Companies Still Parking Cars At West LA VA Campus

Sep 29, 2016

More than three years after a Federal judge said leasing land to for-profit companies on the West Los Angeles V.A. campus violated the rules under which the land was donated, a car dealership and school bus company continue to park hundreds of vehicles on three lots at the 388-acre campus.

The rest of a half dozen non-veteran-related entities that were using land on the site have struck deals with the federal government to renegotiate their leases, or they've left. The Brentwood School and UCLA wrapped up negotiations earlier this year, for instance, agreeing to pay higher rents and provide more services to vets.

Both the new cars and the school buses are on the campus through a lease the V.A. has with a company called Westside Services, which sublets the parking to Santa Monica Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram and Tumbleweed Transportation.

Heidi Marston, a spokesperson with the V.A., said negotiations over the parking lease is held up by "an ongoing OIG investigation." She would not elaborate.

Erin Benfield, who owns Tumbleweed Transportation, said she was contacted by V.A. officials who said they were investigating the leases that allow her buses to park there.

"They have spoken to me," she said.

She said she wants to stay on the site. Her company provides bus services for some of Los Angeles's most exclusive and expensive private schools, including The Brentwood School, The Buckley School, and Marlborough School. 

Dr. Priscilla G. Sands, head of Marlborough School, declined comment through her assistant.

Kayvan Naimi, the owner of the Santa Monica Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram dealership, could not be reached for comment. The owner of Westside Services did not return a reporter's calls.

Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would allow leases on the campus again, the first step to allow the West Los Angeles campus to build  housing for homeless veterans on campus. Congress took the campus' leasing rights away in 2007 after reports surfaced that the property was being misused.

The controversy over the Westwood V.A.'s leases began with a 2011 lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of local homeless veterans, who claimed the leases violated the campus's original intended purpose: housing vets.

That mission was set explicitly in the 1888 deed from Arcadia Bandini de Baker. But when the last of the veterans homes closed in the 1970s, the land was increasingly used for commercial purposes.

The lawsuit was settled in January 2015, with promises by the V.A. to boot out the commercial tenants.