LOS ANGELES, Calif.–After an hour of emotional testimony, the Los Angeles City Council today scrapped a proposed new park on the site of the famed South Central Farm in favor of a $3.6 million investment in nearby existing parks.

The council voted 12-0 to approve a plan to accept the money from the landowner, real estate developer Ralph Horowitz, instead of requiring him to put a 2.6-acre park on the site near 41st and South Alameda streets. The money will go into a special fund that can only be used for recreation and parks purposes.

The vote allows Horowitz to proceed with a plan to sell the full 14-acre site to a group of clothing manufacturers who plan to build warehouse and office space.

Nearly 200 residents and stakeholders supporting the plan cheered its approval, while opponents erupted in a chant of “No more warehouses in South Central!”

The vacant land in South L.A. was first seized by the city in 1986 under eminent domain to build a trash incinerator known as Los Angeles City Energy Recovery, or Lancer, project. The incinerator was never built, and residents in the heavily industrial Alameda corridor began using the Lancer site as a community garden beginning in the mid-1990s.

A court settlement in 2003 forced the city to sell the land to Horowitz, under the condition that he create a small park on the site.

Horowitz forced the farmers off the land in 2006. The city provided an alternative community garden space at 111th Street and Avalon Boulevard on Department of Water and Power property.

The vote today allows Horowitz to sell the Lancer site to a collective of four clothing manufacturers, which Councilwoman Jan Perry said would create jobs–300 construction jobs and 600 permanent jobs in the factories and office headquarters.

The group known as PIMA is in escrow to purchase the property from Horowitz. PIMA has committed to a local hiring provision to ensure that 30 percent of the construction and permanent jobs go to area residents.

Perry, who argued for the park in 2003, said it has become clear the industrial zone would make a poor location for a new greenbelt. Instead, she said, the city should focus on improving deteriorating parks in adjacent residential areas.

The city will use the $3.6 million to improve green space and park and exercise equipment at nearby parks, including space at the public housing project Pueblo Del Rio and nearby Fred Roberts and Ross Snyder parks.

Perry called the plan a win-win situation.

“It will help create new jobs at a time when they are desperately needed and bring vital resources to parks that can use the funds immediately to implement improvements,” she said.

South Los Angeles has suffered from decades of bad zoning that created an unhealthy patchwork of community and industrial uses, Perry said. She also said the Lancer site is between two roads that get heavy truck traffic, which would make for bad air quality in the park.

Los Angeles Police Department Senior Lead Officer Rick Madrigal told the council the park location would have been dangerous for the majority of children and families that would have had to cross the Metro Blue Line in order to access the park.

Residents who gardened on the site before 2006 told the council that they had been duped by Perry. Some accused her of working out a back-room deal to claim job creation at the expense of the health of residents in her district.

“You’re voting for a cover-up,” Tezozomoc, a spokesman for farmers who formally worked the site, told the council.

“They’re bulldozing us for the second time,” he said. “Jan Perry has set this up to be about cheap jobs versus the needs of the residents of the community.”

Tezozomoc said his coalition plans to try to stop the development when it comes before the Planning Commission for approval.

Residents of Pueblo Del Rio and other stakeholders, however, testified in favor of the plan, saying the community badly needs jobs, and the neighborhood’s existing parks are decaying and need improvement.

“The parks have have been sorely neglected for decades and are in complete disarray,” said Vivian Bowers, who owns a South L.A. dry-cleaning business and is president of the Central Avenue Business Association. “Before we put in something new, let’s address the existing, which will help the majority of residents as opposed to a small minority.”

By Richie Duchon | City News Service