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San Diego council delays decision on VA center

June 26, 2012 |  4:46 pm

The San Diego City Council on Tuesday delayed a decision on whether to permit a 40-bed treatment center to open in the Old Town neighborhood for military veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury.

The delay came amid strong indications that a compromise could be reached between the Department of Veterans Affairs and officials of a nearby charter school who are concerned that the veterans, grappling with mental health problems, could pose a threat to students.

The 30-day delay will allow continued negotiations between the VA and officials of the Old Town Academy. The school, with 250 students in grades K-8, is across the street from the proposed Aspire Center. The center would use a building that was once part of a law school that has since moved downtown.

Both sides told the council that, after last-minute negotiations, a compromise appears possible to avoid a lawsuit from the Old Town Academy. Council members, urging both sides to reach a settlement, delayed the issue until July 24.

"We're going to spend our time reaching an agreement, building bridges, not preparing lawsuits, right?" said Councilwoman Marti Emerald.

In negotiations Monday and Tuesday, the VA agreed to a more rigorous screening process to ensure that no veteran deemed a danger would be allowed at the center. The school would be notified immediately of any disruption caused by a veteran.

Also, the VA agreed to add a second security guard during school hours, invoke a 10 p.m. curfew, keep a log of all instances of misbehavior and permit  smoking only in an outdoor area not visible to students.

Two issues remain unresolved: the membership of a neighborhood advisory committee and a request to have a metal detector to catch any veterans entering the center with a firearm.

Cynthia Morgan, a lawyer for the Old Town Academy, told the council that, "We'd like not to bring litigation. We'd like to be a good neighbor to the VA."

Jeffrey Gering, director and chief executive of the VA San Diego, said that he's confident that the veterans, who will receive therapy and take classes, "can exist in a self-contained program with a school across the street."

The 30-day delay is meant to allow negotiations, as well as time for the issue to be taken back to the governing board of the academy and to community groups who joined the academy in opposition to the project.

"Ultimately what I want to see," said Councilman Todd Gloria, "is a facility serving our nation's heroes.... It is unfair to equate veterans with violence. Our veterans are not criminals."

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--Tony Perry in San Diego

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