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Proposed Changes to West LA Campus Could House 1,600 Vets

A rendering of the West LA veterans campus as proposed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

The Department of Veterans Affairs would build hundreds of units of temporary and permanent housing for homeless on its West L.A. campus under a draft master plan.

Clocking in at more than 350 pages, the document provides the first glimpse of how the VA will return the troubled 400-acre campus to its original mission: serving veterans.

"I think what will catch people's attention is the number of permanent housing that is being recommended based on the best available data," said Vince Kane, special assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

The plan, drafted by the design firm HOK, calls for 700 units of transitional housing and an additional 900 units of permanent supportive housing.

What it doesn't contain is a firm plan for evicting the commercial tenants who currently occupy large swaths of the campus. A federal judge ruled earlier this year that all infrastructure on the property must serve veterans, as was the intended purpose when the land was donated to the U.S. government in 1888.
At the moment, the land is home to a number of tenants, including a UCLA baseball field and athletic facilities associated with the Brentwood School.

Kane said that a final plan, due out in January, will thoroughly address the tenants.

The overall focus of the campus, he said will be homeless veterans, which is in line with President Barack Obama's pledge in 2014 to end veteran homelessness by the end of this year.

L.A. has the nation's largest number of homeless military veterans . A January 2015 count found  4,300. The next census is planned for early next year.

V.A. data show the average age of homeless vets in the region as 52. Many have mental health or substance abuse issues alongside chronic health problems like diabetes and hypertension.

One of the biggest potential construction projects mentioned in the draft plan is a new 200-bed inpatient hospital called the "New Bed Care Tower." If approved and funded, it could be completed by 2020.

The master plan also aims to create walkable neighborhoods --"zones"--on the campus, and link them together through a landscaped path. Each neighborhood would center on a landscaped plaza.

The four zones would each have a distinct purpose. Zone 1, on the southern edge, would house the inpatient hospital and health care buildings. Zone 2, just north of Wilshire Boulevard would be dedicated to treatment services and temporary housing.

Moving north, Zone 3 would contain permanent supportive housing units, from studio apartments to one and two-bedroom units. At the northern tip, Zone 4 is envisioned as a recreational area, where all activities are wheelchair accessible.

The report also outlined next steps:

  1. Starting the week of October 26, the VA will conduct community meetings and focus groups to solicit feedback from the public.
  2. December 5, the public comment period ends.
  3. By early January, the V.A. plans to compile all comments and feedback into a "Second Notice"  they will post on the Federal Register.
  4. A final version of the Master Plan is expected the week of January 25, 2016.

No construction will likely happen on the property until the V.A. regains the ability to lease to private contractors on the site. That was stripped away after controversy surrounding the land's misuse. A bill introduced by Senator Diane Feinstein would allow the V.A. to contract out to non-profits on the campus.

Veterans and Military Issues Reporter
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