Regarding development, UCLA and the VA are the elephants in Westwood's living room. Given the unique jurisdictional issues presented by the two large public institutions, the planning issues arising from developing these campuses are incredibly complex. With that complexity in mind, the Westside Urban Forum hosted a panel, Which Way UCLA and the VA?, excerpted here by TPR, featuring former City Councilmember Cindy Miscikowski, County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, and VA Desert Pacific Healthcare Network Director Ronald B. Norby.
Cindy Miscikowski:...The reason so many people are here is because if you are at all interested in land use, development, and what is going on in the Westside-we all play around in the area of development and land use-but the big entities who really affect all of us are UCLA and the VA. Both of them are major institutions with major missions and are serving the public good in different arenas. They both are exempt from local control. One is governed by state authority and one is governed by federal authority. Yet they drew a vast audience. Much of that audience comes from outside their own very large institutional settings and goes through the same streets, neighborhoods, and transit systems that exist, or don't exist, within our neighborhoods. Both institutions will tell us about their future, their planning, and their efforts.
Let me first start by going around the table to ask what each of your past experience has been with the institutions and what you look forward to as they plan for the future.
Zev Yaroslavsky: UCLA and the VA are the two biggest properties on the Westside. They've been here for a long time-long before anybody else was here and, in my judgment, there is no reason why both institutions can't fulfill their missions with considerable community support if it is done in an intelligent way. As far as UCLA, I was laughing about local control. I don't think UCLA feels that it is exempt from local control-our offices have been all over them over the years whenever they strayed. One of the most interesting things that I ever did was to develop the agreement between UCLA and the city of Los Angeles for their long-range development plan in the late 1980s. We didn't have a lot of community support for it but it happened that a former councilmember had made an incredible claim that the University could expand by 4 million square feet and not increase traffic by more than a certain threshold. I said that was nonsense. "Nonsense" is a less colorful word than that used by the audience, but they said, "Councilmen, if you really believe that, come drive down there with us." He said, "I'll take that," and everyone's mouths dropped open. But we did it and 20 years later now it has stood the test of time.
It allowed the University to continue their very aggressive traffic management program. They are one of the most successful in the country. It has forced them to start looking inward in terms of providing student housing on campus and making it a more residential campus rather than a commuter campus-today you can say it is far more a residential campus that a commuter campus. Traffic has never reached the expected threshold even while expanding, and they have fulfilled their mission.
Working collaboratively with the community allows the University to fulfill its vision. The University is a very important part of this community. It has an expanding population. When I was there it was at 60,000 people. It would be one of the larger cities in our county if it were its own city. They have their own police department. It is a tremendous economic engine not only for the neighborhood but for the region as a whole. It is important that we work together.
The VA is an interesting situation. It was created when the former owners of the property-which is now the VA-gifted the property to the United States government for veterans. It was in the 1880s that this was done. They have been providing services for soldiers of every war in this country since the Civil War. The first veterans served were Civil War veterans. Over the last 25 or 30 years, certain federal presidential administrations have made efforts to privatize the property. That was the case in the early 1980s when the Reagan Administration wanted to sell off the property for private development. That was the case again with the second Bush Administration where there was a serious effort to sell that property.
In the 1980s, Senator Alan Cranston carried legislation to protect the core part of the VA campus-the Northern part. During the last go-around, Senator Feinstein and Congressman Henry Waxman collaborated to pass legislation to extend the Cranston Act to the entire property. The Cranston Act precludes and prohibits the privatization of the property. That property should never be privatized. Some of the biggest developers in town, who also live in this neighborhood, who would support development of any kind in this neighborhood, do not support development of the VA.
The VA is hallowed ground; it is sacred ground. It is unincorporated county of Los Angeles, but I don't have any jurisdiction over it other than the bully pulpit. We do not want to micro-manage what goes on at the VA. As long as the VA is fulfilling its vision-providing direct services to veterans, and homeless veterans, supportive housing programs, expanding hospitals for mental health services, or providing services for soldiers with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan-whatever it is-go for it.
