A publication of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

February 2000/March 2000

West L.A. Land Grab, Part II

By William Triplett

Once again, veterans in West Los Angeles are fighting to keep what is theirs by law. An exclusive private school in the tony Brentwood-Westwood neighborhood and the VA Greater Los Angeles Health Care System have cut a lease agreement that will grant the school the right to build a sports complex on 19 acres of the West L.A. VA Medical Center property.

Veterans organizations, including VVA, have banded together to protest the agreement, which they view as grossly inappropriate and possibly illegal. The VSOs maintain that the property should be used strictly for its intended beneficiaries--veterans, particularly Southern California's large population of homeless veterans.

"We have veterans sleeping under the freeway near the [property],’’ said Frank Juarez, chairman of Citizens for Veterans' Rights, an ad hoc committee formed in response to the agreement. "This is another example of the blatant disregard the [West L.A. VAMC] has for the rank-and-file veteran."

The agreement has prompted Reps. Lane Evans (D-Ill.) and Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) to write VA Secretary Togo West, Jr., calling for the immediate suspension of the lease agreement and an investigation into the matter. Evans and Brown also requested that VA Inspector General Richard Griffin review the agreement. A spokesman for Evans said he has not received a reply from either VA official.

The parcel of land, part of the 430 acres that surround the West L.A. VAMC, abuts Brentwood-Westwood and has a history of controversy. For the past decade, a group of Brentwood homeowners, calling themselves the "Veterans Park Preserve," has tried to build everything from softball diamonds to a garden park on the VAMC property, which has been appraised by some experts at close to $5 million an acre. But a VVA Veteran investigation ["Whose VA Is It, Anyway?" December 1991], led by member Glenn Rogers, learned that the Veterans Park Preserve was less interested in helping veterans than in protecting Brentwood property values.

Juarez and other veterans believe the current agreement is simply another self-serving attempt by area residents to appropriate the extremely valuable West L.A. VAMC property.

Veterans are particularly sensitive to any new use or development of the property because of how the VA came to own it. In 1887 two philanthropic families donated the land to the federal government for the specific purpose of housing aging and disabled ex-soldiers. Both veterans and the families’ heirs would like the VA to respect that mandate.

"We are totally opposed to the lease agreement," Ricardo Bandini Johnson, one of the heirs and a spokesman for the two families, told The VVA Veteran. "The property was not given to the government to sell or lease away. We'd like to see it go back to what it's meant for."

 

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