Federal judge rules VA misused its sprawling West L.A. campus
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — A federal judge ruled Thursday the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs misused its sprawling West Los Angeles campus for a hotel laundry, a film studio storage lot and UCLA's baseball stadium, but stopped short of ordering the tenants off the property.
U.S. District Judge S. James Otero said the `agency had abused its discretion by leasing land for purposes "totally divorced from the provision of healthcare," but gave the government six months to decide whether to appeal before he enforces the order.
UCLA, whose baseball team has played on the VA property in Jackie Robinson Stadium for nearly 50 years, said it would do "everything possible" to remain there. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice declined to say whether the government would challenge the ruling.
The ACLU of Southern California had sued on behalf of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injuries, saying the 387-acre property should have been used to house and help homeless veterans too disabled to seek outpatient services. The government argued the leases produced revenue for veteran healthcare services.
Mark Rosenbaum, the ACLU's chief counsel, said the decision will return the campus, which was originally deeded for homeless services, to its proper purpose.
"Those who served this nation in our time of need, now the VA is going to have to serve them in their time of need," Rosenbaum said.
Los Angeles County has the most homeless veterans in the country — 6,300 by the latest count, down from 8,000 two years before. Despite more than a decade of protest, buildings on the Veterans Affairs campus that once housed veterans remain underutilized, although the agency is renovating one structure as a therapeutic housing complex for 65 chronically homeless veterans.
The nine leases the judge struck down were a particular sore point for the VA's critics, as they supported uses that conferred little or no direct benefit on veterans.
The tenants included the Brentwood School, a private K-to-12 institution that has been using a 20-acre parcel on campus as an athletic complex, with tennis and basketball courts; Sodexho Marriott Laundry Services, which cleaned hotel linens on the property; the Westside Breakers Soccer Club, which used the MacArthur Field for practices and matches; and Twentieth Century Fox Television, which used its parcel to store sets.
In a written statement, a UCLA spokesman said the university employs veterans at the stadium, gives them free admission to non-playoff home games and hosts the local American Legion baseball league. UCLA won its first College World Series championship this year.
"UCLA will be in dialogue with plaintiffs and the VA so we can continue our partnership is support of veterans," the statement said.
Rosenbaum called on the government to end the case.
"Every day an appeal is pending, the Veterans Affairs is putting the needs of private school students and college students over our veterans," Rosenbaum said.
Former Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver, who has long battled the VA, said the ruling will increase pressure on federal legislators to force the agency to open its site to homeless veterans living in the dumpsters and alleys of Santa Monica and West Los Angeles.
"The solution is so obvious," Shriver said. "Do the right thing."