No one in charge acted to remove swastika graffiti from a building on the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration campus. So we did.

Allegedly not the first time — multiple instances of anti-Semitic graffiti and other problems at the rapidly-expanding facility

Thousands of homeless and low-income veterans will be moving into new and refurbished buildings in the coming years — The V.A. (and L.A.) must get out ahead of issues before they coalesce into yet another crisis

At least nine swastikas were tagged in different colors on a vacant building on the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration campus. Photo by Christopher LeGras

The heavy curtain of Bureaucracy was drawn between the right thing to be done and the right man to do it.

Honoré de Balzac

Most mornings I take my dogs over to the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration campus for a walk. It’s one of the few spots left on the west side where you can let dogs run off leash without fear of citation or fast moving vehicles. It also lacks the spontaneous, “will I be stabbed this morning?” je ne sais quois of Santa Monica. The sprawling, nearly 400-acre campus is nestled between Brentwood to the west, UCLA to the north and east, and West L.A. to the south. Dotted with live oaks, towering eucalyptus, and dozens of classic Spanish-style California buildings dating to the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, it’s a perfect place for a walk, with so many places to explore you never tire. There’s a nine-hole golf course exclusively for veterans, a Japanese tea garden, a community garden. Given its location, size, and facilities it ought to be a world-class facility for the estimated 350,000 veterans who live in Los Angeles County, an estimated 25,000 of whom are homeless.

Emphasis on “ought to be.” More on that in a moment, but suffice it to say that the discovery of anti-Semitic, Nazi graffiti on a campus building is sadly not particularly surprising. What was surprising was the desultory official response. Again, more on that in a moment. First, some brief background.

After decades of broken promises by the V.A., over the last five years the campus has been the site of a positive boom in construction. The project is being managed by the West Los Angeles Veterans Collective (WLAVC), a partnership between developers Century Housing and Thomas Safran & Associates and the nonprofit U.S. VETS. Last month WLAVC Senior Vice President of Century Housing Brian D’Andrea told The Santa Monica Daily Press, “Once complete, the West LA VA North Campus will have more than 1,200 units of veteran housing and a thriving community with services for 3,000 residents and veterans across Los Angeles County.” The new facilities also will offer case management, health and wellness, and other services “to provide a caring environment for residents to heal and grow.” The first new building has begun accepting residents, with 59 homeless vets moving in just over the last few weeks. So far the project has cost at least $100 million.

I rounded a corner on our walk one morning two weeks ago and was confronted with nine large swastikas that had been graffitied onto the front of one of the still-vacant buildings. While it was a relatively isolated part of campus there nevertheless were flurries of construction activity in the immediate vicinity. Also, I’m far from the only visitor who walks or jogs that part of the campus. The symbols were, obviously, impossible not to see, except insofar as I couldn’t believe my eyes. The presence of the symbols was distressing enough. They amount to nothing less than a hate crime under United States law, on U.S. veterans’ property.

Worse, someone or someones had started to remove them — but they hadn’t finished the job. Somehow that made the situation more gut-wrenching. Not to be indelicate, but swastika removal is not something to half-ass. Yet there they were, for all passersby to see. Obviously the V.A. knew about the hate crime. Also, there is a surveillance camera on the adjacent building with a clear view of the area. If V.A. authorities were on the job they could have identified the perpetrator(s) and circulated images on social media.

Alas, that’s not how things work these days.

I immediately piled the mutts back into the car and drove to the V.A. campus police station to file a report. While at the station I learned another troubling reality at the new V.A. The campus police force is at approximately 50% staff. On a normal Saturday evening there are eight to 10 officers on duty. That evening, there were three. It was so bad that the sergeant on duty was reluctant to let one of his only two on-duty officers out of the station — to investigate a hate crime. Ponder that for a moment (for the record, the V.A.’s 2022-23 budget is $325.1 billion). He ultimately did, and the officer took videos and pictures of the scene. The following Monday I reported the graffiti to the V.A. grounds department. I also informed city officials, and through reliable channels Congressman Ted Lieu’s office was informed. Lieu is himself a Navy veteran.

Then, I waited. And waited. And waited.

A week went by, then ten days. The swastikas remained. Again, think about that: I pulled virtually every lever of government, from the local cops to a United States congressman’s office — and after 10 days no one could get a paint crew out to cover Nazi symbols of hate on a federal veterans’ facility, the month that dozens of homeless vets started moving into buildings literally across the street.

Which isn’t to say there weren’t plenty of resources to handle the job. Maddeningly, on two different days that week paint crews were working within a couple hundred feet of the graffiti. I asked the crews, and neither had “graffiti abatement” on their punch sheets. On a morning walk last week I encountered two employees from one of the project’s ecosystem of subcontractors. They were inspecting the building in question, Building 157, as it is scheduled for rebuilding in the coming year. Both were non-White; both were shocked. They promised to report to their contacts at the V.A. and I have no doubt they did (one of them was from North Africa; he said, “This hits particularly close for me.”). Indeed, everyone I spoke to promised to Do Something. Yet the hate remained.

