Senators Feinstein and Boxer Beat Back Effort to Strike Language Preventing Commercialization of West Los Angeles VA Site
Sep 05 2007
Washington, DC – The U.S. Senate tonight rejected an amendment to an appropriations bill that would have stripped language sponsored by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) prohibiting the Department of Veterans Affairs from allowing commercial development of its West Los Angeles Medical Center site.
The Senate rejected the amendment offered by Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) on a vote of 66 to 25.
“Today, the Senate resisted attempts to commercialize this site, which could have ended up with high-rises on it,” Senator Feinstein said. “The Senate today spoke in a clear voice, and rejected an amendment that could have opened up the site to major development and commercialization.”
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) also spoke against the amendment.
“I am so proud to stand with Senator Feinstein to stop this land grab, which would hurt our veterans, who deserve so much more from us,” Senator Boxer said.
Senator Feinstein’s language, added to the FY 2008 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Bill, was approved by the full Senate Appropriations Committee on June 14. It specifically prohibits the VA from entering into enhanced-use leases of the land, and prevents the VA from selling any portions of the West Los Angeles property for private use.
The West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs campus sits on 388 acres on both sides of Wilshire Boulevard, west of Interstate 405. The land was deeded to the federal government in 1888 for the exclusive use of veterans.
In spite of this restriction, the Department of Veterans Affairs has allowed various private uses of the land, including leases for Enterprise Rental Car and Fox Entertainment Group. The VA has provided no guarantees that similar uses would not be allowed in the future.
Senator Feinstein’s language specifically:
- Prohibits the Department of Veterans Affairs from issuing enhanced-use lease agreements on the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs property;
- Expands the scope of the Cranston Act to cover all 388 acres of the site. The Act currently prohibits the sale of 109 acres, or roughly 29 percent of the site;
- Prohibits the Department of Veterans Affairs from exchanging, trading, auctioning or transferring any of the West Los Angeles VA land.
The following is Senator Feinstein’s statement, as delivered today on the floor of the United States Senate:
"I come to the Floor to oppose the amendment just presented by Senator DeMint. I worked very hard to get a provision in the military construction bill regarding this major piece of veterans property in the center of Los Angeles.
I want to begin by thanking Senator Jack Reed and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison for agreeing to put this legislation in the Military Construction Bill.
This is 388 acres in the middle of Los Angeles. It is bisected by Wilshire Boulevard. It is near Santa Monica Boulevard. It is a large piece of property. And on that property is a 1,000-bed veterans hospital.
The property was deeded in 1888, following the Civil War, by two families to the federal government to be used specifically and permanently as an old soldiers’ home, for the use of veterans.
And as many members here know, California has the largest number of veterans in America, over 2 million, and over 300,000 veterans are enrolled to use the facilities in this area, of which this facility is prime.
At the time, as the population of disabled and elderly veterans grew following the end of the Civil War, the government decided to respond by establishing a number of national homes throughout the United States.
In March 1888, Senator John P. Jones and Arcadia B. de Baker donated their Santa Monica ranch lands in Southern California to establish the Pacific Branch of the National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.
The deed reads very specifically:
‘That whereas by an act of Congress approved March 2nd 1887 to provide for the location and erection of a branch home for the disabled volunteers soldiers West of the Rocky Mountains, the Board of Managers of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers were authorized, empowered, and directed to locate, establish, construct and permanently maintain a branch of said National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.’
The sole purpose outlined in the original deed was affirmed in 2002 by then Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi when he visited the site, and again, when he issued a May 2004 decision regarding plans for the modernization of VA facilities elsewhere.
What has happened here is the Administration sees this land, dedicated to veterans, and says, ‘Aha! There is a higher and better use for this land. We can make $4 billion if we lease out the unbuilt-upon part of this land.’ And that’s what they have done, under the radar screen.
They have leased out to an automobile rental agency. They have leased out to a Fox movie lot.
