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(CityRegions.Com, October 14, 2019 ) LOS ANGELES, October 12, 2019 – Veterans’ civil rights advocates report new evidence of illegal land use and mismanagement at the West Los Angeles VA (WLA VA), an establishment entrusted to the Federal Government as a National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers near the turn of the 20th Century. Amid recent VA Inspector General findings, Federal Court Orders, FBI arrests and criminal convictions of a fraudulent lessor and WLA VA Contract Officer; the establishment that housed thousands of disabled Veterans for over a century shelters less than 54 today, while nearly 5,000 disabled Veterans are homeless in Los Angeles. The advocates allege their new discoveries will usher effective law enforcement into WLA VA – because land use frauds against disabled Veterans, our Federal Government and local Communities are now demonstrable and the special interests behind them, identifiable.
Last week, Veterans civil rights advocates submitted records to investigators of negotiations between a disabled Veterans job-workshop and a private nonprofit called Vets Advocacy. The workshop alleges Vets Advocacy offered its influence to secure a new lease for the workshop, which had just been evicted from the WLA VA… If the workshop agreed to “cool” inquiries into hazardous waste at the WLA VA that may relate to recent illnesses contracted by some of the workshop’s disabled Veteran employees; and let Vets Advocacy refer said employees to VA doctors, instead of those the workshop pursued for medical evaluations. An Acting Executive Director of the Greater Los Angeles VA remains silent while addressed throughout the communications.
Berkshire Hathaway Director Ronald L. Olson and Politician Bobby Shriver are the co-founders running Vets Advocacy, which is financed by donations of Berkshire Hathaway securities and under a written Agrement with VA to, among other things: “end veteran homelessness in Greater LA in 2015”. Berkshire Hathaway Vice-Chairman, Charlie Munger, who is also Mr. Olson’s partner in law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson, recently lost a bid to build a shopping mall on land Munger owns a few blocks away from the WLA VA.
In January of 2015, Olson convinced members of the Press and the General Public that a memorandum between himself and then VA Secretary Robert McDonald, who had resigned from his Chairmanship of Proctor & Gamble while remaining under a lucrative, performance-based consultancy agreement with the company – settled the Valentini v. McDonald (Shinseki) action decided for disabled Veteran Plaintiffs back in 2013. That prior decision reaffirmed third-party leases at WLA VA are illegal and Ordered the lessors’ evictions; including UCLA and The Brentwood School.
WLA VA agreed to honor the memorandum, which states it is not enforceable in any Court; and authorized Vets Advocacy co-founders lobby to revise an existing Master Plan for WLA VA. Vets Advocacy’s revisions included relabeling the Home as a “Campus”, misrepresenting it must “particularly” (instead of exclusively) serve Veterans and implemented “mixed-use Reintegration”, “mixed-use retail” and “Mixed-Use Neighborhood” Zones into the plan. Commenting to SCPR in January 2015 on what he felt was missing at the WLA VA, Vets Advocacy’s Bobby Shriver stated: "There's no track. There's no basketball courts. There's no Starbucks. There's no dry cleaner. There's no community. There's no restaurant".
The current version of the WLA VA Draft Master Plan is an “Outer Ring” of mixed-use for most of the land North of Wilshire – wherein remaining unauthorized lessors encircle a consolidated footprint of to-be-determined housing for disabled Veterans. 490 units of the housing were originally scheduled to open nearly a year ago yet none have broke ground. Since Vets Advocacy’s involvement at WLA VA; there’s a net increase of illegal leases to third parties, nearly 1,000 disabled Veterans were evicted and services outside of the Medical Center that Principally Benefitted Veterans and their Families were also evicted… Including the Twilight Brigade; a volunteer nonprofit providing free hospice to terminally ill Veterans.
Several hazardous waste dumps at WLA VA contain radioactive byproducts of experiments UCLA performed on Veterans, children and animals for the Department of Energy since the 1950’s. In 1996, Congress declassified and disclosed the experiments in Public Reports. VA subsequently commissioned environmental studies establishing locations of the WLA VA dumps. WLA VA suppressed the studies until journalist Michael Collins of enviroreporter.com, investigated the matter with help from thousands of declassified documents he received from former Senator Henry Waxman.
Amid reports UCLA no longer experiments on humans at WLA VA, Veterans civil rights advocates found a February 2019 experiment that radiated human test subjects with nuclear radioisotopes, developed in the still-active UCLA Cyclotron facility at WLA VA. The Cyclotron was, if not still is, a primary source of radioactive waste at WLA VA. The subjects were exposed to the radioisotopes in two, three-hour PET scans in one week at WLA VA, to determine the effectiveness of two new drugs that may curb alcoholics desire to drink. Advocates worry the subjects were homeless disabled Veterans and believe the studies are for private pharmaceutical companies, coordinated through an offsite nonprofit called the Brentwood Biomedical Research Institute (BBRI). BBRI is actually owned by the VA and reported over $7,000,000 revenue for FY 2017. Advocates allege BRRI may be a hub for private research at the expense of disabled Veterans health and safety.
