers and their supporters from the 14-acre site, according to a sheriff’s spokesman.

“It’s a massive show of force,” said John Quigley, a veteran environmental activist and tree-sitter. “Our goal is to hold as firm as we can, obviously in a nonviolent manner.”

Quigley, speaking by cell phone, said he was securing himself in a large walnut tree as deputies swarmed below. Actress Daryl Hannah also was in the tree, and Quigley said perhaps 20 farmers and their supporters were inside the farm.

“I’m very confident this is the morally right thing to do, to take a principled stand in solidarity with the farmers,” Hannah said by cell phone. When asked if she was willing to risk arrest, she said, “I’m planning on holding my position.”

About 350 farmers tend produce and flowers on the privately owned land in the inner-city area surrounded by warehouses and train tracks. The garden has been around for several decades but the landowner, Ralph Horowitz, wants to replace it with a warehouse.

Dozens of officers show up
Sgt. Val Rosario of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said about 65 deputies from the civil management unit plus support staff including riot forces were on the scene to enforce an eviction order that a judge signed last month. He said he was not aware of anybody yet being arrested.

Deputies were using a saw to cut down the chain-link fence around the site. About two dozen protesters gathered outside the area across from the entrance, sporadically chanting, “We’re here and we’re not going to leave” in Spanish and blowing whistles. Some flooded onto a street and disrupted truck traffic. Many streets around the farm were shut down.

About a half-dozen people wore fluorescent green baseball hats with “National Lawyers Guild Legal Observer” on the front.

The effort to save the farm has attracted the support of numerous activists and celebrities, including Hannah, Quigley, folk singer Joan Baez and tree sitter Julia Butterfly Hill.

Supporters moved onto the property full-time in mid-May and occupied the walnut tree after the judge issued the eviction order.

Land changed hands several times
The roots of the dispute go back to the 1980s, when the city forced Horowitz to sell the land to for $4.8 million for a trash-to-energy incinerator. The project fizzled and the city turned the land over to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, which allowed people to begin gardening there after in the early 1990s.

Horowitz sued to get the site back and the city settled in 2003 by selling it to him for $5 million, slightly more than the $4.8 million he had been paid.

Garden supporters took legal action, but after a winning a temporary court order last year, an appellate court overturned that decision and the state Supreme Court last month decided against hearing the case.

In the meantime, Horowitz offered to sell the land for $16.3 million to the Trust. The group came up $10 million short when the purchase option expired May 22, and Horowitz got an eviction order.

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