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Call for more urban farms

Merdies Hayes | 6/15/2017, midnight

In citing the recent notoriety and early success of Ron Finley’s urban agricultural enclave in the Crenshaw District, the Los Angeles City Council this week tentatively approved an ordinance to grant tax relief to city farmers and encourage them to transform empty lots into urban farms.

The vote was 10-0 on first reading, two votes short of the number needed for immediate approval. A second vote will be taken next week.

Under the Urban Agricultural Incentive Zones Act (UAIZ), cities may establish agricultural zones where property owners who allow their land to be used for agricultural purposes for a minimum of five years can receive a property tax adjustment and be reassessed at the average statewide irrigated agriculture land rate.

“We are finally going to have a powerful new tool that promotes the transformation of neglected parcels of land into thriving gardens,” said Councilman Curren D. Price Jr. “I, personally, am very excited because the Ninth District alone, which I represent, has 3,000 vacant lots. Our children, families and seniors will all get to benefit from the improved, ready access to fresh fruits and vegetables;. Today, we are one step closer to building stronger, healthier communities by providing equitable food access to all.”

Price introduced the motion to create the ordinance with former Councilman Felipe Fuentes. Urban farmers and community groups say the new policy will encourage more food growing in neighborhoods lacking in fresh food access, one strategy they agree is important for addressing conditions advocates describe as “food apartheid” or “food desert” particularly in South Los Angeles. In Watts, the MudTown agricultural collective broke ground in February, spanning 2.5 acres to include a cannery, general store and a roadside produce stand.

The county Board of Supervisors adopted the Urban Agricultural Incentive Zones Act in 2016, which cleared the way for any of the 88 cities in the county to create incentive zones.

“We see (urban agricultural zones) as a restorative measure to advance equity and justice in the city of L.A. by repurposing vacant properties in historically disenfranchised and divested communities and repurposing them towards being able to grow food, promote economic enterprises, promote economic development and support social cohesion in communities,” said Breanna Hawkins, the Los Angeles Food Policy Council’s policy director.

One possible beneficiary of the use of abandoned urban parcels comes from the Ninth District. Crystal Gonzalez, program director of Roots for Peace (a program of American Friend’s Service Committee) is partnering with an affordable housing developer and All People Christian Church to create a new community garden.

“Our Food Growers Network residents in Historic South Central have had their eyes on empty lots for the use of farming for over three years,” Gonzalez said. “The new policy encouraged a local developer to lease to us to make this dream a reality. The land is near the company’s affordable housing site and adjacent to our existing garden. It’s an exciting opportunity for everyone involved.”

With the passage of the policy, the Los Angeles Department of Urban Planning will begin accepting applications, which will be sent to the County of Los Angeles for final approval. Los Angeles is the fourth city in California to fully adopt the UAIZ program, and the first city to do so in Los Angeles County.