Saturday, January 30, 2016

1/29/16 (a letter to the LA Times) The new West LA VA campus plan for construction of more than 1200 permanent housing units for traumatized veterans and more than 700 short-term units for homeless veterans is heartwarming, inspiring, and the right thing to do. However, special attention must be paid to the 20 year give-away lease of the north 20 acres to The Brentwood School. The Brentwood School has been paying a mere $300,000/annum for this priceless land in the heart of Brentwood since 1999. It has carpeted the acreage, which was sacredly deeded in 1888 for the sole use of veterans, with over 15 million dollars in lavish sports facilities, including a magnificent pool, a soccer field, tennis courts, and more. And it has built a high fence between the remaining acres of the West LA VA and its sports facilities, complete with a gate with formidable lock to insure that none of the veterans enjoy the facilities on the land which was sacredly deeded for their sole use. Only the children of The Brentwood School, whose parents are millionaire, or even billionaire, developers, bankers, studio heads, movie stars, and politicians, may use these magnificent facilities. Moreover, the fantastically cheap $300,000/annum lease represents a massive discount to this private school for the rich, which savings it has annually passed on in the form of cheaper tuition for the hyper-wealthy parents of its students. The Brentwood School is, not surprisingly, appealing the 2013 federal court decision which termed its lease an abuse of VA discretion. What worries me is that the wealthy and politically powerful parents and alumni of The Brentwood School will, in the shadows, twist the court's decision and cut a special deal for themselves which will allow them to extend their sweetheart lease. No doubt The Brentwood School administrators, having made a massive capital investment in this leased land sacredly deeded to veterans, already considers the land their own simply because it built a multi-million dollar swimming pool there, simply because it has successfully locked out the veterans from the use of their own, the veterans', land for almost 20 years. If the school manages to tip Blind Justice's scales and extend the lease in anything like its present form, it will be an outrage, not least because almost none of the parents, students, and alumni (with names like Schwarzenegger and Wasserman) of this fantastically privileged private school ever have served or will serve in defense of the nation themselves. I'd also like to contrast The Brentwood School's behavior with that of UCLA, which leases a much smaller parcel of West LA VA land for its Jackie Robinson Stadium. First of all, UCLA is a public university owned by and open to all California citizens, not a private school affordable primarily to the super rich. Second, the baseball stadium has always been open to and integrated into the life of the VA. If veterans care to sit in the bleachers and watch a game, they're perfectly free to do so. UCLA does NOT not lock and never has locked the veterans out of their own land. In fact, the lively games played on that field enrich the lives of local veterans. On January 28, 2016, UCLA reached an agreement with the VA in which it would continue to use the stadium for baseball games, but at five times the discounted rent it had been paying. This is a just resolution for UCLA and the VA. It raises the question of what can be a just resolution for The Brentwood School and the VA. The Brentwood School's officials claim they are committed to allowing the veterans to share the lavish sports facilities with the millionaires' children. But what kind of limited sharing will this be? And will The Brentwood School pay, in a new lease, the many million$ per year that these 20 acres would be worth in the open market? Or will the school's politically powerful plutocratic friends, pulling strings at the highest national level, exact another sweetheart deal from the VA?