All we ask is that you respect the neighborhood on the periphery. Hopefully there will be a master plan for that soon. Respect the neighborhood on the periphery. Inside your property-as long as you're providing services for the Vets-you're not going to hear from us. But the minute you start parceling that property off to private developers who want to build factories on the property, forget about it. We now have a real collaborative agreement on that as well. These two institutions, working together with the local community, can live in peace with the rest of us.
Miscikowski: As Zev indicated, you had the long-range plan done in 1990. It's coming up on almost 20 years now. The first 20 years were successful. Where did you feel that was successful, and how will the University move forward?
Chancellor Block: We are the largest University on the Pacific Rim in attendance this year. It goes way beyond most of the other UC campuses. There are 300,000 people served every year by the medical center and 500,000 people served by cultural arts activities throughout the city. We have the largest extension in the United States. We have 300,000 people served by athletics. This is a mega university.
When you think about how competitive this country is going to be, and what will make California successful-and California is being challenged very seriously right now-intellectual capital is what drives California's economy...UCLA did $960 million worth of research last year. That is at the top of California's research institutions.
We have to keep in mind the work that happens at UCLA. UCLA has 38,000 students who are protecting your future. Your future and my future are wrapped up in this place being successful. The future of Los Angeles, not to mention the economy of Los Angeles, is wrapped up in our universities that will create the kinds of opportunities that will keep people here.
UCLA provides $9.3 billion for the regional economy. That is substantial. UCLA is the smallest UC campus with 419 acres. Every other campus has more space. We are densely packed. We have 60,000 people on campus every day. Although we do have many people commuting to campus, it is the same number as in 1995 and 1996. There are thousands of ride-shares. Almost 50 percent of people coming to UCLA do not come alone. There are a large number of vans and a large number of ride-share opportunities. We are way ahead of the Los Angeles average. Twenty six percent of our students come to campus driving alone. The culture is changing and improving. If we had a metro it would transform all of our lives. We are a big proponent of doing that as quickly as we can because it would make a big difference to all of us. We would like it here in ten years.
We are headed, eventually, toward a new long-range development plan in 2013, which is being driven by academic planning. We just completed our first University-wide academic plan with lofty and broad goals. Those goals involve, certainly, attracting the very best faculty. It leads us to have more faculty housing on campus. We are thinking about where to construct housing so that fewer of our faculty has to drive to work, reducing congestion on our streets and making a huge difference in the intellectual community around Westwood. We are looking for new multi-disciplinary activities. The academic plan looked at where we can actually bring the departments together in new and creative ways. And we are looking to renovate the space that we already have. In terms of the research space, we are looking hard and of course the dollars are large for renovating the medical center. There is a lot of space boarded up right now in the medical center that could be serving a productive research use if we can get it renovated.
Miscikowski: Mr. Norby, please tell us your mission and how you coordinate that mission with the land availability, your resources, and the future of the VA.
Ronald B. Norby: The Department of Veteran's Affairs has the mission to provide care and services to the veterans of the United States of America. We have three general administrations under that. We have the Veteran's Health Administration, which oversees all of our health care services...I will narrow this down to the Greater Los Angeles healthcare system...
...Our campus here has been controversial for some time. Certainly it is positioned in a very interesting area. We have no other campus in the VA healthcare system that is quite like it in terms of the community that surrounds the campus. We are very focused on making sure that all sections of our campus are directly associated with the prudent care of our veterans. Despite what the protesters say, we have no intention of building public parks, ferris wheels, or what have you on the campus. We plan to use it exclusively, and at all times, for the care of veterans.
We have a lot of needs within that range of services right now. As I mentioned, we have returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. These are very different wars in comparison to past wars in terms of the conditions we are facing with veterans coming back. In prior wars, the type of patients we are seeing now would not have come back at all. Our body armor is very sophisticated and although it protects people, we have people coming back with multiple traumatic amputations and traumatic brain injuries. Certainly everybody who comes back has some form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, whether it is minor or major. We have a lot of unique needs that come from that. Our goal is to ensure that the programs and services we provide are forward looking-that we are looking at this war and wars that may come after it in terms of the kinds of services that are needed for veterans.