VA-commissioned environmental studies report concentrations of hazardous waste shallowly buried under land used by the Brentwood School; a private, K-12 nonprofit with a minimum tuition of $37,275 (2019) and $52,599,463 in annual revenue (FY 2018). The school’s debt is financed by California State iBank Bonds, a $40,000,000 issue of which back the school’s controversial Education Master Plan under construction. The plan was approved by former LA City Planning and Land Use Chair Jose Huizar; who’s under FBI investigation for undisclosed land fraud(s). All of the school’s owned and leased lands are purportedly exempt from property tax, via a Veterans & Welfare Certificate. In response to an Advocate’s recent inquiry, the CA State Board of Equalization reported the Brentwood School’s Certificate was grandfathered into the program without being assessed.
After a string of negative press covering several students’ racist video productions, a teacher convicted of narcotics distribution and the same teacher’s sentence for repeated sex crimes against a student on campus (and the WLA VA); Brentwood School hired PR consultant Jane Buckingham to turn its’ image around. Mrs. Buckingham recently made headlines pleading guilty for paying a racket to pass her kids college admission tests. Both children attended Brentwood School at the time of her crimes.
Brentwood school’s original lease for WLA VA land was negotiated and executed for the VA by former Contract Officer Ralph D. Tillman, who was imprisoned last year for accepting nearly $300,000 in bribes from an illegal WLA VA lessor who’s in prison for related fraud and conspiracy. A provision of the unauthorized lease exempted the school from paying rent to the VA from the time any hazardous waste is discovered under the leased land and until all of it is removed by VA.
In 2007 Brentwood School learned WLA VA published an environmental study disclosing the hazardous waste under the land it still uses. Then Head of Brentwood School Michael D. Pratt demanded then VA Secretary James R. Nicholson declare the report in error and let the school commission its’ own study. Nicholson complied and about two weeks later, a now-defunct, boutique environmental firm concluded no hazardous waste was under WLA VA land the School uses. Since leaving the VA, Mr. Nicholson owns and runs New Day USA, which is a reverse-mortgage, Veteran lending institution Federal regulators found predatory last year. Nicholson is also Sr. Counsel at Brownstein Farber Hyatt & Shrek’s Washington DC Office, which is the Brentwood School’s Federal lobbying firm.
Last week, regional leaders of National Veterans Service Organizations (VSO) were invited to an impromptu meeting at WLA VA, to discuss the future of housing for disabled Veterans there. Several of them report being separated into two-hour slots, wherein members of the VA Real Property Law Group, Department of the Army Contracts, Congressional Relations Office and a VA Veteran Service Organization Liaison; aggressively solicited their consent and support to amend Public Laws preventing sale of WLA VA land – in order to sell at least 22 acres of WLA VA to the Brentwood School. Reporting VSO invitees claim officials declared the sale is required to obtain $50,000,000 for a sewer system upgrade, in absence of which the construction of long-overdue housing for disabled Veterans is stalled. It was the first time advocates, if not now also the General Public, had ever heard of the purported contingency. No documentary evidence of the sewer issues was presented to the reporting VSO leaders at the meetings.
Prior to meeting at WLA VA, VSO leaders stated in writing to each other that they do not agree to sell any WLA VA land, a position many verbally reaffirmed after the meetings. Amid several requests to all VSO leaders who attended the meetings, AMVETS is the only organization so far to issue an official, written public statement in responding to the described meetings – that they are against selling WLA VA land, which is illegal.
The approximately 250,000 member strong AMVETS VSO unanimously voted to route WLA VA of corrupt land use practices at their 2019 National Convention. Resolution 2019 20-23 was drafted and sponsored by AMVETS California 2nd Vice Commander, Francisco J. Juarez, a disabled Veteran who rehabilitated at WLA VA after returning from Vietnam. Mr. Juarez is inspired to ensure the mandated housing and services which helped him are reinstated at WLA VA as soon as possible. Mr. Juarez is also a founder of VAL-OR, an organization supporting families of Veterans who lost their lives to service-related disabilities. It’s Co-Founder lost their son a day after WLA VA declined his last of many pleas for rehabilitation services.
Veteran civil rights advocates discovered some of the WLA VA sewer system was upgraded in 1996 and current WLA VA environmental studies don’t account for capacity used by approximately: 1,000 students and staff of the Brentwood School, 1,000 fans and workers of UCLA Baseball and a multi-acre, oft bankrupt, water-injection oil drilling and gas processing plant –
– all of which are unauthorized land deals that will return utilities capacity to disabled Veterans upon illegal lessors evictions.
Advocates recently noticed the uncertified Brentwood Community Council and a Board member of the Brentwood Homeowners Association demanded on Federal record – that WLA VA perform major sewer system upgrades before building disabled Veteran housing there.
