VA Finally Speeds Up a Project, but It's Not for Veterans

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Who in Los Angeles could complain about a beautiful new amphitheater being built with a generous private donation on one of the city’s most desirable parcels?

As it turns out, the answer is veterans and their advocates, who are none too pleased that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) allowed construction to continue after a federal judge voided leases with businesses and organizations using the sprawling Westside campus for things that had questionable connections to vets.

On Monday, 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. Mark Rosenbaum, a Public Counsel pro bono lawyer, told the Los Angeles Times, “At the same time they say they don’t have anything for housing for veterans, they put the pedal to the metal.”

U.S. District Judge S. James Otero told the VA a year ago that it needed to put its 386-acre campus to better use. Right now the VA site is home to the 50-year-old Jackie Robinson Stadium (home of the UCLA Bruins baseball team), 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, a farmers’ market and a 15-acre parcel used by community groups for events.    

Meanwhile, the VA has let languish a 396-bed, $253-million facility for housing veterans on site that was inadvertently built without a kitchen. The building, opened in 2010, is half-empty despite there being thousands of homeless veterans wandering around Los Angeles.  

Proponents of the amphitheater promise it “will be used exclusively for veterans and their families both as an entertainment venue—celebrations, live entertainment, movies, and speakers—and, equally important, as a tranquil space for various alternative wellness therapies.”

Robert L. Rosebrock, an advocate for veterans, doesn’t trust them. He wrote at CityWatch earlier in the month,

“There’s already the transportable open-air Shakespeare Annual Summer Theater held on VA property and it’s open to the general public, just as the illegal Hollywood amphitheater would be open to the public. . . . There is absolutely no need for another amphitheater on VA property―in fact, they can convert the illegal UCLA baseball diamond into a huge amphitheater, if there was such a necessity for Veterans.”   

Rosebrock’s snark didn’t stop there:

“This Shakespeare event is held at the VA ‘Japanese Meditation Garden’ between Brentwood School’s private and illegal athletic complex and the VA golf course which is open to the public, and it is directly across from MacArthur Field which is used exclusively and illegally for a private kids’ soccer organization.”

Judge Otero thought the point was well-taken and so did Carolina Winston Barrie, the great-great niece of Arcadia Bandini de Baker, one of the donors of the land set aside for veterans. The original deed dictated that the land be used to “locate, establish, construct and permanently maintain such branch of said National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.”

And it was, at first, back in the 1890s. It had everything a small village dedicated to serving disabled veterans could need, including a trolley, a post office and a chapel. But they didn’t have an amphitheater, and the Veterans administration, which has underserved vets for decades in L.A., wants to fix that.

They just have to convince a judge or two.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Court Halts Amphitheater Construction on West L.A. Veterans Campus (by Gale Holland and Matt Hamilton, Los Angeles Times)

LA to Vets: Thanks but No Thanks (by Robert L. Rosebrock. CityWatch)

Court Rules VA Is Misusing Sprawling L.A. Site, but Offers No Remedy (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

New L.A. Veterans Home Still Half Vacant and Lacking a Kitchen (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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