Brentwood, an ultra-exclusive private high school in Los Angeles, spent more than $4.5 million in 2001 to build an athletic facility on VA Property.
High school students pay $50,880 annually to attend Brentwood, and the athletic facilities include the Caruso Watt Aquatic Center, the Stadium Field, the Upper Field, the Tennis Courts, the Pavilion, the Weight Room and Fitness Center.
The school’s athletic complex is on 22.06 acres of VA land, about 13 percent of the 300 acres of the West Los Angeles campus.
Originally, John P. Jones and Arcadia B. de Baker donated land in West Los Angeles, to the National Home for Disabled Veterans Soldiers. The March 5, 1888, deed contained no less than five separate references to the requirement that the land be used to as a home for veterans.
When American Legion Post 283, in Pacific Palisades, learned about the proposal in 2000 to give a private high school land meant for vets, they opposed it.
“This didn’t have anything to do with vets,” one Legion member remembered. “They didn’t listen to us.”
The arrangement was not only controversial with veterans, but also Brentwood store owners. A January 18, 2001, LA Times story (“Brentwood Shops Protest VA’s Parking Fee Hike”) because they felt the VA was favoring the school over merchants.
The story noted “. . .business leaders are questioning what they describe as a ‘sweetheart deal’ between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the exclusive Brentwood School for rental of a much larger government parcel next to the parking lot at a much cheaper rate.”
Then, VA Contract Officer Ralph Tillman and Brentwood School Headmaster Hunter Temple said the “sharing agreement” between the VA and the school meant that veterans would have the use of the sports complex, when students are not using it, during the 20-year life of the contract.
At the time, it appears there was little or no oversight of many of the leases on the West L.A. VA land. Beginning in 2001, the VA granted nearly a dozen leases for non-veteran uses, including contracts for an Enterprise Rent-a-Car, a UCLA baseball stadium, a Marriott hotel laundry facility and a school bus parking lot.
National Public Radio obtained documents through the Freedom of Information Act and reported that it was estimated that the VA West Los Angeles Medical Center took in between $28 million and $40 million over more than 10 years. But there was no oversight of the money.
A federal judge ruled in 2013, that the campus should be used for veterans’ healthcare, not for profit, and the VA booted out eight lease holders, including a hotel laundry and a movie studio warehouse.
Tillman, who resigned in 2014, was convicted and imprisoned four years later for taking cash bribes for leases on the campus.
Although almost all of the leases were terminated, UCLA and Brentwood School were allowed to remain – after a lobbying campaign in Washington, D.C.
The schools were told that their use of the land had to be “veteran-centric” — meaning of more benefit to veterans than not.
In November 2016, the lease with Brentwood School was renegotiated for a 10-year term. Brentwood would now pay $850,000 annually and $918,000 in non-monetary consideration. (In a 2017-2018 audit, $670,000 of the non-monetary consideration was spent on the upkeep, repair and replacement costs of the high school athletic facilities.)
From September 29, 2021, through September 28, 2022, Brentwood’s total rent was $850,000, with $1,135,235 for in-kind consideration. In November 2021, the VA executed a revocable license with the school, for 20 tiny shelters (valued at $200,000).
According to a January 21, 2019, LA. Times Story (“UCLA and Brentwood School Accused of Shortchanging Veterans at West L.A. Facility”) VA Inspector General Michael Missal said the Brentwood School misused its lease “because the principal purpose of this lease is to provide the Brentwood School with continued use of the athletic facilities.”
So, Brentwood School, changed the name of its athletic complex to Veterans Center for Recreation and Education (VCRE), and announced it would also partner with vets by allowing them to use athletic facilities, whenever students were not using them.
For example, a vet can swim in the Caruso Aquatic Center Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 5:30 to 7:30 a.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Otherwise, high school water polo and swim teams have priority.
Those Vets who want to use the Pavilion (basketball) or tennis courts can go between 5 and 11:30 a.m. and 8 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, Friday from 5 to 11:30 a.m. and Saturday from 2 to 7 p.m. and on Sunday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Circling the News contacted Brentwood School’s VCRE Coordinator, Melanie Winns, and asked her how many veterans are signed up to use the athletic complex and how many use it on a weekly basis.
Winns had not responded, so CTN drove to the VCRE Welcome Center in March and learned there are about 27 vets signed up this year, which must be done on the website (bwscampus.com/vcre).
Although the number of vets using it varies on a daily basis, security said there are around 10, there were seven signed up that morning. A vet accesses the Center by driving through the VA north campus, past the Japanese Garden, and parking in the school lot next to the booth.
CTN sent another email to Brentwood and was redirected to the school’s Chief Communication Officer Gail Friedman. CTN asked how many veteran’s children are attending Brentwood on scholarship and how many vets are signed up to use the facility.
Friedman said that for the current year that eight scholarships were offered to children of veterans.
Friedman said that since the program began about 1,546 vets have signed up and between November 1, 2021 and October 31, 2022, there were 5,783 visits. The facilities are open 359 days of the year, according to the website.
In a January meeting at the Ronald Reagan American Legion Post 283, Dr. Steven Braverman, the director of the West L. VA, was asked about Brentwood and UCLA leasing space on land meant for veterans.
Braverman said that the money the schools contribute was important to veterans because of a 1958 law, that states the VA is not allowed to build housing unless it is specifically tied to a treatment program.
Braverman said the money from those schools was being used to rebuild utilities and infrastructure on the VA. Circling the News looked for the 1958 law but could not find it and contacted VA public affairs for clarification, several times, but no one has responded with the law.
(Editor’s note: CTN followed two vets going through the process of trying to access the Brentwood School facilities. It involved several emails, telephone calls and a tour of the campus — stretched over several months. According to the vets, it was not an easy process to sign up. One vet said, why would any parents at a high school want ‘strange men,’ wondering around the campus? That parent suggested that maybe the school should just build a facility for the vets in exchange for keeping the athletic facilities for its students.)