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Federal Legislators Blast Plans to Sell Off West Los Angeles VA Land  

By Ann K. Williams
Lookout Staff

July 20, 2011 – Top lawmakers representing the Westside sent a letter to President Barack Obama last week expressing outrage at a plan to sell off federally-owned land and the plan's possible effect on the West Los Angeles VA Hospital (WLA VA).

The letter signed by Representative Henry Waxman and U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer was written in response to press reports that the President and top congressional leaders are discussing plans to liquidate land owned by the government to pay down the national debt.

“Auctioning the West LA VA property to the highest bidder would bring in some short-term revenue for our immediate needs, in the same way that building highrises on the National Mall would raise money,” the lawmakers say.

“But, it would be a tremendous disservice to our veterans and it would contradict the terms of the 1888 deed,” they say.
The letter raises some of the same points contained in a recent American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit against the WLA VA, and argues emphatically against selling any of the campus' 387 acres for commercial development.

Waxman, Feinstein and Boxer argue that the 1888 deed represents a contract between the land's donors, Former Senator John P. Jones and his family and the government. The donors said the land was being given for a soldier's home.

The same argument is key to an ACLU lawsuit filed last month against the WLA VA that claims the VA has failed to provide permanent supportive housing for homeless veterans in Los Angeles County who suffer from service-induced mental illness. (see Lawsuit Filed Against Local VA for Failure to House Homeless Vets, June 10)

One of the parties to the ACLU lawsuit is Carolina Winston Barrie, a descendant of the original granting family.

“The legal deed conveying the property requires that the government maintain it permanently for veterans,” argue Waxman, Feinstein and Boxer in their letter to the President.

“We have a permanent obligation to keep our promises to our veterans and we have a moral and legal duty to honor the contract that gave us use of the land in the first place,” the legislators say.
They cite a series of legislative acts affirming the original agreement and prohibiting the WLA VA from “declaring as excess, or otherwise disposing of, 109 acres of the property.”

“In 2007, Congress included a provision in the Fiscal Year 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act that extended these protections to the entire 387-acre campus,” Waxman, Feinstein and Boxer say.
“The West Los Angeles VA property can and should be used to help rehabilitate our nation’s veterans and provide housing and therapeutic services for the over 8,000 homeless veterans in the LA area,” they say.

But VA officials have said that the WLA campus “is perceived to be one of the most valuable parcels of real estate in the western United States,” according to the ACLU complaint.
The ACLU lawsuit points out that WLA VA property is being rented out to private companies, property that could be used to house the Southland's homeless vets.

Currently, the WLA VA leases property to Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Sodexho Marriott, an oil well operator, the Brentwood Private School and other fee-paying entities.

Although the ACLU lawsuit takes the WLA VA to task for leasing property that could be used to house homeless veterans, while the legislators' letter responds to the possible sale of the property, both emphasize the VA's responsibility to Southland veterans.

“Nothing unites the Los Angeles community more than the battle to preserve the West LA VA for its original purpose,” say Waxman, Feinstein and Boxer.

“We will fight hard to protect this critically important facility for our nation’s veterans,” they say.


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