Hatano Farm: Tiny farm with big history in Rancho Palos Verdes faces permanent shut down by the city

David Ono Image
Wednesday, February 16, 2022
Tiny farm with big history in Rancho Palos Verdes faces shut down
A small farm with a big history dating back to World War II sits on the Rancho Palos Verdes peninsula. But now, the city is voting whether to shut it down, and use the land for something else.

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. (KABC) -- How important are four acres? On Tuesday, the Rancho Palos Verdes City Council will decide the fate of a tiny farm known as the Hatano Farm.

If they shut it down, they can use that valuable land for something else, but in doing so, they are ending one of the most important chapters in the history of the Rancho Palos Verdes peninsula.

This story is not just about the possible end for this tiny farm sitting over one of the most pristine ocean views in the world, more importantly, it could mark the end of an important chapter if the city decides to take the land back.

"I remember when we were kids, my dad used to grow a lot of flowers out here," said Doug Hatano, who grew up on the farm. "We supplied a lot of flowers to the rose parade."

"It was just beautiful out here. To be out here. When you're a kid, you don't know what you have until you go away," Hatano added.

His father, James Hatano, founded this farm as a young man looking for a fresh start. During World War II, he was incarcerated at Poston Internment Camp. Palos Verdes meant a new life.

Hatano sees reminders of his father everywhere.

"That was my dad's favorite tractor. I'd say it's probably early 40s, late 30s model," said Hatano. "Just watching him pushing rocks around, and thinking he's on a big tractor or something. He's like a little kid on a tractor having fun."

Hatano's father passed away in 2015, having already witnessed the world around him change dramatically.

"All the fields around here were all garbanzo beans, and barley, and dried tomatoes," Hatano said. "But then the housing started booming."

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Monique Sugimoto, a local history librarian at the Palos Verdes Library District, provided additional context to understand what's happening to the Hatano Farm.

She goes back to a time when this peninsula was wide open, so developers thought this could be a great location for a new community, but discovered somebody was already here.

"When the Palos Verdes Project was out here in 1913, they noted that there were Japanese farmers and that there was agriculture on the peninsula," said Sugimoto.

Today's world of expensive ocean views and mansions, was once cheap unused land and, since nobody was here, Japanese immigrants used it.

Sugimoto showed Eyewitness News remarkable photos of this thriving immigrant community. As the new Palos Verdes home association began planning a development, they cut a deal with the farmers allowing them to lease the land.

"Allowed the Japanese farmers to farm the land, and work on the land as long as it wasn't needed for development," Sugimoto explained. "But when it was needed for development then they would actually have to move off the property."

Through time, the farms began disappearing. The garbanzo farm Hatano mentioned is now the Trump golf course. The Barley and tomato farms gave way to giant Mansions, and Terranea Resort.

The Hatano Farm, already whittled down from 14 to just four acres, is the last one standing. The farm's foreman, Martin Martinez, has worked there for 40 years. In fact, his father worked for Hatano's father. If the farm closes, he loses this job.

As Hatano walked around his father's tractor, he contemplated fixing it. It's a tough decision. Much like the city is faced with. Do you preserve the past, or is it time to turn the page and do something else with this valuable land?

"It would be a sad day when it goes away. It's part of the history of the peninsula here. So it would be nice if we can keep it going, but it's all up to the city people," said Hatano.

Whatever happens, Hatano says his family was blessed. They worked hard here. And that's what made this view that much more special.

"He used to just sit in the truck, and just look out and look at the ocean, and just take it all in," said Hatano. "He said that this was his favorite place to be. He didn't want to be anywhere else."

James Hatano loved this place, as do so many others.

In November, the city council voted 4 to 1 in favor of shutting down the farm.

Tuesday's meeting was set after they were urged to reconsider.