July 18, 2024 The Best Source of News, Culture, Lifestyle for Culver City, Mar Vista, Del Rey, Palms and West Los Angeles

“VA has Breached its Fiduciary Dutyâ€

Descendents of the Bandini, de Baker  and Jones families, who donated  the land back in 1888.
The Metabolic Studio, a direct charitable activity of the Annenberg Foundation, was on-site on the VA campus from July 2009 to October 2010. We had the privilege of working with veterans and clinicians there. I have never before worked with such committed and able people.

The focus of our work was the Strawberry Flag: an artwork made of salvaged strawberries and reclaimed water that was fully powered separate fromthe VA grid. The daily practice associated with tending to living things helped to de-alienate one of the well-irrigated but under-purposed quads on the campus.

Not one but two Memorandum of Understanding agreements issued by the executive leadership of the VA of WLA under its director Donna Beiter authorized us to do this work until it was ended prematurely by the WLA VA leadership in October 2010. During our time there we learned a lot.

When John P. Jones and Arcadia B. de Baker originally donated 300 acres of land in West L.A. to the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, a predecessor to today’s VA, they left no doubt of their intention that the land be permanently dedicated as a home for veterans. Their March 5, 1888 deed conveying the land contains no less than five separate references to the requirement that the land be used to “locate, establish, construct and permanently maintain†a branch home of the National Home. The deed specifically stipulates that the land was conveyed in return for the promise of the National Home to permanently use the land as a branch home for veterans.

The restrictions imposed under the deed created a charitable (or public) trust, whereby the VA, as the successor to the National Home, holds the donated land only in the capacity as a trustee, subject to a fiduciary duty to permanently use the donated land as a home for veterans.

The VA has chosen to jettison the restrictions placed on the donated land on its own whim and, in doing so, has turned its back on the fiduciary duty imposed upon it by accepting a restricted donation of land.

As a result, the VA has breached its fiduciary duty, diverted the use of the land from the purpose to which it was dedicated, and violated donor intent. Moreover, the VA has used the donated land for a multitude of purposes that, beyond any doubt, do not directly contribute to the provision of a veterans’ home.

Even worse, these other uses effectively bar the use of the donated land from its dedicated purpose. Access of veterans to at least 110 acres of the land at the WLA VA is either forbidden or restricted by land-sharing agreements that the VA has entered into with commercial and other organizations.

In addition, the mission of the WLA VA focuses on healthcare, not home, in that it exists “to serve the veteran through the delivery of timely quality care by staff who demonstrate outstanding customer service, the advancement of health care through research, and the education of tomorrow’s health care providers,†as set forth in its recent Draft Master Plan.

The domiciliary functions that remain today are primarily operated by charitable organizations, such as the Salvation Army and New Directions, to cater to people in recovery.
The domiciliary experience is, therefore, both entirely medicalized and positioned as an act of charity rather than a right earned, contrary to the stated intentions and purposes of the National Home.

The Metabolic Studio prepared a 30-page position paper setting forth this position in considerable detail. It can be viewed at www.strawberryflag.org.

The Brentwood News specifically asked me about “the legal actions you are contemplating.†I am not contemplating any legal actions. The position paper is meant to open up a discussion as to how we can better serve the numbers of people who are the human cost of war.

The Metabolic Studio works at the intersection of art practice and philanthropy. Since 2005, I have focused on physical and social brownfields — places incapable of supporting life. Among the brownfields I have worked on, the property at the VA of WLA is something of a paradox. It is beautiful, an earthly paradise. It has been a healing place for a millennium — known by the Tongva as a place of three streams with curative properties.
It will be again.

President Obama has made a commitment to end homelessness for veterans in his first term. That promise is still possible. It involves a redefinition of this property as a first step back to include that which it has been and will be once again: a home for recuperating soldiers.

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