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Tennis courts or homeless vets? ACLU calls for investigation of VA land use

February 15, 2011 |  2:01 pm

Claiming that the federal Department of Veterans Affairs in Los Angeles is not doing enough to help homeless veterans, the ACLU of Southern California is calling for an investigation into the VA's stewardship of its sprawling Westside campus, which includes leasing portions of land for use as private tennis courts.

In letters to VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, the U.S. Department of Justice and California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, the ACLU's managing attorney, Peter J. Eliasberg, claimed that the VA was failing to abide by the terms of a 1888 deed that created the West Los Angeles veterans campus.

"The VA has allowed portions of those lands to be leased to a private school for use as tennis courts and other portions of VA property to be leased for use as theaters instead of housing our homeless veterans, who are in desperate need of housing," the ACLU said in a prepared statement Tuesday.

The VA has defended its decision to lease campus lands to private organizations, saying the agreements generate funds for the care of former service members.

In his letter to officials, however, Eliasberg said the practice was inconsistent with the government's legal obligation and had "enormous human costs."

The ACLU cited figures from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority stating that in 2009 Los Angeles County (excluding Long Beach and Glendale) had about 42,700 homeless individuals. Veterans accounted for about 6,500 of them.

It was in the late 1880s that U.S. Sen. John P. Jones of Nevada -- a co-founder of Santa Monica -- and Arcadia B. de Baker donated hundreds of acres of land to be used in perpetuity as a home for disabled soldiers.

Veterans activists have complained for years that the federal government has been ignoring the needs of homeless veterans even as it leases portions of the campus to private schools, corporations and others for activities unrelated to the care of veterans.

Last month, Richard Fox, an attorney representing a charitable activity of the Annenberg Foundation, wrote to Shinseki asserting that the VA's leasing practices appeared inconsistent with the terms of the charitable donation. In its letter, the ACLU agreed with Fox.

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-- Martha Groves

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