Now, this is veterans land. This is land that was deeded to veterans. To be used by veterans. Not to be used by Fox movies. Not to be used by automobile rentals. And the Administration admits that if they do this they can raise $4 billion in commercial rentals from this land, thereby taking this hospital, now in its park-like setting, and encrusting it with high-rise buildings along Wilshire Boulevard.
Well let me tell you what’s happened. The veterans community has risen up in Los Angeles and said ‘We are the largest veterans community anywhere in the nation, you are taking land deeded to us, you are going to lease it, rent it, in any way you can, for this higher and best use’ – which is high-rise construction. And they don’t like it. And the neighbors don’t like it. And the City doesn’t like it. And the Board of Supervisors doesn’t like it. And yesterday the Los Angeles Times editorialized against it.
So this amendment is not an amendment just concocted out of my brain. This is an amendment that’s been worked on for a long time, with members of the House that represent this area, and with the Military Construction Subcommittee of Appropriations. We want to preserve the integrity of the land that was originally granted for use as an old soldiers’ home, for veterans’ purposes, in this modern-day era. And do it in a way where we’ve got access to the largest number of veterans anywhere in the United States.
I find it shocking that the Department of Veterans Affairs went ahead and leased parts of this land.
The VA also continues film production on the property and recently allowed Fox Studios to construct a set storage building there.
In 1996, a 65,000-seat NFL Football stadium was proposed for the open space on the West LA VA until Congress stepped in and passed a resolution to prohibit this action. Once again, I have asked Congress to step in and prohibit the commercialization of this site. It should be used for veterans’ purposes.
So when I was in Los Angeles in August met with former Mayor Dick Riordan, with Mr. Eli Broad, to discuss various options. No decisions were made, but they have a vision for this.
The important thing is that it not be commercialized. That for the financial problems of the Administration, they shouldn’t commercialize this land. They shouldn’t sell it to the highest bidder. They shouldn’t go for the highest and best use. They shouldn’t build high-rise construction. And I’ll tell you, if it happens, there will be an uprising from the neighbors in the area, because this land is right off of the 405 Freeway, and the congestion and the difficulties that will result.
I really find it a rather crass gesture to take veterans’ land that’s dedicated to veterans, that has a large hospital -- 1,000 beds on it -- that serves 322,000 enrolled veterans. No city serves that many veterans. And go ahead and commercialize the site.
So what this does, it stops that commercialization of the site.
And the California delegation is united. Whether it’s in the Senate or whether it’s in the House. I can give two pages of people supporting this legislation. The county of Los Angeles. The city of Los Angeles. Zev Yaroslavsky, the chairman of the county Board of Supervisors. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Representative Waxman. Sherman. City Council members, every one of them. State Senators. Kuehl. Bass. Assembly people.
Santa Monica mayor and council. Amvets Post 2. Amvets Post 116. American Legion Post 123. VFW Post 875. Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 446. The Bell Air Association. The Beverly Glen Association. Blair House. The Brentwood Community Council. And on and on. The Coalition for Veterans Land. Federation of Hillside and Canyon Associates. Friends of Westwood. Pacific Palisades. Holmby Hills.
It’s virtually all of West LA that’s saying, ‘Don’t sell this land for commercial use.’
And what the Department has announced is they intend to make $4 billion by selling this land, and you know what’s going to go on this land: Commercial office high-rise. Because that’s what you get the money from. And it would be a travesty.
One of the things we now know is that traumatic brain injury is a major injury from this war. We need to build on veterans’ facilities – not take their land away.
So I say, Senator DeMint, take back this motion. It is the wrong thing to do. Administration, I know you have a statement saying you oppose the amendment. But the City of Los Angeles, the County of Los Angeles, is united.
It is an interesting note that the man who gave this land, the 300-plus acres, was a United States Senator at the time, John P. Jones. He was a Republican from the states of Nevada and he served 30 years in the United States Senate, from 1873 to 2903. So here was a 50 percent owner of this land. It was a wonderful gift to the veterans. I think it should not be destroyed.