Old Soldiers Home in Los Angeles 1892 (photo: courtesy of Carolina Barrie)
The ACLU and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald both labeled as “historic” an agreement (pdf) reached Wednesday to end a four-year lawsuit and set in motion a mechanism to properly utilize a sprawling VA campus in upscale west Los Angeles.
It remains to be seen if that will get the estimated 4,200 homeless veterans off the city’s streets by the end of the year—a promise made by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. But it may do something about the spectacle of officials using the 387-acre site for a wide range of activities that don’t benefit veterans while a new long-term care facility languishes half-occupied.
The agreement starts in motion development by February 13 of a general plan for dealing with issues faced by homeless veterans and finalization of a master plan for the campus by October 16. Interim plans could involve renovating buildings or using existing ones temporarily while more permanent facilities are considered.
Lawyers for the veterans and the administration will quickly ask the U.S. District Court to vacate its 2013 judgment in Valentini v. McDonald, which voided a number of leases with businesses and organizations using the campus for things that had questionable connections to vets.
The site is home to the 50-year-old Jackie Robinson Stadium (the UCLA Bruins baseball team plays there), a 20-acre parcel used by the private Brentwood School for its athletic complex, practice fields for a private soccer club, Fox studio production storage facilities, a laundry processing facility for nearby luxury hotels that missed $300,000 in lease payments, a farmers’ market and a 15-acre parcel used by community groups for events.
Last month, a two-judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals put a halt to any further development of the Hollywood Canteen Amphitheater until the government completed its appeal of the lower court’s ruling.
It’s doubtful that the master plan will simply adopt the original plan for the site. The land’s donors in 1887 made clear in the deed that it be used to “locate, establish, construct and permanently maintain such branch of said National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.”
And it was, at first. It had everything a small village dedicated to serving disabled veterans could need, including a trolley, a post office and a chapel. Nothing remains of the village, the last vestiges of which disappeared in the 1960s when activities for veterans at the site stagnated and declined.
The land is the largest undeveloped property on the city’s tony westside, just a stone’s throw from UCLA, and has been lusted after by developers for decades. There has also been talk of turning it into a park.