After more than a decade of debate, development of the nearly 400-acre Veterans Administration campus the most valuable open tract of Westside real estate is beginning to move forward.
By the end of January, the non-profit Veterans Park Conservancy will begin work on a 16-acre park at the northeast corner of Wilshire and San Vicente boulevards. Construction could also start in the coming months on a several-hundred-bed home for elderly veterans with dementia and other memory disorders.
Still, the overall layout of the vast amount of remaining acreage remains uncertain. To date, the process has produced tension between federal planners and neighborhood groups concerned about traffic and other potential impacts.
Despite recent efforts by the Department of Veterans Affairs to include more community feedback in how the land is developed, more controversy is already brewing.
A knowledgeable source said the site would be appraised at about $2 billion. It isn’t officially valued because it’s federally owned, and therefore not taxable.
Last year, after community groups fought back an earlier VA proposal to build a large commercial development, the department bowed to demands that it include community members on the ad-hoc committee charged with deciding the campus’ fate.
The 10-member group now includes Brentwood community activist Flora Gil Krisiloff, along with Los Angeles City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski and the dean of UCLA’s medical school. However, it’s still dominated by VA officials and veterans’ groups.
“I’m not pleased with the makeup of the federal advisory committee,” said Krisiloff, a candidate for the termed-out Miscikowski’s 11th District seat who was appointed to the panel last month. “I am very concerned there are 10 people on the committee and I’m the only community (group) representative.”
Krisiloff and others charge that the VA, in order to retain control of the decision-making process, has limited the involvement of local elected officials with jurisdiction over the site.
While the VA is a federal agency and its campus is on unincorporated L.A. County land, neither Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) nor Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky whose districts include the property were allowed to participate.
Instead, Miscikowski whose 11th District borders the site on three sides but does not include it will be the only elected official on the panel.
Other committee members include a local commercial real estate broker, two hospital executives, two veterans’ group leaders, and two Veterans Administration officials.
Krisiloff is especially alarmed by the inclusion of Barbara Tenzer, owner of Santa Monica-based Tenzer Commercial Brokerage Group Inc., on the panel.
“It surprises me to see a commercial real estate broker put on the committee,” Krisiloff said. “It concerns me if it signals we’re going in a direction of using this property for commercial development.”
Tenzer declined to comment on her involvement, saying it was too early in the process to talk about the panel. “We haven’t even had our first meeting yet,” she said. “It’s a little premature to get into this.”
Calls to VA officials weren’t returned. Debbie Dyner, Miscikowski’s district director, said while the councilwoman would have liked to see more community representation, the VA likely wanted a smaller group to make the process more manageable.
Three years ago, the Veterans Administration released plans that called for a commercial development nearly three times the size of Century City on its campus.
Fierce public backlash and lobbying by Waxman, a powerful Democrat in Washington, ultimately forced VA officials to scrap those plans and come up with a public process to develop its land.
At the same time, the VA began a national review to determine whether its medical centers and real estate could be used more effectively to serve veterans. That process, ongoing for nearly two years, had delayed most planning decisions on the Brentwood campus.
Then, nine months ago, the VA decided to create a committee to decide how to develop the campus. However, none of the proposed representatives were community members. After more lobbying by local elected officials, last month VA officials appointed the current roster.
The committee is scheduled to begin holding public hearings this month to receive public input on how the site should be developed. Final clearance for the group to go ahead with its activities could be delayed pending appointment of a new Secretary of Veterans Affairs to replace Anthony J. Prinicipi, who resigned last month.
It’s not clear what the federal agency now has in mind for the campus. Dyner said VA officials would like to move their offices onto the campus from the massive Federal building across Wilshire Boulevard.
But she said it’s not clear if that would entail building new offices or rehabilitating older, existing buildings. “A whole lot of buildings there need retrofitting,” Dyner said, “and some should probably be torn down.”
Miscikowski, who was on vacation last week, would like to see the campus used primarily for veteran-serving purposes, ensuring it’s not “over-developed” and maintaining some open space, Dyner said.
Krisiloff said she wants to make sure any development of the campus won’t have a detrimental effect on the neighboring communities of Brentwood and Westwood.
“I just hope there is a fair and honest process that goes on this time that looks at the use of the land and the impacts on the surrounding community and that it be kept and used for the benefit of the veterans,” she said.
At the same time, Dyner said Miscikowski a former urban planner was going into the process with an open mind and wouldn’t try to dictate what she felt was appropriate.
“I don’t think we have a specific agenda about how it should or shouldn’t be developed,” Dyner said. “I don’t think she feels it’s her place to tell the VA how to use their property.”