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Senate Discusses Kickstarting Veterans Campus Redevelopment

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

The U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs discussed ways to kickstart redevelopment of the West Los Angeles veterans campus in Brentwood.

Among the options is a bill authored by Senator Dianne Feinstein.

"It's run down and it needs help," Feinstein said of the campus.

Her bill, called the L.A. Homeless Veterans Act, which is cosponsored by Senator Barbara Boxer and Congressman Ted Lieu, would allow the V.A. to start partnering with private non-profits to bring development to the site.

Specifically, the act gives the Secretary of Veterans Affairs legal authority to sign "enhanced use" leases at the campus. In 2007, Congress stripped the secretary of that authority in response to decades of mismanagement at the campus.

Originally given to the federal government in 1888 to house veterans with disabilities, the site hasn't been used for that purpose since the early 1970's. Instead, it's been leased out for various commercial purposes, including parking lots for auto dealerships and a bus company, a hotel laundry service, as well as being the home of  UCLA's baseball field.

Feinstein, however, argues the department needs the authority back in order to execute a much-anticipated master plan for the campus. Partnering with private entities would speed up development, she argued, and allow the V.A. to take advantage of additional revenue sources currently sitting unused, like $600 million set aside by the state of California to use for vets on the campus.

A draft of the master plan, being written by the design firm HOK under a $1.5M contract, is expected to be completed  by October 16.

Vince Kane, an official with the V.A. said the department plans to take public comment on the plan for one to two months after its release.

A Feinstein spokesperson said she'll ask for a vote on her bill once the committee has fully reviewed the plan.

Kane gave some hints of what it might look like.

"Our intent is to make the entire property veteran-focused, that puts the veteran first," he said. A baseball field owned by UCLA is not likely to be part of the plan, he said.

"Zones" would be established for different uses of land on the campus, Kane said, and discussions with UCLA would have to include how "that stadium can be repurposed to have a focus on veterans" should the field remain.

Noting that the V.A. holds a number of unused properties elsewhere, U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson  of Georgia said he hoped the final version of the master plan could serve as a template for generating revenues at those other sites.

The committee is expected to review the proposed legislation in late October.
 

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