Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez revisited the West Los Angeles Veterans Home (pdf) last week to see what’s cookin’ at the much-needed facility that was disappointingly half-empty two years after it opened in 2010.
It’s still half-empty and one of the reasons is the lack of a full-service kitchen.
The 396-bed building, which cost $253 million, was constructed without the cooking facilities because the state thought it had a deal with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to arrange for independent food service, Lopez wrote.
That didn’t happen.
So, despite there being an estimated 6,000-plus homeless and disabled veterans wandering around Los Angeles—tops in the nation—half the home for senior veterans at the sprawling Westwood campus is sporting cobwebs.
A year ago, when Meng Meng at Neon Tommy asked spokesman Ron Brand at the California’s Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet) what the hang-up was filling the place, he responded, “The facility is only licensed and budgeted to 156 beds at this point and we can not open a single bed without more funding from the state.”
That was actually an improvement over the situation (pdf) reported by the California State Auditor in May 2013. At that point, the lack of a kitchen and the proper permits was blamed for keeping the skilled nursing unit there at 72 beds, rather than the 312 it was built for.
As the miserable treatment of veterans across the country receives increased attention and California finds more money in its recovering economy, promises to complete the West L.A. facility have flourished but still have a ring of incredulity.
Lopez reviewed a March video of an exchange between CalVet Undersecretary Diane Vanderpot and members of an Assembly budget committee, and was gobsmacked when she told them the kitchen was “on track” for Spring 2016, six years after opening. “It's not so simple to just say OK now let's just build a kitchen,” Calvet Assistant Deputy Secretary David Gerard added.
When the committee asked if the process could be sped up, they were told that would cost money. When asked to see a report on how much that would cost, they were told that would cost money, too.
Government has been much more efficient at marketing and leasing its valuable Westside real estate to private business than developing facilities for veterans. In August 2013, U.S. District Judge S. James Otero voided nine lease agreements with Sodexho Marriott Laundry Services, Twentieth Century Fox Television, a private school and others to occupy space on campus after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued.
Judge Otero agreed with the plaintiffs that the clear intent of the family that deeded the land (pdf) to the federal government more than 100 years ago clearly stipulated that it be used for veterans. And for awhile, it was. A fully functional little village, with a trolley, a post office and a chapel facilitated the care of disabled veterans.
The judge ordered that the ACLU and VA negotiate a settlement and they are on track for a resolution in the near future.