Veterans divided over proposed apartments on Sepulveda VA land

"We're still weighing all options," said Dora Leong Gallo, chief executive of A Community of Friends, a nonprofit developer of affordable homes. "We really want the veterans community's support."

The housing, on land leased for 75 years from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, would encourage independent living and offer services such as health and wellness programs, education and job training opportunities. The federal housing authority has made provisions to allow the apartments to be rented to military "veterans only."

Advocates for the homeless say there are between 18,000 and 21,000 homeless and disabled veterans in Los Angeles County, with nearly 2,700 of them in the San Fernando Valley.

"The real story is that when our veterans return from war, they have a chance to heal, a place to live, and they are accepted back into the community," said Toni Reinis, executive director of New Directions Inc., which provides social support and treatment programs to veterans and would be the on-site service provider at the proposed apartment complex.

"This project is a model," Reinis said. "We're hoping it will stimulate housing for veterans across the nation."

But opponents of the project, including some veterans, are not convinced that the developers will honor the lease and rent only to former service personnel.

They also view the 75-year length of the lease as tantamount to giving away their land, and they fear it might set a precedent.

Most of all, opponents of the proposed apartments want the two vacant buildings returned to medical use, restoring the complex to the full-service facility it once was -- with urgent care and emergency services. There is an outpatient clinic at the complex, but veterans must seek many kinds of treatment at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center.

"It's just another step in taking away veterans' services," said Jerry Schwartz, 64, a disabled Navy veteran who gets daily outpatient treatment at the Sepulveda VA clinic. "It's not the best use of the buildings. We're in two wars. We're creating new veterans every single day. Some of us need medical care for the rest of our lives."

Several neighborhood groups have also come out against the project.

Peggy Burgess, a member of the Land Use Committee for the North Hills West Neighborhood Council, whose boundaries include the Sepulveda VA, said the land is not zoned for apartments.

"This is a total sham," Burgess said. "This is not about housing for homeless veterans. This is about ownership of land."

However, many veterans advocacy groups and former service personnel support the housing project.

"I think it's outstanding, and it's something all vets would need," said Donald Bolden, 48, a homeless Army veteran who served in Lebanon and is now in a New Directions treatment program.

Gordon Marble, 57, a U.S. Navy veteran, said opponents of the housing project were not clear about all the facts.

"This is basically about fear versus opportunity," Marble said. "The forces against this project are driven by fear. . . . Those for the project are for an opportunity that will benefit people like me, who have a history of homelessness."

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