Rep. Henry A. Waxman is urging the Department of Veterans Affairs to settle a lawsuit over leasing out the agency's sprawling West Los Angeles campus.
In a letter to veterans affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, the Beverly Hills Democrat called a recent court decision striking down nine leases at the 387-acre property a "stern rebuke" and asked the agency to drop its legal fight. The facility is located in Waxman's district.
The veterans agency has declined to say whether it plans to appeal. The ACLU of Southern California, which brought the lawsuit over the 387-acre campus, said the case should be resolved outside a courtroom.
Advocates suggested Waxman's letter was too little, too late. Waxman in the past has not forcefully intervened in the 10-year-old dispute, they said.
"A far more effective strategy would be to write the president, who has the real power," said former Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver. "Letter-writing has not worked in the past."
The ACLU sued on behalf of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injuries, saying the property should be used for housing homeless ex-service members. The government argued the leases produced revenue for veteran healthcare services.
U.S. District Judge James Otero ruled the agency abused its discretion by leasing out property to a hotel laundry, a television studio, the private Brentwood School and UCLA, for its baseball stadium. Otero gave the government six months to appeal before he would enforce his order.
Mark Rosenbaum, the ACLU's general counsel, said the federal agency needs to get veterans off skid row and into housing with access to psychiatric and medical care.
The lawsuit "can be settled the minute the VA commits to a plan that will treat homelessness of veterans as a mission integral to our national security and purpose," Rosenbaum said.
Los Angeles County has the deepest concentration of homeless veterans in the country — 6,300 by the latest count, down from 8,000 two years before. Despite more than a decade of protest, buildings on the Veterans Affairs campus that housed thousands of veterans until the 1980s remain underutilized, although the agency is renovating one structure as a therapeutic housing complex for 65 chronically homeless veterans.
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