Once again we are being called to defend our land. This time it is not from a far away land but here at home. Our weapons of defense have changed from rifles to pens, laptops and protest signs. This time we are fighting over a broken promise. The promise is included in a 388-acre deed by John P. Jones and Arcadia de Baker to the United States. The deed states that this land is to be used for the “sole purpose of providing veterans a place to heal from war”. This property is now called the “VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System” and is managed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Our new battle is with the VA and the “Veterans Park Conservancy.
In September 2007 the Los Angeles VA entered into a “Shared Property” agreement with an organized group of Brentwood and Beverly Hills residents calling themselves the “Veterans Park Conservancy” (VPC) to use 16 acres of that land, rent-free, as a public park. The agreement runs for 20 years with an option for 10 more. The $6M - $7M worth of improvements are to be paid for through donations collected by the Conservancy. Because the $6m - $7M includes the cost of permanent structures, reversing a “public agreement” is going to be next to impossible and the land will never revert back to its intended use.
The veterans along with Senator Alan Cranston and Senator Pete Wilson saved this land once before in 1986 when the Federal Government wanted to sell 80 acres for public development. In response to the veterans efforts the VPC made a statement that the "VETERANS TOUCHED OUR HEARTS AND INSPIRED US TO PRESERVE THEIR LAND" but their actions tell a different story. When the agreement was originally drafted the VA had a clause for a one-year termination-for-convenience. This meant that with a one-year notice the VA could rescind the agreement with the VPC and take the land back. The VPC and community supporters pressured the VA to remove the one-year termination-for-convenience clause because per Sue Young, the executive director of the VPC, “the clause would make fundraising impossible and would jeopardize the project”.
To further demonstrate their insincerity, VPC advertised the proposed park by placing a sign “Beauty, Honor, Country”, thus trivializing the US Military Academy’s motto “Duty, Honor, Country”. Their focus on “Beauty” rather than “Duty” clearly indicates they do not understand the sacrifices veterans and their families have endured to protect our country. To claim to have the veterans’ interest at heart is a slap in the face to all veterans.
Even the VPC’s original website stated: The 16-acre parcel will be for the “creation of the first new community park to be built in West Los Angeles in over 50 years. It further stated: “What we have in mind is a scaled-down version of a grand community park in the tradition of New York's Central Park. Most importantly, it will attract all segments of our West Los Angeles community: Veterans and civilians, children and adults, featuring numerous activities for everyone.”
The quest to turn the veteran’s land into a public park does not rest solely with the Conservancy group. They are backed by Congressional Representatives who would rather put this land in the hands of their wealthy constituents than honor the original deed agreement and provide the veterans that fought for this country a protected place to heal from war. That’s why the CA Veteran’s Democratic Caucus created a resolution to rescind the shared agreement. On July 19th the California Democratic Party’s Executive Board adopted the resolution, stating that the shared agreement “is inconsistent with the exclusive use for veterans envisioned by the donors, and the trust conveyed in their deed to the United States”.
Unfortunately, Representative Henry Waxman (D CA-30), in whose district the property falls, and Representative Bob Filner (D CA-51), the Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer can toss this resolution in the recycle basket if they wish. But if they toss the resolution aside it will put them in direct conflict with the philosophical belief of the California Democratic Party and all supporting veterans.
So we still need your support. A small group of dedicated veterans stand vigil over the veterans’ land in West Los Angeles every Sunday. Don’t let them stand-alone. We must all stand together to protect this land on behalf of all veterans and not let this land be stolen.
Join us on August 16th for a rally to “Save Our Veterans’ Land” at the corner of San Vicente and Wilshire Blvds. in West Los Angeles from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.
Steve Crandall, President
CA Central Coast Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans Against The War