VA Trims Westwood Land Sale Plan but Still Faces Opposition
The head of the Veterans Administration has scaled back plans to sell off a large chunk of the agency’s complex near Westwood, but 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 blocking 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 109 acres at the 442-acre Westwood complex to be excess, along with 46 acres of a 164-acre VA hospital property in the San Fernando Valley community of Sepulveda.
That announcement prompted protests from Montgomery as well as local officials who were concerned about the development of the valuable Westside property, which constitutes one of the largest undeveloped spaces in the city.
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.
“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.
After visiting both sites and reviewing a survey conducted by his own agency’s land use experts, Turnage said he has reduced to 80 the number of Westwood acres to be declared excess. The new figure for Sepulveda will be 31.8 acres, he said.
Although the White House Office of Management and Budget has put the value of the originally proposed sale parcel 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.
He reminded Montgomery that the VA declared 41,996 acres to be excess between 1950 and 1980 without suffering any ill effects. The agency owns 26,651 acres nationwide, he said.
Borders of Land Sales
According to Karl Edgerton, a spokesman for the Veterans Adminstration, the land being proposed for sale takes in the northwest corner of the Westwood property, which includes city-sponsored baseball diamonds and a vacant ravine that serves as a buffer zone 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, while the third tract includes six acres of parking and grassy lawns at the southern end of the VA property.
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.
Under federal law, the Congress has six months to block proposed sale of excess government land. While Montgomery is expected to have no trouble pushing the bill through the House of Representatives, its fortunes in the Republican-controlled Senate are less than certain.
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.
But Edgerton said none of the land being declared excess falls within the portion of the tract that was donated to the government in the 1888 deed.