Go to Court in Bid for Share of Parcel if U.S. Sells It. : VA Land Donors' Heirs Put Claim on Record

Times Staff Writer

Heirs of two pioneer families who donated the land for the Veterans Administration complex in Westwood took legal action this week to claim a share of the property if the federal government goes ahead with plans to sell it.

The action came on the eve of a Superior Court hearing in which Los Angeles County hopes to block next week's sale of 2.13 acres of the Veterans Administration property.

The county is arguing that the federal government misled potential buyers of the so-called "Flyaway" property by omitting key information from its advertisements. But federal attorneys said the government has answered the county's concerns by running new advertisements making it clear that the property has been set aside for public or semipublic use in the county general plan.

The property, formerly the site of an airport bus terminal, has been valued at about $7.5 million if sold for commercial development. The county had hoped to buy it for about $2 million for senior citizen housing, but those talks fell through.

A hearing on the county's request for a court order blocking the sale has been set for next Monday. If the county loses, auction of the property is set for Thursday.

But any potential buyer will be faced with the "Notice of Power of Termination" filed three days ago by Ronald E. Gother, an attorney who is representing more than 150 heirs of John Percival Jones and Arcadia Bandini Stearns de Baker.

It was Jones, a silver-rich U.S. senator from Nevada, and de Baker who donated 300 acres to the federal government 98 years ago to house disabled veterans of the Civil War.

The gift was made to "establish, construct and permanently maintain" a western branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, according to the deed, which was dated March 3, 1888.

They also hoped to attract business to the new city of Santa Monica, which Jones and de Baker's husband, Robert S. Baker, had recently developed.

Now that a small chunk of the property has been put up for sale, the government has opened the door to claims from the heirs that the property should revert to them if it is no longer being used to benefit veterans.

"We established a record so that no party buying the land could claim they did so without knowledge of our claims," Gother said.

The implications go far beyond the 2.13-acre Flyaway property, which is separated from the rest of the Veterans Administration complex by the San Diego Freeway.

The document filed this week also applies to any of the rest of the property that may be put up for sale under the Reagan Administration's plan to sell another 109 acres of the 442-acre hospital complex.

As announced last month, the government hopes to sell under-utilized portions of the Veterans Administration land in Westwood, along with 49.6 acres in the San Fernando Valley, to raise about $360 million.

The sale would be in line with President Reagan's long-held plans for reducing federal holdings, but it faces obstacles in Congress and opposition from local officials concerned that any development will add to traffic congestion.

County attorneys said that none of the dozens of potential buyers who read the federal government's notice of auction and called to express interest in the sale of the Flyaway property knew about the "P" designation limiting development to public or semipublic use.

This was because the federal government's General Services Administration "knowingly placed misleading and inaccurate land use information," their request for a temporary restraining order said.

Other potential buyers who might have been interested in the land at the lower price it would command with the "P" designation, were scared away by the belief that it would be sold at a higher price for more profitable development, they said.

"There is confusion and bewilderment in the development community," the county brief said. "A fair auction is not possible at this time."

Federal attorneys said the county had its chance to bid for the land in direct negotiations before the auction was announced.

Once the county's objections were made known about the failure to mention the "P" designation, the General Services Administration placed new advertisements and mailed a notice to more than 1,000 potential buyers that included an explanation about the county general plan, the federal attorneys said.

Also, the General Services Administration has promised to make an oral announcement at the sale itself, which is scheduled for 11 a.m. March 27 at the Airport Hilton.

They said the county had failed to show how it will be hurt if the sale goes ahead, arguing that the U.S. government will be out at least $76,800 in printing costs and other expenses if it has to reschedule the auction.

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