L.A. Has Plan to Reclaim Campus for Vets, but Not for Getting Rid of Commercial Tenants

Monday, November 02, 2015
Old Soldiers Home in Los Angeles 1892 (photo: courtesy of Carolina Barrie)

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has unveiled its draft master plan to develop facilities for veterans on pricey land near UCLA in Los Angeles that was given to vets more than 100 years ago.

The proposal does not include a plan to get rid of, or repurpose, the commercial and other non-veteran tenants, including UCLA’s Jackie Robinson Stadium, that have been paying rent there for a long time. But Vince Kane, special assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs, told KPCC that issue would be addressed in the final plan due out in January.

The new plan is significantly different from a proposed master plan in 2011 for the 387-acre property that retained the 21 existing “enhanced sharing agreements” with private Brentwood School, Sodexho Marriott Laundry Services and others.

That plan came under legal fire for not doing enough for veterans and doing too much for tenants. In 2013, with national attention focused anew on the plight of sick, disabled, unemployed and homeless veterans, a U.S. District Court in California voided a number of leases with businesses and organizations using the West Los Angeles campus for things that had questionable connections to vets.      

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.

Carolina Winston Barrie, the great-great niece of Arcadia Bandini de Baker, one of the donors of the land set aside for veterans, has been a vocal critic of the VA’s handling of the property.

The site is now home to the 50-year-old Jackie Robinson Stadium (the UCLA Bruins baseball team plays there) and a 20-acre parcel used by the private Brentwood School for its athletic complex, practice fields for a private soccer club. The property has been variously used for Fox studio production storage facilities, a laundry processing facility for nearby luxury hotels (it missed $300,000 in lease payments), a farmers’ market and a 15-acre parcel used by community groups for events.

After the court decision, the VA reached an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other groups representing veterans to develop the property around ex-soldiers, especially homeless ones. The court would be asked to vacate its decision.

A portion of the vast campus is already used by the VA as home for one of its largest medical centers in the nation. It serves more than 90,000 veterans from Kern, Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties. Greater L.A. is also home to 10% of the nation’s homeless veterans, numbering around 4,300.

The plan calls for building 700 transitional housing units and 900 permanent units. A 200-bed inpatient hospital, the “New Bed Care Tower,” would be constructed by 2020.

The campus would be carved up into four zones for: in-patient hospital and health care buildings; treatment services and temporary housing; permanent supportive housing units; and a wheelchair-accessible recreational area. The campus would have compact residential neighborhoods, with shops and open space throughout.   

The federal government won’t be developing this project. U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) introduced legislation in September, co-authored by U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) and Representative Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), which directs that this be a public-private endeavor using EULs, or “enhanced-use leases.”

According to the VA, no other federal agency employs EULs, which allow federal property to be used for non-governmental activities as long as there is some tangential connection. The VA has argued in the past that the revenues it received from its tenants indirectly helped the vets by swelling the government coffers. That didn’t fly in District Court.

–Ken Broder 


To Learn More:

Proposed Changes to West LA Campus Could House 1,600 Homeless Vets (by John Ismay, KPCC)

Draft Master Plan Is Unveiled for Long-Neglected VA Campus in West L.A. (by Martha Groves, Los Angeles Times)

Federal Officials Release Plan to Improve LA Veterans Center (UCLA Daily Bruin)

Los Angeles VA Has Made Millions on Rental Deals (by Ina Jaffe, National Public Radio)

Feds Settle Lawsuit over Misuse of Veterans Campus in Los Angeles (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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