LOS ANGELES--Federal Judge S. James Otero ruled today that the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) violated federal law when it leased portions of its sprawling West L.A. campus to 11 businesses and organizations for purposes unrelated to providing medical care or treatment for homeless and disabled veterans. The ruling comes more than two years after the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, the Inner City Law Center, Arnold & Porter LLP and Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, and law professors Laurence Tribe and Gary Blasi, filed suit against the DVA on behalf of homeless and disabled veterans, who were often sleeping outside the gates of the campus.
Today’s order found that federal statutes governing the use of DVA property unambiguously prohibit the DVA from entering into land-use agreements with private parties on the West L.A. campus unless the agreements are directly related to providing medical care or related services to veterans. The leases voided by the order cover nearly one quarter of the 400-acre property, which was originally deeded in 1888 to the predecessor to the VA for the exclusive purpose of providing a home for disabled vets. The order did not affect two land-use agreements challenged in the suit that had expired or lapsed.
“This is a victory for homeless and disabled veterans who served our nation in its time of need only to find that the VA deserted them in theirs,” said Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel for the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. “From today forward, the only leases on the VA campus will be devoted, as Congress mandated, to the delivery of health care, not tennis courts for private school students or laundry facilities for luxury hotels. And maybe it hasten the day when it is no longer true that in the home of the brave, the brave have no home.”
“With thousands of veterans homeless in L.A. County, we hope this ruling will encourage the VA to use more of its West L.A. campus to directly benefit veterans,” said Adam Murray, executive director of the Inner City Law Center.
“Today’s order moves us closer to a solution that provides our homeless veterans the services they desperately need,” said Ron Olson of Munger, Tolles & Olson. “We look forward to working with all interested parties to reach that solution.”
The nine voided agreements provided for the following uses of the property: a 20-acre parcel for Brentwood private school’s athletic complex; a laundry processing facility for nearby luxury hotels; the UCLA baseball stadium and facilities; Fox studio production storage facilities; exclusive rights for a community group to host events on a 15-acre parcel; practice fields for a private soccer club; parking lots for surrounding businesses; and a farmer’s market. View a map of the campus: http://www.aclusocal.org/va-map/.
“Today’s Order is a huge victory, but only the first step. Now, the VA must actually use the land to provide the services our military heroes so desperately need,” said John Ulin, a partner at Arnold & Porter. “We are past the 50-yard line, but will continue our efforts until our chronically homeless veterans get the housing and services they have earned.”
“Judge Otero has begun the inevitable unwinding of the government’s shameful and lawless treatment of our heroic veterans,” said Professor Laurence Tribe. “Justice, long overdue, is finally being realized.”
“The vets finally won one,” said Bobby Shriver, former mayor of Santa Monica. “Instead of wasting more time appealing Judge Otero’s excellent decision, the government should immediately spend their energy creating housing and services for the men and women suffering from severe PTSD who, today and tonight, are living in dumpsters all over Los Angeles.”
The suit, Valentini v. Shinseki, was filed in June of 2011. According to data released by the federal government earlier this year, there are more than 6,000 homeless vets in Los Angeles on any given night, more than any other city or county in the U.S.
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