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Second Shoe Finally Falls on Controversial Sepulveda VA Care Center Plan

RUSS REPORT - The second shoe finally fell on the controversial Sepulveda VA Ambulatory Care Center proposal Wednesday.  The VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System (GLA) held a briefing on the enhanced-use leases (EULs) for buildings 4 and 5 with New Directions (ND) and A Community of Friends (ACOF) for the Center. The VA has entered into a 75-year lease with New Directions and ACOF granting them exclusive use of 7.05 acres of land on the campus for $1.00 per year.
The intent of the meeting was not to invite veterans “into” the process but to apprise them of the groundbreaking set to begin in January 2012 for the conversions of buildings 4 and 5 into 147 studio apartments.

Dozens of members from Veteran Service Organizations (VSO), Neighborhood Councils, Civic Organizations and stakeholders were in attendance, most to oppose the conversions of these buildings.

Joseph “Nick” Guest, Department Service Officer, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 2805 said the VFW has joined with the American Legion and the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) in opposition to the adaptive reuse of Buildings 4 and 5. He said, “We have no problem with helping veterans, but the way this (project) was done, we are adamantly opposed to it. We do not want the VA turning over the land to an outside entity. This is NOT a ‘done deal.” Guest said the combined organizations represent over 300,000 veterans in California.

Veterans have said that this project directly conflicts with stipulations in Title 38 USC, and with the VA's own Asset Management Plan, calling for veteran outreach and coordination with the local community.

But Wileen Hernandez, Public Affairs spokesperson for the VA, disputes this, “We have followed the Title 38 requirements to the letter, and have held numerous formal and informal public meetings and hearings on this topic going back a few years.”

In her letter to Congressman Brad Sherman, Peggy Burgess, long time veteran activist, wrote, “The developers have had meetings with some of the Neighborhood Councils, but the VA has never even met with the VSOs or the community on this project!”

ND/ ACOF will now “create therapeutic and supportive housing for ‘formerly’ homeless Veterans” on the campus which violates the spirit of the original lease that says the apartments are to be built for homeless veterans.

Burgess has rallied with veterans for several years calling to rescind the 75-year EUL’s between the VA and ND/ACOF because apartments proposed by ND will not be exclusively for veterans. She said, “Ralph Tillman, speaking for the VA and New Directions/ACOF, brazenly admitted that these apartments are not housing for homeless veterans and will not remove ONE homeless veteran from the streets!”

Hernandez explained why the project will only include “formerly homeless” veterans. “The target population is chronically homeless Veterans who are already off the streets, but not ready for independent living,” she said. “These apartments will help us cover the housing “gap,” so these Veterans don’t fall through the cracks and end up homeless again.”

In March 2010, both ND and ACOF estimated the cost of the project to be $40 Million dollars. By June 2011, the costs skyrocketed to nearly $63 million. ND and ACOF are poised to receive VA and HUD Section 8 Project-based Vouchers (100%), annual tax credits of nearly $2.2 million dollars, potential energy credits and potential grant money from the state. Deferred Developer’s fees for each building exceed $2.2 million dollars.

Hernandez explained these differences, “The $63 million figure includes the value of the properties which are required to be shown for tax purposes, however, these are not actual costs that have to be paid.” (See more detail here and here.)

If, as stated in a March 2010 letter from ND/ ACOF, “ND and ACOF do not intend to use the buildings to generate revenue from filming,” the Lease still permits such use provided that 24-hour notice is given to the VA. That figure was estimated at over $17 Million dollars in 2005.

The Sepulveda VA is in Congressman Brad Sherman’s District. Sherman, who changed his mind in the midst of a huge public outcry, and decided to oppose the project in 2010 by half-heartedly calling for the VA to rescind the leases, was not in attendance.

(Katharine Russ is an investigative reporter. She is a regular contributor to CityWatch and to the North Valley Reporter. Katharine Russ can be reached at: ) –cw

Tags: Brad Sherman, Sepulveda VA, New Directions, A Community of Friends, Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center, Joseph Guest, VA, Veterans Administration

Vol 9 Issue 101
Pub: Dec 20, 2011