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Bill seeks to protect VA campus

Times Staff Writer

U.S. Rep. Henry A. Waxman on Tuesday introduced legislation that would prohibit the sale or commercial development of any portion of the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs campus.

The measure would also require the VA to satisfy a 1998 congressional mandate by completing a comprehensive master plan for the property aimed at ensuring that veterans’ future needs would be adequately addressed.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. May 31, 2007 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday May 31, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 93 words Type of Material: Correction
Federal properties: In the California section, an April 27 article about the FBI dropping plans to build a new L.A. headquarters and a May 9 article about legislation seeking to ban the sale of the Veterans Affairs campus on the Westside reported that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) had pushed the government to prepare a master plan for three federal properties in the West Los Angeles area: the VA campus, the Federal Building site and an Army Reserve parcel south of Wilshire Boulevard. Feinstein is seeking a master plan for the VA campus only.

“This legislation assures permanent protection of the land,” Waxman, a veteran Los Angeles Democrat, said in a statement. “Today, soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan are returning home to face shortages in services. We owe our veterans an ironclad guarantee that their needs are our priority.”

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The measure is expected to attract widespread support.

In recent years, the VA has not only been studying how to improve healthcare; it has also focused on making the most of any potential reuse or redevelopment of all or portions of several of its properties.

Starting in the 1990s, various proposals by the federal government to commercially develop portions of the choice property have caused tremendous friction with local elected officials and residents, who have protested that such uses would do nothing to help veterans and would worsen congestion in the area.

Among the most dramatic proposals were a National Football League stadium, a biotech campus and a mail-order pharmacy that would have had delivery trucks routinely entering and leaving the property next to a residential neighborhood. Consultants to the VA have suggested expanding an existing nine-hole golf course to an 18-hole executive course with a driving range and mixed-used development that would include residences and businesses.

In 1988, concerned about privatization proposals by the Reagan administration, the late Sen. Alan Cranston pushed through development restrictions on 109 acres of the campus. Waxman’s bill would extend those restrictions to the entire 388-acre campus.

The West Los Angeles VA campus, which lies north and south of Wilshire Boulevard between Westwood and Brentwood, contains the nation’s largest VA medical center.

According to the California Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 1 million veterans live within 50 miles of the center, more than in 42 other states combined.

“The bill accomplishes what we need to protect that property,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who traveled to Washington two weeks ago to consult with Waxman and his staff on the measure’s provisions.

As it is, Yaroslavsky, Waxman and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) have criticized the VA’s decision to lease space to corporate users such as Enterprise Rent-A-Car, SodexhoFox Entertainment Group and a bus company. The elected officials and a coalition of veterans, businesses and residents contend that such uses are inappropriate.

Yaroslavsky described as absurd “the notion that you would privatize in order to raise funds for the VA.”

“You can’t sell assets to operate your facility,” he said.

Jose Llamas, a VA spokesman in Washington, said the agency’s policy was not to comment on proposed legislation. However, he added that “the VA is committed to serving the needs of America’s veterans, including the veterans of the West L.A. community.”

Feinstein recently introduced legislation that would require the government to complete a master plan for the federal properties in the area, which also include the Federal Building and a U.S. Army Reserve parcel.

The FBI recently backed away from a proposal to raze the Federal Building and erect a two-building high-rise regional headquarters for the FBI after Feinstein, Waxman and the coalition pushed the bureau to look elsewhere.

The community celebrated that decision. Waxman’s legislation provided another bit of cheer.

“We are elated,” said Laura Lake, a longtime community activist. “We are relieved that the big campus is being saved.”

martha.groves@latimes.com


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