May 30, 2007 – Coming soon, perhaps, to a bottleneck near you:
More skyscrapers, more condos, more retail.
Where? At one of the busiest intersections in Southern California — Wilshire Boulevard and the 405.
Yes, it’s the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs property.
What, you thought the VA might expand services to accommodate the legions of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with medical and mental maladies?
That would make sense, especially given the fact that bomb-rattled veterans now sleep on the street and in parks just a few miles from long-abandoned buildings on the shamefully under-utilized property. But VA administrators appear to be headed in another direction, and their long-secret intentions have never been more clear than they were over Memorial Day weekend — of all weekends.
That’s when local officials learned that a ban on private development of the Wilshire site didn’t make it into a war-spending bill, at the behest of the Bush administration.
“I think there’s an army of developers and their consultants in Washington who see an opportunity to make a lot of money, and this VA and the [Bush] administration is hell-bent on giving them that opportunity,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
Although the VA has been tight-lipped about its plans for the property, Yaroslavsky says VA brass have in recent years talked about “optimizing the use of the land,” which means selling it off because of the top dollar it would bring.
Yaroslavsky said the VA has signaled that it might circumvent zoning restrictions by leasing land to private developers before selling it to them. So Donald Trump, for instance, could conceivably build a high-rise hotel on leased VA land and later buy the property outright.
Rep. Henry A. Waxman and Sen. Dianne Feinstein have bills pending that would ban such commercialization and require a plan for expanded veteran services. Waxman’s office said Tuesday that he’ll send a letter to the VA secretary reiterating his position and urging him to move ahead with plans for a housing program for homeless vets.
Is it possible, I asked Yaroslavsky, that the VA has a brilliant plan to increase services nationwide by selling this property? (I tried to ask the VA this question, but was told no one could get back to me Tuesday.)
“And what do they sell the following year?” Yaroslavsky asked. Besides, he said, that land was dedicated in the late 1800s to exclusive use by veterans, and Congress reiterated that intent in 1998.
As Yaroslavsky and Waxman point out, California has the nation’s largest population of veterans, and roughly a half-million of them live within 50 miles of the West L.A. VA center. That’s reason enough to do right by those who have sacrificed for the country rather than clutter an outrageously congested area with another Cineplex or Costco.
As it is, some buildings are in bad shape and some are empty, and the VA has allowed an Enterprise car rental agency and a bus company to lease space on the 388-acre site.
“There are vacant buildings that could be used for therapy, housing, vocational rehabilitation, life skills training — all the things a vet would need to transition back into civilian life,” said Keith Jeffreys, president of Citizens for Veterans’ Rights.
Unless the staff at Enterprise is trained to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, it’s hard to understand what the VA is thinking.