Los Angeles News
LOS ANGELES—Federal District Court Judge S. James Otero ruled Thursday, August 29, that the Department of Veterans Affairs broke the law by leasing part of the land in West Los Angeles to outside commercial businesses including a hotel laundry, a film studio storage lot and UCLA’s Jackie Robinson baseball stadium, among others.
The lawsuit was filed two years ago by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU/SC), alleging that leasing to outside businesses goes against the land deed from more than 100 years ago to care for sick and disabled veterans.
Otero ruled the VA was in violation of the 1888 deed, saying the agency had abused its discretion by leasing land for purposes “totally divorced from the provision of healthcare” and that those leases would only be permitted if it would provide healthcare or other services for veterans.
“I have fought hard for years to protect the property at West L.A. VA for uses that directly benefit veterans,” said Waxman. “This court decision represents a triumph," he added.
David Sapp, ACLU/SC staff attorney, said he hoped the VA would not appeal the ruling, but instead use the land to partially deal with the homeless veterans problem.
“We hope the VA is serious about wanting to end homelessness by 2016, as they’ve stated,” said Sapp. “Everyone agrees that we need to provide appropriate care for our veterans," he added.
Waxman said it is time to increase commitment in addressing the severe needs of homeless veterans in the community.
“Veterans deserve every benefit that they have earned, and I plan to continue my fight to ensure that they get everything that is owed them,” said Waxman. “We must continue to find creative solutions to end veteran homelessness, provide needed mental and physical health services, and give veterans the skills and access to jobs they need to take control of their lives again," he added.
The nine leases on nearly one quarter of the 400-acre property, which the VA claimed were in place to generate revenue for services for veterans, were in the way for potential housing projects.
“The only approach that works for people who are homeless because they have severe disabilities is guaranteed access to housing linked to services,” Sapp said. “Without stability of housing, it’s not possible for them to access services," he added.
This ruling is a small win in the battle against homelessness. In August, VA Secretary Eric Shineski, Senator Diane Feinstein and Waxman announced plans to create a one-stop-shop homeless center on the VA grounds as well as expand Project 60, an initiative targeting 60 of L.A.’s most vulnerable homeless veterans in order to get them into homes. The announcement came one year after ground was broken on a $20 million renovation project to turn Building 209, one of three buildings that have been sitting vacant, into a supportive housing complex for as many as 65 veterans.
The ruling does not force the VA to do anything more than they currently are to help homeless veterans. The ruling also gives the VA six months to appeal the decision before action can be taken regarding the lease agreements.
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