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Three businesses ordered to leave VA’s West Los Angeles campus

The federal Department of Veterans Affairs is ordering a bus company, a car rental firm and a laundry service to leave its sprawling West Los Angeles campus after complaints from critics that the agency puts commercial interests ahead of caring for thousands of homeless veterans.

In recent months, the VA has told the three longtime tenants — Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Tumbleweed Transportation and Sodexo Inc., an institutional laundry service — that their uses were not compatible with the 387-acre campus’ mission.

Enterprise, which stores vehicles at the campus, was instructed to move to a different site at the VA by October to make way for a new mental health facility and to vacate that property by next May.

Tumbleweed, which parks school buses on campus when they are not being used to ferry children, was told by the VA in May that it would be able to use the facility for only one more year. Sodexo, a Maryland-based company that operated a commercial laundry facility, was informed late last year that it would have to leave by the end of 2011.

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Cancellations of the leases, known as enhanced sharing agreements, were initially reported by the Associated Press.

Veterans activists said the lease terminations appeared to be a response to years of protests that culminated in a lawsuit filed against the VA in June by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California and others. Named in the suit were VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki and Donna M. Beiter, director of the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.

The suit alleged that the VA had failed to provide adequate housing and treatment for disabled, homeless veterans in violation of the original 1888 deed, which called for the land to be used as a permanent home for U.S. soldiers. The complaint was filed in U.S. District Court on behalf of four veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions; the Vietnam Veterans of America, a nonprofit group; and a descendant of Arcadia Bandini de Baker, an original owner of the property.

“It’s a weak form of appeasement, and veterans and the ACLU will not accept this token gesture as progress,” said Robert Rosebrock, a veteran who for years has held weekly protests outside the campus’ Wilshire Boulevard gates about the VA’s treatment of vets.

“The termination of these leases is an admission of liability,” asserted David Sapp, a staff attorney with the ACLU Foundation. “It certainly removes an embarrassment to the West L.A. VA but does nothing to provide housing for thousands of mentally disabled vets who need a place to live with access to services.”

A status conference on the case is slated for Sept. 8 before U.S. District Judge S. James Otero, Sapp said.

Sapp said the VA has “terminated the most egregious and embarrassing leases” but has left in place leases with other entities that do not directly benefit vets. The private Brentwood School, for example, has state-of-the-art sports facilities on the campus. UCLA Athletics has been told that its baseball team may continue to use a stadium on the campus, according to university spokesman Marc Dellins.

VA spokeswoman Wileen Hernandez defended the agreements. “We can say unequivocally that any revenue generated from land-use activities directly benefits veterans by way of enhancements to our healthcare facilities,” she said.

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She added that the VA would evaluate any future agreements under criteria in its recently published master plan for the property.

martha.groves@latimes.com


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