Until this war, we had an aging veteran population, so our care focused on looking at long-term care services. Now we have a very young veteran population. A lot of our care will be programs that are appropriately adapted to younger veterans. We have a lot of family involvement. One of the new things we have on campus-it is very exciting-is the Fisher House. The Fisher House is much like the Ronald McDonald House in the children's hospital. Families can come and be with their loved ones as they recover. We have the Fisher House and are hoping to get a second one on campus to provide services for families. We are also working with the state of California. As a part of our initiative we are doing a government nursing home-a new one with the state. That building is going to bring a lot of services and we believe truly that it won't bring a lot of traffic. For the most part it is going to house veterans that will reside in that facility for probably the rest of their lives.
As far as the planning, we have had several false starts. We got it right this time. We are pulling together a number of initiatives. There is some capital out there for development and other activities. We are pulling together the beginnings of a master plan. There are several goals for that campus. One is to have nothing that is not veterans-focused. We will work with the community in doing that. One of the things we did not do as well in the past was get the community involved with the plan. There will be a lot of opportunity for community involvement. There is a very preliminary draft of the plan at this juncture, and we are working toward finalizing that with a local firm. It will certainly be done right and then we will have a lot of community vetting and vetting of stakeholders.
Miscikowski: ...Do you have people who are working with the regional transportation entities in terms of looking at the long-range forecast? What are the advantages and opportunities that your facilities can provide to transportation efforts?
Yaroslavsky: The subway is not going to come here in ten years. Right now there is a war developing within the MTA. The representatives of the non-city of L.A. portions of the body have essentially ganged up on the Westside. After Measure R passed last November, we set aside a certain amount of money for several projects, including the subway. There has been a heist. Tentatively, the recommendation is to take all of the money that was supposed to be set aside for the subway, have this Measure R money go into other parts of the economy, and have the subway fight for federal money exclusively. There is a fight that will erupt publicly any day now. Most of us on the Westside and the San Fernando Valley will come back and I am going to consider putting forth an initiative to amend Measure R to preclude that kind of raid. No part of the county was supposed to gang up on another part of the county in a struggle for funds.
Having said that, the plan for the subway includes a stop in Westwood that would serve UCLA. It also includes a potential stop at the VA. What I would like to see happen-and we've worked with the VA on this and they have been very cooperative-is for his phase to come to Westwood, as opposed to Santa Monica, and to the VA. The VA is a major magnet of people and traffic. It would be a wonderful thing if the subway on this phase would get to the Veteran's Medical Center campus. When that will happen, I do not know-the sooner the better.
Block: You're absolutely right-this creates enormous stresses and creates breakdowns within the academic community. The youngest faculty live the furthest distances. Many of them live far enough away that they aren't part of community. We want to create a more residential community for our faculty. That is important. We keep pushing our van program, which has been very successful. That reduces traffic dramatically. We are encouraging people to use bicycles. We have a number of different programs available. As I said, no more people come to campus now than they did in 1995.
Miscikowski: Some of the VA's most significant buildings are for housing for veterans coming back that may not have had an affliction but rather an issue of available housing. Is the VA looking at housing as well, maybe for doctors? Are your services and staff impacted by residential limitations?
Norby: That is a big issue for us when we recruit positions. Most of our people do not live in the immediate vicinity around campus, so transportation is a big issue. We are working with the MTA on the subway and with various bus systems. Our veterans live far distances; our staff lives far distances. Many of them have to change buses two or three times. Some of our veterans are aged, and it is very difficult for them to get here.
We are looking at additional housing for some of our homeless veterans. Our new secretary has a goal of zero homelessness. I certainly agree that it is a shame when you realize that one third of the population of homeless in our nation is veterans. We have a responsibility to deal with that. We need supportive housing for rehabilitation, but it has to be in a clean, safe, sober environment. We have a lot of pressure on us but we are not going to put just anybody in there. We are not going to do that. We are not going to have people that are still using drugs and alcohol living on our campus and intruding on those who want to turn their lives around. That is the one area we are really focusing on. We don't have any immediate plans for housing for staff on campus. We really want to use it for veterans.