The Southern California Flower Market in 1941.

By ELLEN ENDO, Rafu Shimpo

Each day in the early morning hours, while the rest of Downtown Los Angeles is barely awake, the Flower District is bustling with activity as growers arrive with their freshest florals and buyers rush to Seventh and Wall streets, intent on being first in line.

At the heart of the daily frenzy is the Southern California Flower Market (SCFM), a shareholder collective founded by immigrant Japanese flower growers and sellers in 1912. The L.A. Flower District, where the Flower Market is located, is the largest of its kind in the world. Initially, the growers leased the land in three-year increments because laws such as the California Alien Land Law of 1913 prevented immigrants from owning real estate.

More recently, the Flower Market leadership, facing rising costs and a deteriorating main structure, has embarked on a plan to develop the 3.9-acre property. Envisioned in the plan for a new flower market are a mixed-use complex encompassing a parking structure, retail space, food and beverage establishments, and a 12-story building with 323 units of housing, which would include 32 units of workforce housing.

For the past six years, SCFM has navigated the city’s gauntlet of reviews and requirements. A lawsuit brought by the AIDS Health Foundation in 2016 over deficiencies in the project’s environment impact report (EIR), relating to greenhouse gases and noise impacts, sought to derail the project, but today the Flower Market project is closer than ever to becoming a reality.

Last June, an L.A. County Superior Court judge responded to another complaint brought by AHF and issued a peremptory writ of mandate ordering the city to set aside its approval of plans for the mixed-use project. AHF, an organization that provides medical care to HIV and AIDS patients, has been active on the real-estate front in recent years.

“We had to go back and provide more clarification,” said Scott Yamabe of SCFM, adding that SCFM has worked diligently to address any remaining issues.

The City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee is accepting public comments in writing until Oct. 31. The project is currently going through Councilmember Kevin de Leon’s office, and the City Council is expected to consider it in December.

“We hope this is the final stage of the approval process,” said Yamabe, who states that due to the rising costs of maintenance, the property could be sold and/or the Flower Market moved elsewhere if the City Council fails to approve it.

A change.org petition urging the City Council to okay the project was launched earlier this week and has garnered 334 signatures with a goal of reaching 500. “In the 1940s, the Japanese American families who owned the market nearly lost the property when they were imprisoned in internment camps,” Keith Saito points out in initiating the petition.

“They are at risk of losing the property again as they can no longer afford to maintain the upkeep of their old buildings.”

Groups such as the Fashion District Business Improvement District (BID), Central City East BID, Go For Broke National Education Center, and Japanese American Cultural & Community Center have indicated their support for the Flower Market development. Yamabe adds that letters and comments may be sent to de Leon’s office via emma.howard@lacity.org.

Naomi Hirahara, author of “A Scent of Flowers: The History of the Southern California Flower Market,” emphasizes, “The establishment of the Southern California Flower Market…is not only significant for flower growing as a trade or even Japanese American history, but the development of Los Angeles as a multicultural city.”

She notes that its former director, Frank Kuwahara, was part of the Community Redevelopment Agency and helped envision Downtown as a vital place for all people and commerce.

“While overseas production of flowers has definitely impacted the role of the market, there is no doubt that local growers and distributors have found great benefit in having a centralized market. To lose the market in Downtown Los Angeles would erase an important piece of our community legacy, a living reminder that early immigrant entrepreneurship as well as friendship with compassionate outsiders helped lift us up through forced removal and mass incarceration for a more prosperous future.

“My hope is that this new development can also provide some kind of markers and displays of this important history.”

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