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VA's West LA Campus Plan Includes 1200 Housing Units

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Hector Gonzalez
Special to The Lookout

February 8, 2016 -- A new draft master plan that will serve as a framework for how Veterans Administration officials will expand services for veterans at the agency's West Los Angeles Medical Center includes building 1,200 housing units on the 388-acre campus.

Released January 28, the draft plan is the centerpiece of an agreement reached in January 2015 between the ACLU, Santa Monica and the VA that ended a five-year legal fight over the West Los Angeles campus.

The new model for the property envisions a central hub of support for veterans, combining the health care the facility has provided since the 1970s with new housing and services primarily for homeless veterans, according to the plan.

Once homeless veterans are housed, a variety of directed services provided by the VA and key community partners such as UCLA will be there to help the most “under-served populations such as female veterans, aging veterans and those who are severely physically or mentally disabled,” according to the plan.

Housing will be built over a roughly 10-year period, with the first 490 units completed within 30 months of the plan's enactment. The remainder of the 710 planned units would be finished with the following decade.

The plan, however, must get Congress' approval, since “at present the campus itself is not authorized to offer resources beyond medical care, such as housing with support.”

A pending bill by Santa Monica's congressional Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Manhattan Beach, and U.S. Sen. Diane Fienstein, D-California, “The Los Angeles Homeless Veterans Leasing Act of 2015,” would clear the way for the VA to hire developers and outside service providers.

In a separate announcement, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said the university will provide $1 million in support services and programs annually at the VA campus, as well as $200,000 annually in in-kind services and $300,000 a year for use of Jackie Robinson Stadium by UCLA's baseball team for the next 10 years.

In exchange, “the stadium will be used, along with a new park adjacent to the Veterans Garden, as a site for recreational, leisure and therapeutic activities by veterans and their families,” said UCLA officials January 28.

Under the VA's partnership with UCLA, the two entities will create the VA-UCLA Family Resource and Well-Being Center and a Mental Health and Addiction Center for Excellence. UCLA will contribute $750,000 a year to the initiatives, officials said.

UCLA officials envision the Family Resource and Well-Being Center will become a national model for providing services for veteran families and women veterans, “offering a one-stop portal for access to specialized family resilience, social work, legal, education, parenting skills and other services.”

The university also committed $400,000 to expand and move the UCLA Veterans Legal Clinic to better serve veterans at the West LA campus.

Created from input gathered at community meetings that began in June 2015, the draft master plan was released a year after VA Secretary Robert McDonald joined former two-time Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver in January 2015 in announcing the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU and individual civil rights attorneys against the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Filed in 2011, the suit alleged the VA had failed to address the needs of the county's homeless veterans. That year, the Santa Monica City Council adopted a motion by Shriver to file a “friend of the court” brief joining in the class-action lawsuit (VA Secretary Endorses Former Santa Monica Mayor's Idea for Housing Homeless Veterans, January 29, 2015).

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