A Los Angeles federal judge ruled Thursday that Veterans Administration land in West Los Angeles was reserved for the benefit of veterans, not outside interests.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed suit two years ago, alleging that the placement of tennis courts, baseball stadiums and theaters on land that was deeded more than a century ago for the care of sick and disabled veterans is illegal.
U.S. District Judge S. James Otero determined that by not using the land to provide health care for vets, the VA is in violation of an 1888 deed of land to the U.S., which guarantees help to veterans who need it.
Otero said the agency had abused its discretion by leasing land for purposes "totally divorced from the provision of healthcare," but delayed enforcement of his order.
VA land is leased to UCLA baseball's Jackie Robinson Stadium, a hotel laundry, a film studio storage lot and other businesses.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, said the judge's decision is "a success for veterans in our community. I have fought hard for years to protect the property at the West L.A. VA for uses that directly benefit veterans. This court decision represents a triumph."
ACLU/SC staff attorney David Sapp said he hoped the VA would not appeal the ruling and instead use the land in part to deal with the problem of homeless vets.
Los Angeles County has more than 6,000 homeless veterans, the highest population of the category in the country, officials said.
"We hope the VA is serious about wanting to end homelessness by 2016, as they've stated," Sapp said.
Waxman also expressed concern about the issue.
"Now is the time to redouble our commitment to address the severe needs of homeless veterans in our community," he said. "Veterans deserve every benefit that they have earned, and I plan to continue my fight to ensure that they get everything that is owed to them.
"We must continue to find creative solutions to end veteran homelessness, provide needed mental and physical health services, and give veterans the skills and access to jobs they need to take control of their lives again," Waxman said.