The welfare of hundreds lured by Santa Monica's reputation as a destination for the homeless lies in the return of the West LA Veterans Affairs campus to its original purpose, according to city officials.
Santa Monica—known for spending big money and resources on the homeless—has signed on as a "friend of the court" in a lawsuit that accuses the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs of breaching its 1888 deed with the original landowners of the West Los Angeles Medical Center and Community Living Center campus.
In June, the American Civil Liberties Union and Santa Monica City Councilman Bobby Shriver that seeks to bar the VA from leasing space on the 387-acre property to private businesses. (Under pressure from critics, the VA has since ordered a bus company, a car rental firm and a laundry service to vacate.)
"More than geography links [Santa Monica] to the West LA VA campus and to the services provided there," City Attorney Marsha Jones Moutrie wrote in court documents. "The city believes it possesses a unique perspective and special interest in this litigation."
In a brief filed with its application for "amicus curiae"—someone who is not a party to the litigation but who believes that the court's decision may affect its interest—Moutrie argues in favor of the campus' preservation as a place solely for veterans. In doing so, she links Santa Monica's past and future to the 123-year-old property.
"For many years, the city has recognized the West LA VA campus as a valuable and underutilized resource which could be tapped to serve the needs of disabled and homeless veterans," she wrote.
The brief also asks U.S. District Judge S. James Otero to dismiss the VA's request that the case against it be dismissed. Otero has asked the parties to settle.
In court documents, Moutrie paints Santa Monica as a haven for the homeless.
About 3 percent of all homeless people in Los Angeles County live in Santa Monica, a city "dwarfed" by all other areas of the county in terms of its land mass and population, she wrote.
Still, it spends between $5 million and $10 million of its General Fund—a catchall account for unrestricted spending—on programs like those that assist the homeless in finding permanent housing, health care and employment.
In the past six years, Moutrie wrote, Santa Monica has advanced several proposals to have the VA renovate and rehabilitate buildings at the West LA campus, which was established with charitable donations from the city's founders, U.S. Sen. John P. Jones and Arcadia B. de Baker.
For nearly 80 years, disabled, homeless veterans were housed in the Pacific Branch Soldier's Home. But starting in the 1960s, buildings began falling into disrepair and new residents were no longer accepted into the campus. All new construction and renovation projects were focused on expanding medical and short-term facilities, the ALCU suit states.
Today there are more than 100 buildings at the campus, but with the exception of geriatric nursing beds, no permanent housing is available.
"When the home first opened in the 1920s, many veterans walked from San Francisco to live here. It was an amazing place," Christine Barrie, whose great-aunt was De Baker, told Patch in June. “This [was] a healing property. The veterans were fed three times a day. They worked for themselves. They wore uniforms."
The ACLU suit was filed on behalf of four veterans:
- Jane Doe, an Army veteran diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after suffering several sexual assaults;
- Adrian Morau, a Marine who was exposed to chemicals during his deployment to Iraq, and who experiences violent seizures, has lived in his car and was once arrested in Santa Monica;
- Greg Valentini, who has graphic nightmares of his time with the 101st Airborne Division in the initial invasion of Afghanistan in 2001; and
- Chris Romine, who turned to illicit drugs to treat PTSD and who lived on the streets of Santa Monica after seeing one friend chrushed by a vehicle and the other burned to death during his deployments.
"The city has partnered with the Veterans Administration and through the city's funded social services, with most of the individual plaintiffs as well," The city is effectively a neighbor to the West LA VA campus and home to plaintiffs," she concluded in the brief.