Soccer enthusiast Suzanne Eisler wrote a letter eight years ago that sparked a small miracle: It helped persuade the Veterans Administration to lease 12 acres of its Westwood complex for the expansion of Barrington Park.
Now that park expansion is part of an 80-acre parcel that the government plans to sell to help reduce the federal deficit. Neighbors, who don't want to lose the park's playing fields and fear the effect of further development on their neighborhoods, and veterans groups that say the land is needed, met last week in the park to discuss a campaign to fight the sale.
"Because people on the Westside are affluent, everyone takes for granted that we have everything," said Eisler, who is regional director of a children's soccer organization and plays soccer herself in the park. "But until we got the VA land--and it wasn't easy--there was no place for all our kids to play soccer or baseball."
Ball Fields Created
Before the Veterans Administration leased the 12 acres on the east side of Barrington Avenue to the city of Los Angeles, the park consisted of less than 5 acres on the west side of Barrington and contained only a small gym and one under-sized softball field.
After signing a three-year renewable lease with the VA in 1980, the city put more than $1 million into leveling the VA acreage and creating fields suitable for team sports and jogging.
"It took us years to get that park, and it's absurd to think we'd give it up," said Claire Rogger, an aide to Councilman Marvin Braude, who was instrumental in helping Eisler and others work out a deal with the Veterans Administration.
Eisler and other concerned members of various local homeowner associations have launched a letter-writing campaign in support of a bill co-sponsored by Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Los Angeles) that would block the proposed sale. They hope their letters will be as effective as Eisler's letter was eight years ago.
"The jungle drums are beating loudly," said Susan Young, a member of the Brentwood Homeowners Assn., which represents 3,000 homeowners. "We're networking with every group in the area to get that bill passed."
Beilenson said he is fairly confident the House will pass the bill by its Aug. 15 recess, but said he is not sure of its reception in the Senate because one version sponsored by Sen. Alan Cranston (D-California) died in a Senate committee.
Central to the bill's fate in the Senate is the support of Sen. Pete Wilson (R-California), who is on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Beilenson said.
Wilson's legislative aide, Todd Thakar, said Wilson opposes the sale of the land and will support the bill when it comes to the Senate as part of a veterans' health care package.
"The senator is not convinced that the veterans won't need that land down the line," Thakar said. "There is a shortage of veterans' land in Southern California . . . to replace the land later when the need arises would be prohibitively expensive."
Carlos Venegas, chairman of the Los Angeles County Veterans' Advisory Commission, said the commission also is opposed to the sale and will organize a campaign involving "the 450,000 vets in the L. A. area to save the land for future use."
However, VA spokesman Karl Edgerton said the Veterans Administration has no foreseeable use for land. He said a recent General Services Administration survey that scaled back the amount of land to be sold from 109 acres to 80 acres took into account the potential expansion of VA facilities.
Cemetery Is Closed
Edgerton said the GSA survey took into consideration the possibility of expanding the nearby veterans cemetery, which is now closed except for cremations and next-of-kin burials; relocating the regional VA office and the district council office, and building a state soldiers' home on the site.
The 80 acres in question are near Barrington Avenue and Sunset Boulevard in the northwest corner of the 442-acre VA complex, which is one of the largest open spaces in the Westside. The VA complex straddles the San Diego Freeway in the vicinity of Wilshire Boulevard.
Much of the opposition to the sale comes from neighbors who regard the land as a precious public resource.
"We wouldn't think of selling the Grand Canyon even if it would wipe out the deficit altogether--would it really be worth it?" Eisler said at a recent meeting with Beilenson in Barrington Park.
Others expressed concern over the potential increase in traffic on Wilshire Boulevard and its side streets if the land were to be developed.
Peggy Gould, a Brentwood resident whose property on Terryhill Place borders some of the land proposed for sale, said she has to fight traffic daily to get out of her cul-de-sac onto Barrington Avenue.
Any development of the VA land would have a negative effect on the already heavy traffic along the Wilshire Boulevard east-west corridor, according to Daniel Scott, a Westwood city planner.
"There are just too many cars on Wilshire Boulevard as it is," Scott said. "Any more development would just make a bad situation worse."
Bob Masuda, a Caltrans associate transportation engineer, said the section of the San Diego Freeway that runs through the VA land is the third most heavily traveled piece of freeway in the Los Angeles basin.
"We would project that if the VA land was densely developed, more people would use the freeway as a result," Masuda said.
The VA land north of Wilshire Boulevard that includes Barrington Park is designated as open space in the county's general plan, said Jim Gilson, an aide to Supervisor Edmund D. Edelman. If the VA land sale proceeds as planned, the buyer would have to request a zone change, which would involve at least two public hearings, Gilson said.