UCLA Fights to Keep Jackie Robinson Stadium Despite Court Ruling

The stadium sits on property belonging to the West Los Angeles VA Healthcare campus

By Patrick Healy
|  Friday, Oct 25, 2013  |  Updated 3:12 AM PDT
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The stadium is located on Veterans Administration property in West Los Angeles.  This summer a judge ruled that the property should only be used to meet the healthcare needs of veterans.  Now, UCLA is taking legal action to avoid losing Jackie Robinson Stadium. Patrick Healy reports from Brentwood for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Oct. 14, 2013.

Patrick Healy

The stadium is located on Veterans Administration property in West Los Angeles. This summer a judge ruled that the property should only be used to meet the healthcare needs of veterans. Now, UCLA is taking legal action to avoid losing Jackie Robinson Stadium. Patrick Healy reports from Brentwood for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Oct. 14, 2013.

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UCLA has left the sidelines and is seeking a rehearing of the court ruling that could force the university's championship baseball team to quit its longtime home stadium, court documents reveal.

The legal conflict comes just months after UCLA won its first ever NCAA baseball championship and marked the college world series triumph with a celebration at Jackie Robinson Stadium, the future of which is now in question.

The stadium is located near the university on the West Los Angeles VA Healthcare campus. Providing healthcare for veterans is the only permitted used of the property, Federal District Judge James Otero ruled Aug. 29 in a case brought on behalf of individual veterans.

They sought to compel the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) to house more homeless veterans. UCLA did not participate in that lawsuit. Its lawyers now argue the university was not aware of the potential impact on its baseball stadium until the ruling came down.

"The decision could force UCLA to vacate Jackie Robinson Stadium," Athletic Director Dan Guerrero acknowledged in a statement dated the day after the August ruling and posted on the UCLA sports website.

Otero ordered that his ruling would not take effect for six months, in order to provide time for the DVA to appeal. Instead, attorneys for UCLA stepped forward with a motion seeking to intervene in the case, and to "vacate the judgment" for rehearing.

UCLA's Public Affairs office said the legal filing expresses UCLA's position on the issue, and otherwise declined to comment on the case. In the pleading, UCLA takes the position it deserves consideration, in part because it offers a spectrum of services to veterans, and "the Stadium Sharing Agreement is only one small part of UCLA's overall relationship with the DVA."

The programs include Operation Mend, offered in cooperation with the DVA to provide reconstructive surgeries and other specialized medical procedures to military personnel and veterans. The program was launched in 2007 and so far has provided services at no cost to 93 individuals, some of whom have had multiple procedures, according to Melanie Gideon, program director.

UCLA's medical programs for veterans are "impressive and laudable," opposing attorney John Ulin acknowledged, but insisted they are not relevant to the court ruling that non-medical services are not permitted uses on the DVA healthcare campus.

"They don't have anything to say to the court to change its ruling. The truth is, a baseball stadium is not a hospital," said Ulin, a partner in the firm Arnold and Porter, which is working pro bono for the plaintiff veterans. UCLA's filing was handled by another high-powered law firm, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips.

UCLA is seeking a hearing in Otero's courtroom on Oct. 21.

In Guerrero's posted statement, he expressed hope that some sort of agreement could be worked out to enable UCLA to continue using Jackie Robinson Stadium, named after the UCLA alumnus and Army Veteran who broke major league baseball's "color barrier" in 1947.

But UCLA is also working on a plan B, Guerrero revealed.

"Despite our optimism and high expectation of playing the 2014 season at Jackie Robinson Stadium, we are doing our due diligence to identify other viable locations, in the event that the federal court forces us to vacate the stadium," Guerrero said in a statement, without naming other locations to be considered.

If Otero's ruling is not set aside, it will take effect at the beginning of next March, shortly after the start of the 2014 collegiate baseball season. UCLA's lease to use the stadium site is on a month-to-month basis.

Robinson Stadium is located on the site of an American Legion Ballpark built before World War II. It is but one of more than a dozen enterprises that have sprouted on the West Los Angeles VA campus in the past half-century and are subject to sharing agreements or some other form of lease with a third party.

Not far from the stadium, oil well extraction is carried out under a long term lease. Nearby, the Marriott corporation operates a laundry facility. Twenty acres in the northwest corner of the campus, near Brentwood Village, are leased by the private Brentwood School for athletic fields.

Like UCLA, Brentwood School is seeking to become an intervener and requesting a new hearing. The school has not responded to a request for comment.

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