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Bill to protect VA site is approved

The Feinstein measure would bar commercial development on the West L.A. campus. Bush veto seen as unlikely.

December 20, 2007|Molly Hennessy-Fiske | Times Staff Writer

Federal lawmakers approved legislation Wednesday that would bar commercial development on the sprawling West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs campus in Brentwood and Westwood.

The measure had been inserted into a larger appropriations bill by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and was passed by both the House and the Senate.

Although the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Bush administration had favored opening the 388-acre complex to commercial business as a means of generating revenue, backers of the prohibition say it is unlikely the measure will now be vetoed by the president.

VA officials have been attempting to open portions of the property to commercial development for several years, and White House officials estimate that such a move could generate as much as $4 billion in revenue.

Those who oppose commercial development, however, say it goes against the intent of donors who gave the property to the VA in the 1800s for veterans' services.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Feinstein were among the strongest critics of commercial development.

"This is not a revenue source any more than Yosemite or the Gettysburg Cemetery," Yaroslavsky said at a news conference Wednesday outside the VA offices. The event included veterans and neighborhood groups who urged the president not to veto the measure.

Feinstein's provision bars the VA from signing long-term commercial agreements, or enhanced-use leases, to sell the land piecemeal. Several businesses already use the VA property to store rental cars and buses and to operate a laundry service, and their businesses won't be affected by the legislation, Feinstein's staff said.

Despite the White House's support for development of the campus, Yaroslavsky said he was confident the provision would become law.

"I can't imagine that [the president] would veto this omnibus appropriations bill over this one provision," Yaroslavsky said.

At the White House, spokeswoman Christin Baker said Wednesday that the staff there were still evaluating the bill. She said that they considered the West L.A. VA property, "a pretty large provision" because of the potential lost revenue.

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molly.hennessy-fiske @latimes.com

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