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VA Pares Plan to Sell Property : Bill Seeks to Halt Disposal of Any Part of 2 Tracts

Times Staff Writer

The head of the Veterans Administration has scaled back plans to sell off large chunks of the agency’s properties in Sepulveda and near Westwood.

But some Little League baseball fields still are scheduled for sale in Sepulveda and a key congressman is still determined to block the sale.

“The chairman is outraged that they’re not recognizing the irreplaceable value of the land out there,” said Pat Ryan, an aide to Rep. G. V. (Sonny) Montgomery (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. Ryan said a bill to block the proposed sale will probably be introduced next month, in time to halt it within the six-month waiting period required by federal law.

In February, the Veterans Administration declared 46 acres of the 164-acre VA Hospital property in Sepulveda to be excess, along with 109 acres at the 442-acre complex adjoining Westwood.

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That announcement prompted protests from Montgomery and local officials who were concerned about loss of the baseball fields in Sepulveda and development of the valuable Westside property, which constitutes one of the largest undeveloped spaces in the city.

Flaws Cited in Survey

Last week, however, newly installed VA Administrator Thomas K. Turnage told Congress that there were flaws in the original survey, which was carried out by the General Services Administration as part of the Reagan Administration’s long-range goal of shrinking federal holdings.

After visiting both sites and reviewing a survey conducted by his own agency’s land-use experts, Turnage said, he has reduced to 31.8 the number of acres in Sepulveda to be declared excess--eliminating from the sale list a grassy area next to the entrance of the hospital that officials decided is needed for drainage.

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The new figure for the Westside site will be 80 acres, he said.

“The decision-making process that led to the original . . . proposals at West Los Angeles and Sepulveda did not allow for a comprehensive study of the VA’s future requirements,” Turnage said in a letter to the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees.

Although the White House Office of Management and Budget has put the value of the originally proposed sale at $360 million, Turnage said the VA’s future needs will take priority over efforts to cash in on federally owned land.

“We are only proposing to declare (as excess) land no longer needed by the VA to fulfill our mission now or in the foreseeable future . . . , regardless of any potential revenues,” he said.

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He reminded Montgomery that the VA declared 41,996 acres to be excess between 1950 and 1980 without suffering any ill effects. The agency now owns 26,651 acres nationwide, he said.

In Sepulveda, the area to be declared excess includes a golf course and a set of baseball diamonds heavily used by the Mission Hills Little League, which has mobilized the surrounding community to fight the threat of losing the playing fields.

“The VA has valued its relationship with the Mission Hills Little League,” Turnage said, but he added that the agency does not foresee any use of the land that would justify holding on to it.

He suggested that community groups might work with the General Services Administration, which sells excess property for the government, to arrange for sale or donation of the land to the Little League.

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Valued at $10 Million

The Sepulveda land is valued at about $10 million.

According to Karl Edgerton, a spokesman for the Veterans Administration, the land being proposed for sale in the complex near Westwood takes in the northwest corner of the property, which includes city-sponsored baseball diamonds and a vacant ravine that serves as a buffer between a psychiatric hospital and the nearby community of Brentwood.

A second parcel is the site of a nine-hole golf course for hospital patients, and the third tract includes six acres of parking and grassy lawns at the southern end of the VA property.

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Under federal law, Congress has six months to block proposed sale of excess government land. Although Montgomery is expected to have no trouble pushing the bill through the House, its fortunes in the Senate are less than certain.

Donated to U.S. in 1888

Much of the Veterans Administration land in Westwood was donated to the federal government almost 100 years ago by two pioneer families whose descendants have said they hope to win it back if the government puts it up for sale.

The claim of the Jones and De Baker families is based on the language of the 1888 deed, which set the land aside as a gift “to establish, construct and permanently maintain” a home for disabled Civil War soldiers.

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But Edgerton said none of the land being declared excess falls within the part of the tract that was donated to the government in the 1888 deed.


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