A judge ruled Wednesday that a developer legally owns the land in South Los Angeles where residents had been growing fruits and vegetables for 14 years.
Judge Helen I. Bendix told a packed courtroom that the city's 2003 sale of the disputed 14 acres back to developer Ralph Horowitz was legal. Some of the gardeners blinked away tears, others dropped their faces into their hands.
If the judge had ruled against Horowitz, the city would have gotten the land and officials could have decided whether to restore the garden plots, which were bulldozed this month.
Dan Stormer, an attorney for the gardeners, said he thought there were substantial errors in the ruling and would appeal.
"They will not buckle," he said outside court of his clients.
"We are extremely disappointed with the decision," said Tezozomoc, who uses only one name and spoke at a news conference on behalf of the gardeners. "She gave very little consideration to 350 families who were surviving on this land. We will continue to fight; we will continue to struggle."
He added that people who had been using the land would keep raising money in hopes of buying it.
For his part, Horowitz expressed relief at the ruling. "I'm really glad it's over," he said, "because the press won't vilify me as much as they have for the past three years."
He plans to look for a tenant for the property, maybe a warehouse. Horowitz said he doubted that the gardeners could raise enough money to buy the site.
In 1986, Horowitz was forced to sell the land at 41st and Alameda streets to the city, which planned to build a trash incinerator. The city did not build on the site, and Horowitz eventually bought the land again for $5.1 million in 2003, nearly the same amount he got for it 17 years earlier.
During the 1990s, the site was converted into a community garden. Since then, hundreds of families have grown bananas, sugar cane and vegetables at the site.
In May, a judge agreed to evict the gardeners, leading to protests that included musician Joan Baez and actress Daryl Hannah. The gardeners were evicted June 13. They then sued, challenging Horowitz's ownership of the land.
Attorneys for the gardeners had argued that the city's settlement was a secret deal that undervalued the land by millions -- they estimated the value of the land from $8 million to $13 million -- and violated the gardeners' constitutional right of due process.
Addressing plaintiffs' lawyers' claims that the land was a waste of potential for public use, Bendix said that developing the site would create more than 200 jobs and that Horowitz had agreed to donate some of the land for a park. She also estimated the land's value at the time of the 2003 sale at $6 million.