(137) Going, Going, Gone . . . (Part III of “Gimme Back my Land” Saga)

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This is the third of four parts of the sage of how 600 acres of prized land in Los Angeles donated to homeless Veterans in 1888 eroded into entrepreneurial uses for everyone except Veterans in need.

Those who have served this nation as Veterans should never find themselves on the streets, living without care and without hope.

Defendant Eric Shinseki, Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, 2009 (p18 of lawsuit)

One out of 168 Veterans experiences homelessness over the course of a year, according to the class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of homeless Veterans against the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA). The DVA estimated that 107,000 Veterans were homeless on any given night in 2009. “Veterans are overrepresented in the homeless population and are about 50 percent more likely to become homeless compared to all Americans.” (Valentini, 19) Veterans of OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom)/OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) are especially at risk of homelessness when returning from military service with over 9,000 of these Veterans currently homeless. Despite these statistics, precious land designated for homeless Veterans in Los Angeles, the homeless capital of the US, is not being used for the long-term care or residency for the very group of Veterans whom the benefactor deeded the land.

In its Wonder Days

The gracious gift of Arcadia de Baker led the way for a remarkable campus designated for old soldiers disabled by the ravages of war. In its day, the campus offered respite, care, and gratitude for those who fought to defend our country.

Consistent with the goal of providing a home for soldiers, the grounds at the Pacific Branch Home were transformed into a beautiful, park-like setting. A hospital and other buildings were erected on the campus throughout the 1890s. The Pacific Branch Home also built a trolley line and erected a streetcar depot, which transported freight and mail to and from the campus. Residents could easily travel to the nearby Santa Monica beaches from the campus for rest and recreation. A chapel was built in 1900 to hold daily services and burial services for deceased veterans. In the early 1900s, the Pacific Branch Home built dormitories with wide porches to replace the original barracks and opened a dining hall that could seat 760 members at one time. A post office with more than 600 private letter boxes operated on the campus, as well as a store where residents could eat lunch and purchase cigars, fruits, candy and other articles. (Valentini, 34-35)

How Veteran Land Slipped Away

As mentioned in Molly Blog 136, the DVA stopped accepting Veterans in the early 1960s, as facility maintenance ceased and buildings were abandoned. Only the West Los Angeles Health Facility remained intact.

In 1986, the neighboring Brentwood Homeowners Association (HOA) protested a proposal by the VA to declare surplus and sell between 80 and 109 acres of the donated property. Concerned about the development impact from the proposal, the HOA defeated the sale of the land. The HOA pushed for leasing of the land for passive uses and succeeded in passing a law to keep the land as property of the VA permanently. As time passed, homeless Veterans and their families took up residence on the land, causing a backlash from the HOA. As well, HUD (Housing and Urban Development) launched a proposal for a homeless trailer park on the property, which fell to defeat at the hands of the HOA. The HOA also defeated a proposal for a National Football Stadium on the property, which was initiated by the DVA. (Twair)

Given its location, the property is touted at a value of $60 million per acre today—except it cannot be sold. Instead, because of the HOA influence, the VA leased portions of the property over the years for more park-like uses demanded by the HOA. Although originally intended to benefit Veterans, the leases ultimately offered no benefit to Veterans.

Who Leases the Land Today?

According to court documents (Valentini, 11-12), there are a number of leases in effect today. They are listed as follows:

  • Enterprise Rent-a-Car leases ten acres for its business, including a charter bus operation and vehicle storage and sales
  • Sodexho Marriott leases land for laundry facilities to process linens for surroundings hotels
  • An energy company operates active oil wells on 2.5 acres for 23 years and 1.5 acres for a shared farmer’s market
  • Richmark Entertainment operates the Wadsworth Theatre for commercial productions; once the facility was an entertainment center for Veterans but now Veterans must pay full price to attend events
  • Westside Services leases land for parking to serve the campus and other businesses in the surrounding community
  • UCLA operates the Jackie Robinson Baseball Stadium
  • Brentwood Private School leases 12 acres for its athletic fields, a track, tennis courts, and a swimming pool
  • City of Los Angeles uses 12 acres as a public park with a fenced dog run, athletic fields, and a parking lot
  • Two soccer clubs use MacArthur Field where Veterans once played softball; their site includes a parking lot
  • Moving and television production companies rent portions of the campus for short-term, non-recurring filming; other parties rent portions of the land for one-time events, such as fundraisers, wine tastings, and weddings.

As for an accounting of the funds received and/or spent as a result of these ventures—no one knows, according to documents filed with the Federal court on behalf of Valentini, et. al.

Miss Molly commented on the current uses of Veterans’ land. She said, “I have a bone to pick with the VA!”

Where Does that Leave our Veterans?

On Friday, Miss Molly completes the saga of “Gimme Back my Land.” Join us as we bring you up-to-date on the land grab and its hopeful resolution to once again benefit our homeless Veterans.

Post your Comments:

What advice would you offer to the VA on serving the needs of our homeless Veterans? Please reply below.

Sources cited:

  • McKay, Hollie. “No more golf, wine-tasting: Prime LA land deeded for soldiers’ care to return to intended use,” in Fox News, retrieved on September 22, 2015 at www.foxnews.com/us/2015/09/22/
  • Twair, Pat McDonnell. “This Space for Rent: Leasing Veterans’ Land in West L.A.,” in the VVA Veteran, January/February 2015.
  • Valentini v Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Amended Complaint and Injunctive, Declaratory, Mandamus, and Accounting Relief, Case No.: CV-11-04846 SJO (MRWx) filed on August 12, 2011; case filed with the United States District Court Central District of California, as retrieved on October 19, 2015, at http://www.publiccounsel.org/tools/assets/files/0577.pdf

About the blogger

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her granddaughter.