WASHINGTON, DC — Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer joined Rep. Henry Waxman in firing off a letter to President Obama on Friday expressing their opposition to any plan to sell parts of the West Los Angeles VA property to help drawdown the national debt.
The three Democrats from California told the president and ranking members of Congress that the Veterans Affairs property, home to the largest medical center in the VA system, should be preserved so that it can be used to help rehabilitate the nation’s veterans and providing housing and therapeutic services for the over 8,000 homeless veterans in the L.A. area.
Waxman spokeswoman Karen Lightfoot says there’s no indication that negotiators are specifically considering the campus for sale, but that selling government property has been discussed in the past as a way of reaching a debt reduction deal.
“Auctioning the West L.A. VA property to the highest bidder would bring in some short-term revenue for our immediate needs, in the same way that building high-rises on the National Mall would raise money,” the letter states. “But it would be a tremendous disservice to our veterans … .”
Under the terms of an 1887 land grant from former Sen. John P. Jones, a co-founder of Santa Monica, the federal government is required to maintain the property for veterans. Subsequent legislation passed by Congress in 1988, 1991 and 2007 affirmed that the property was to remain in the possession of the U.S. Veterans Administration for the benefit of service members, according to the letter.
The 387-acre campus is “the nerve center” of the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, which serves 1.4 million veterans in Southern California and 530,000 veterans in the greater Los Angeles area, the letter states.
Even if the property could be sold, development would be limited by local zoning codes to institutional uses or be left as open space, bringing into question how much revenue the property could generate, the elected officials said in the letter.
“We will fight to hard to protect this critically important facility for our nation’s veterans,” the three wrote.
Calls to the White House for comment were not returned by presstime.
A lawsuit filed in June by Santa Monica Councilmember Bobby Shriver, the ACLU and others on behalf of homeless veterans accused the federal government of misusing the property by leasing much of it to private entities instead of using it for veterans’ permanent supportive housing.
The lawsuit accuses the Department of Veterans Affairs of breach of fiduciary duty and seeks an injunction forcing the department to use the property for the housing and care of wounded vets, among other demands.
“They are 100 percent correct,” Shriver said of the letter writers. “I hope they will also urge the president to order immediate funding for and construction of supportive housing for homeless veterans with mental illness.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.