Losing Parking at VA, Golf Tourney Demands Return of Comp Tickets

In the wake of losing permission to the use the West Los Angeles VA campus for spectator parking, organizers of the upcoming PGA golf tournament asked the VA facility to return complimentary tickets that in years past have been given to veterans, the PGA acknowledged Thursday.

As the tournament scrambles to make substitute parking arrangements, it is fending off criticism from veterans.

"It certainly shocked me," said Robert Rosebrock, a Vietnam-era Army veteran and veterans' rights advocate.

"That's petty," said disabled Veteran Charles Williams, who served in both the Coast Guard and Army.

Of the 2,000 tickets for the Northern Trust Open next month at the Riviera Country club, some 800 have already been distributed.

"Once we were informed that our contract had been voided, we asked for the remainder of the tickets to be returned," stated PGA Communications VP Laura Neal in an email. Those tickets already distributed will be accepted for admission.

"It's a sensitive situation," said OD Vicent, executive director of the tournament, during a brief telephone conversation.

Veterans will still be able to gain free admission to the to the tournament, Neal emphasized, noting the that the PGA's "Birdies for the Brave" program enables veterans, active duty military personnel, and reservists to download complimentary tickets not only for the Northern Trust Open, but for all PGA tournaments.

Providing tickets for the VA to distribute to whomever it wished was part of the parking agreement, Neal said.

The turn of events threatens to strain a relationship that dates back decades.

Remote parking has long been required for the thousands of spectators who attend tournaments at the Riviera Country club, which has only minimal parking on site. Adding to the squeeze is its location, in the middle of a residential neighborhood of multimillion dollar homes, where spectator parking is prohibited.

The tournament has had long-standing arrangements for some spectators to park on the athletic field of the Paul Revere Charter Middle School, and more on the VA campus in Brentwood.

It was just in the past week — barely a month before play is to begin — that the tournament was notified by the VA that it's ending the relationship, Rosebrock learned.

"PGA will not be parking at the VA hospital for the 2015 tournament," begins a brief statement issued Thursday by the VA's Nikki Baker, associate chief, public and congressional relations, in response to an inquiry, but providing no reason why the decision was made, nor why so close to the tournament.

The parking termination is believed to be a consequence of a 2013 federal court decision limiting uses on the West LA campus that do not directly benefit health care for veterans, as specified in the property's original deed, dating back to the 19th century.

"Parking cars here is not a health-related service," said Rosebrock. "It's just not."

Only last week, a federal judge ordered a halt in construction of an amphitheater envisioned on the campus by a nonprofit known as the Veterans Park Conservancy.

The future of other campus land uses identified in the 2013 ruling, including UCLA's Jackie Robinson baseball stadium, and an athletic field for the private Brentwood School, remains under appeal.

Activist Rosebrock sees reason for optimism that the VA is no longer waiting for court rulings, but stepping back on its own initiative from non-healthcare agreements for the campus. He noted that last year President Obama appointed a new Veterans Affairs Secretary, Robert McDonald, and that the VA's longtime Greater Los Angeles director, Donna Beitner, stepped down at year's end.

"I think the VA is saying 'no more,' and I think that's a significant change," Rosebrock said.

Ultimately the goal of those who brought the suit is to push the VA to focus on taking action and providing more facilities to end the cycle of homelessness for thousands of veterans who live in the
Los Angeles metropolitan area.

Meantime, the tournament, which is owned and operated by the PGA, is working with the city of Santa Monica to come up with a parking alternative, Neal stated, and expects to reveal it "in the coming days."

"We are confident that our parking and transportation plan will more than meet the needs of our many fans, and we look forward to a great 2015 Northern Trust Open," stated Neal.

The end of the parking agreement will not affect scheduled events for military personnel and veterans and their families during the tournament, including a "hospitality chalet" and opportunity to caddie for a pro on the 14th hole.

"We are very appreciative of what they do for our veterans," said the VA's Baker.

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