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L.A. and Brentwood School consider adding services for veterans on VA’s West L.A. campus

L.A. and Brentwood School consider adding services for veterans on VA’s West L.A. campus
The Brentwood dog park is a flashpoint in the ongoing debate about development of the VA's West Los Angeles campus for hundreds of homeless veterans. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

In the latest twist in a long battle over the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ campus in West Los Angeles, the Brentwood School and L.A. city park officials are considering expanding the veteran services they offer as part of their controversial land-use agreements with the VA.

The negotiations follow a scathing audit from the VA inspector general’s office, which found that the VA continues to misuse its 388-acre campus with land use pacts that do not principally serve veterans.

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In response, the VA has revoked the land-use license of a summer Shakespeare theater company. A parrot refuge, a youth soccer league and the American Red Cross are in the process of vacating the campus, officials said.

Megan Flanz, the VA’s executive director of the campus rebuilding master plan, said last week that the agency has until September to decide whether to modify or terminate the Brentwood School’s lease on the campus.

The K-12 private academy already shares its sports complex with veterans and their spouses, grants scholarships to summer programs for their children, and has donated a computer lab to the campus. The VA is now talking with the school about adding job certification training, college counseling and GED programming, Flanz said.

With the city of L.A., the VA is discussing using the dog park at Veterans Barrington Park to train service animals for veterans. Other ideas include expanding veteran sports leagues — the city already sponsors softball teams and training for umpires — and offering pet exercise services for disabled veterans.

For decades, the VA campus was allowed to deteriorate while the VA broke off pieces for commercial leaseholders to use, including a hotel laundry, a movie studio warehouse and a parking lot. The operator of the parking lot was later convicted of bribery and of skimming millions of dollars in revenue from the federal agency.

A federal judge struck down the leases and, in 2015, the VA agreed in a legal settlement to turn the campus into a model community for homeless veterans and to find an “exit strategy” for tenants who were not “veteran-centric.”

UCLA’s Jackie Robinson baseball stadium, the Brentwood School’s 22-acre sports complex, as well as the city’s popular Veterans Barrington Park ball fields and dog run, were all allowed to remain on the VA campus in exchange for veteran services.

Karim Kamal pets dogs he cares for at Barrington Dog Park.
Karim Kamal pets dogs he cares for at Barrington Dog Park. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

UCLA, for example, opened a family wellness center. The university also hands out free game tickets and its landscape architects designed a therapeutic garden that the VA hopes to develop on the campus. The Brentwood School has been sharing its sports complex with veterans.

UCLA and the Brentwood School also pay a combined $1.1 million a year in rent, while the L.A. city parks give priority hiring to veterans.

Gennifer Yoshimaru, Brentwood’s assistant head of school, said it also has hired a veteran program coordinator, and is ready to launch focus groups to zero in on what veterans want and need.

“As an educational institution, we are uniquely qualified to offer educational opportunities for veterans,” she said.

The inspector general also faulted the VA for falling behind on the campus master plan.

The agency has yet to break ground on renovating several old buildings. Flanz said many had underestimated how long the environmental and historical reviews would take, but said redevelopment would speed up in June, with release of a key environmental report.

While the inspector general did not fault UCLA’s lease deal, Flanz said the university is responding to complaints about its legal clinic being hard for veterans to access by increasing hours and staffing.

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