I pulled virtually every lever of government

There are other reasons the situation demanded urgency and immediate action (aside from the fact that we’re dealing with, you know, freaking swastikas). This part of L.A. has a large Jewish population. There are more than a dozen synagogues and Jewish community centers within a two mile radius of the west V.A. campus. The back gate to Brentwood School, where many students, families, teachers, and staff are Jewish, is 150 yards away. And, of course, there are Jewish veterans on the campus itself. In fact, overall the campus is predominantly non-White and/or non-Christian.

All of which is why yesterday morning I took up a friend on his offer to help cover the images ourselves. He’s a commercial property owner in L.A., which means he deals with graffiti on a regular basis. So much so, in fact, that he keeps a supply of spray paint in a dozen different colors in his car at all times. He’s had swastikas and other hate symbols painted and carved on his own properties (again, again, ponder that fact).

My friend carved over a swastika in front of one of his properties, a retail space on Santa Monica’s once-thriving Third Street Promenade.

We covered all nine swastikas. It took about 20 minutes and required fewer than four cans of paint at $8 apiece. It would have taken a professional crew with rollers half the time. Point is, for 32 bucks and a third of an hour we did what the combined resources of the Veterans Administration, a Congressional office, and the City of Los Angeles could not. How is that possible? An agency with that $325.1 billion budget couldn’t get it done. And again, worse, when they tried they half-assed it.

To reach the higher tags we dragged pallets from elsewhere on campus, and I braced my friend as he climbed up. The fact that several of the tags required us to improvise a ladder suggests more than a random attack, more like something planned — and again, the tags were in multiple colors. Finally, at least one of the hate symbols, the blue one in the middle of the pic at top, appeared to have been stenciled. Multiple colors, likely ladders, possibly stenciling — how many dots do need to be connected?

That this particular hate crime seems to have been premeditated raises other troubling questions. Over the last four years swastikas have appeared in multiple “Bridge Home” shelters in L.A., notably in the controversial Venice Beach Bridge Shelter. Other sites have included the Third Street Promenade (see above) and the West L.A. federal building. In February two Orthodox Jewish men were shot in front of a synagogue in the Pico area. Overall, according to an in-depth report released just last month by the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic hate crimes reached a 43-year high in 2022, with L.A. seeing the largest increase of any major metro area.

The author and a friend paint over swastikas on the L.A. V.A. campus. Drone photo.

All of which is why the City of L.A., and the west side community, cannot ignore this situation. Viewing the hate graffiti at the V.A. against the full background, as we must, forces us to confront the possibility that these are not isolated incidents by a relatively small handful of bad actors, but part of something larger. As California continues its unprecedented experiment with criminal justice reform, which process includes the early release of as many as 250,000 convicted felons, some cities are beginning to notice increases in gang-related activity, particularly related to prison gangs like the Mexican Mafia, MS-13, and, yes, white supremacists gangs.

It’s yet another cry for help in the City of Angels. If we can’t remove anti-Semitic hate imagery off a veterans’ building in a heavily Jewish neighborhood, what are we doing?

This is an escalating situation not just on the V.A. campus but in west L.A. and L.A. in general. Leadership needs to get out in front. Otherwise, we can expect more of these hate crimes in the future.

Again, how is this L.A. in 2023?

A brief history of the West L.A. V.A. campus

Arcadia Bandini de Stearns Baker (1827–1912), one of early California’s wealthiest landowners, deeded the property in perpetuity for veterans services in her will (aside: after you finish this piece, her extraordinary life story is worth a read). Unfortunately, as happens all to often when large, valuable parcels of real estate fall into the hands of large, unwieldy government bureaucracies like the Veterans Administration, the West L.A. V.A. has a rather tortured history. While a full accounting is beyond the scope of this story, suffice it to say Mrs. Baker’s wishes for the land have far more often been observed in the breach. Veterans are resentful, and some are downright suspicious, of the V.A.’s operations. Waiting lists for mental and physical health care often stretch into the months.

The mistrust also has historic roots as well. Many veterans believe that the facility was one of the sites for the notorious MK-ULTRA, in which unwitting veterans in the V.A.’s care were subjected to experiments with mind-altering drugs like LSD, part of the CIA’s efforts to develop mind control drugs to use on enemies. More recently as a protest against alleged V.A. malfeasance a group of some three dozen vets set up an illegal encampment just outside the V.A. gates on San Vicente Boulevard, living in tents adorned with large American flags. The camp was dubbed “Veterans’ Row.” It came down when a village of “tiny homes” opened on that part of the campus, and tent residents were offered a choice between the homes and moving along.

As of now there are plans to move some 2,200 homeless and at-risk vets onto the campus over the next three years. It’s laudable, but leaves an unpleasant question: If it took 10 years and some $100 million to house barely 10% of the county’s estimated population of homeless vets, how can we ever expect to help all of them?

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2 thoughts on “No one in charge acted to remove swastika graffiti from a building on the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration campus. So we did.

  1. While one should not have a good word for White Supremacists, and I do not being Gay and Jewish, let’s remember that Wokers have become the biggest promoters of anti-Semitism. Not only is their more left element anti-Semitic, but their Identity Politics threatens the Alt Right with the (absurd) Grand Replacement theory, which the Alt Right believes is directed by Jews.

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