The ongoing saga of the Veterans Administration’s dereliction of its duties to America’s war vets took a new turn two weeks ago with the filing of a lawsuit seeking class action status in federal court against Veterans Administration Secretary Eric K. Shinseki and the director of the VA/Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, Donna M. Veiter.

The complaint, filed by Santa Monica City Councilman Bobby Shriver, Laurence Tribe, the Southern California ACLU, four disabled homeless vets, Bandini de Baker (whose family originally owned the current 387 acre West Los Angeles VA property) and other veterans’ advocates, alleges the Department of Veterans Affairs is misusing large portions of its campus and has failed to provide adequate housing and treatment for homeless veterans.

Shriver has pushed hard for additional housing at the VA for seven years. He had identified three empty buildings that could be used to house mentally disabled, chronically homeless veterans and vets with substance abuse problems.

Shriver and veterans’ advocates had grown frustrated as securing funding had become a long, drawn-out process. Only one of three of the buildings was funded to the tune of $20 million last June, a minimal commitment. Nothing has happened since then and now even those unspent funds may be in jeopardy. 

Most of the blame for the VA stagnation rests with federal politicos. Last July 5, I wrote that U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who despite sitting on the Senate Appropriations Committee and being a former chair and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Military Construction and Veterans’ Affairs, had never championed funding for this project nor had U.S. Representative Henry A. Waxman (D-Santa Monica). Homeless vets just weren’t a major concern for them.

Only after the suit was announced did Feinstein and Waxman issue a joint letter to Shinseki and the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Jack Lew, asking them to “promptly finalize a request to Congress for construction projects, including $20 million for homeless veterans projects (one building) on the West Los Angeles campus.” Since the filing, the VA has issued a flurry of press releases reiterating its support for the regions homeless veterans.   

With the chance of the $20 million being lost due to budget cuts, Shriver told me that they (Feinstein, Waxman and VA honchos) need to stop the puffery because it’s time to write a check. “The delays are unacceptable,” he said suggesting they ask the president to issue an executive order because it’s an emergency.

In 2009, the ACLU sued City Hall for not doing enough for the homeless — a meritless complaint that was dismissed by a federal judge last June. At the time, Shriver said that the VA should have been sued “because they have existing housing that’s empty and unused while tens of thousands of homeless vets live in dumpsters and on streets all over the county.”

Bobby praised the legal team working on this lawsuit.

“To their credit, the ACLU heard and listened and are now doing something about it. They’ve responded,” he said.  

Let’s hope Shriver’s project gets its funding and fast. If the money slips away now, it may be years before additional funding is secured. Meanwhile, homeless vets are living and dying in trash bins.  

 

Parking appeal lawsuit filed

A lawsuit has been filed in Los Angeles Superior Court against the City of Santa Monica, ACS State & Local Systems and Sheri Ross by residents Harriet and Stanley Epstein. 

Their complaint asks for a class action certification on behalf of all people who provided a defense to a parking citation issued in Santa Monica since Jan. 1, 2009 — either by letter and/or hearing — who weren’t provided a reason why their defense was rejected. They want City Hall to have each case reopened and adjudicated again. There’s more to come.

Yahoo! Center, Saint John’s prevail

Last week, I wrote about amendments to development agreements for the Yahoo! Center business park and Saint John’s Health Center. 

The Yahoo! Center’s owners wanted to “legalize” the leasing of parking spots to non-tenants, provide less parking for tenants and eliminate a requirement for free tenant employee parking. Tuesday, Pam O’Connor, Gleam Davis, Terry O’ Day, Richard Bloom and Bob Holbrook supported the amendment while Kevin McKeown and Bobby Shriver (whose campaigns were not supported by developer interests) asked to postpone any decision pending a detailed financial analysis of the parking operations.  

Wednesday, the Planning Commission voted to recommend that Saint John’s Health Center amend its development agreement to utilize the Yahoo! Center to park 450 vehicles for 10 years as opposed to building a promised parking garage on campus. 

The decision came about in part because shared parking and the traffic demand management plan proposed by Saint John’s are important elements in the new Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE). Next stop: City Council on June 26.

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com