The Brentwood Homeowners Association holds all of its meetings inside of the Brentwood School on WLA VA land and recently received around $60,000 in payments from the School. Advocates found and / or received written statements by a President, Chair and Homeless Task Force Leader within the foregoing organizations Boards that: Veterans don’t need WLA VA for another 15 years, WLA VA should be opened up to rush hour traffic after fencing off roads to keep Veterans away from their cars; and interest in exporting disabled homeless Veterans to other counties with short-term motel vouchers.
On September 20th, 2019; the Brentwood Community Council filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in favor of Gibson Dunn’s effort to overturn a reaffirmed appeal, of homeless persons right to sleep on public sidewalks from dusk until dawn when there’s no nearby shelter. The Council recently campaigned for now-regular cleanups and arrests of homeless persons on a Public sidewalk of the WLA VA. The Council reports trying to purchase the public sidewalk prior to campaigning for the interventions. Approximately 50% of homeless persons in Brentwood are disabled Veterans.
In a written response to one advocate’s inquiries for more information about sewer system financing at WLA VA, the Brentwood Community Council’s Chair suggested speaking with Thomas J. Safran of Thomas Safran & Associates. Mr. Safran, who was appointed as a Principal Developer of disabled Veteran housing at WLA VA over a year ago, is a major Brentwood School donor who, since his WLA VA award; built a three-story, Frank Gehry designed headquarters for his company within a few blocks of the WLA VA he’s yet to break ground at. An independent journalist provided a Veteran civil rights advocate copies of recent emails Mr. Safran canvassed throughout wealthy Los Angeles Communities, to help a private nonprofit raise funds for disabled Veteran housing projects – outside of Los Angeles County.
The Brentwood Community Council and Brentwood Homeowners Association sponsored black-tie donation galas for Safran prior WLA VA announcing his award. WLA VA executive Meghan Flanz declares in video of a Federal Advisory Committee Meeting – that Safran’s company is entitled to a 75-year, tax-free and rent free lease of WLA VA to build and manage its’ projects. Under it’s current deal with WLA VA, Thomas Safran & Associates is responsible for financing the development of its projects. The only potential financing for them that advocates are currently aware of are a portion of Los Angeles Proposition HHH Bonds.
Veteran advocates allege the Brentwood School is a co-conspirator of frauds to illegally purchase WLA VA land at a small fraction of market rates, in part by frustrating the intent of Law with aggressive lobbying. Advocates revealed approximately $1,500,000 of lobbying by the private K-12 school; most of it spent on members of Congress by Brownstein Farber Hyatt & Shrek; for the express purpose of WLA VA Land Use Entitlements and issues related to the September 2018 VA Office of the Inspector General Report. The report reaffirmed the Brentwood School’s illegal use of WLA VA land.
Public IRS records found by advocates in August 2019 show the Brentwood School reported zero lobbying expenses in the school’s tax returns (2011-2018 Form 990), as required by Law. It also appears the School started lobbying the U.S. Government only after Veterans won Valentini v. Shinseki and did not intervene in that action until after it’s Decision.
The West Los Angeles VA was donated to the Federal Government around the turn of the 20th Century as a National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers; generations of whom rehabilitated there before moving out to startup Brentwood, Westwood, West Los Angeles and Sawtelle's economies. By the 1950's, WLA VA transformed into a major Veterans medical center – while maintaining housing and rehabilitative services for approximately 5,000 disabled Veterans.
In the 1960’s, Federal budget cuts began under-funding WLA VA operations, effecting progressive evictions of disabled Veterans into homelessness while private companies secured illegal leases there. Other than retired senior citizen Veterans who pay to stay at the Cal Vets Home, there are less than 54 disabled Veterans housed at the WLA VA today.
In 2011, not long after the General Public become aware of illegal leases and declining disabled Vetreran populations at WLA VA – disabled Veterans sued the VA in the Valentini v. Shinseki action they prevailed on in 2013, resulting in a Federal Court Order for illegal WLA VA lessors to vacate, including the Brentwood School and UCLA. Amid dropping their appeals and interventions by 2014, the Brentwood School and UCLA are among few illegal lessors at WLA VA refusing to leave... They’ve contrarily expanded their developments at WLA VA, sometimes while out-of-lease.
After becoming VA Secretary, Robert McDonald announced his commitment to an exit strategy for unauthorized WLA VA lessors, including the Brentwood School and UCLA; before executing a long-term lease renewal for the Brentwood School about two years before its’ then-current lease was to expire. In 2017, Mr. McDonald delivered the Brentwood School’s commencement address on WLA VA land. He was introduced by Head of Brentwood School Dr. Mike Riera as the only reason the school remains at WLA VA today. Los Angeles City Mayor Eric Garcetti delivered the school’s 2018 commencement address.