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Congress to demand construction on new VA clinic start by September 2025

The entrance to the Edward P. Boland Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Leeds. (Hoang 'Leon' Nguyen / The Republican/TNS)

Frustrations surrounding the longstanding delay of a new Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Bakersfield resurfaced last week as the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that, if signed into law, would compel the Veterans Affairs Department to proceed with construction by September 2025.

Included in the House Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies appropriations bill, it is the most direct action Congress has taken on the clinic and has near-absolute authority, provided there is no court order barring construction.

“Bakersfield veterans have waited long enough,” said Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, who sits on that subcommittee. “I’ll continue doing everything I can at the federal level to make sure this project is completed without further delay.”

Since 2018, the city of Bakersfield has tried to pass plans for a new clinic — a single-story, 30,100-square-foot building to be located at 5512 Knudsen Drive in northwest Bakersfield. It would replace the existing facility at 1801 Westwind Drive, which is 31 years old.

With no court injunction in place, construction on the new site has technically been allowed since November, after the city unanimously denied appeals to biological surveys contended as “insufficient” by the current clinic’s owner, Progress for Bakersfield Veterans — a subsidiary of the Beverly Hills Realtor Cardinal Equities Group.

But a tour of the site reveals no new developments. According to KGET-TV 17, the developer, SASD Development Group, has paused construction until it can obtain title insurance on the property.

Neither SASD Development Group Managing Partner Steve Doctor, nor the San Diego-based developer’s lead attorney on the matter, Alan Fenstermacher, responded to several requests for comment on Thursday and Friday.

Doctor did tell a reporter with KGET on Wednesday that pending lawsuits bar them from obtaining the insurance, which they need to secure financing for building costs.

“The lawsuit prevents the title company from issuing a title policy which is a requirement of any lender,” Doctor told KGET in an email. “The developer therefore cannot obtain financing to construct without title insurance for the lender. The Cohen group knows this and continues their legal front to tie our hands with our lender.”

Valadao and others have blamed Progress for Bakersfield Veterans for waging a frivolous, yearslong campaign of appeals, complaints and challenges with the ultimate aim of delaying construction for as long as possible.

“The Bakersfield VA clinic has been delayed for over a decade because of one individual’s frivolous lawsuits that have prioritized profits over veterans’ care,” Valadao said.

Through various legal teams, PBV has submitted 15 procurement protests against the project and the VA’s award of the lease, nine bid protests to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, three protests to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and two appeals to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. PBV, according to public documents, has also filed a challenge to SASD’s small-business eligibility with the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Their grip over the site has outlived the tenure of former Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, persisted against the best efforts by city and county officials, and remained unflinching in the face of countless testimonies by military veterans living in Kern County.

Currently PBV has lawsuits pending alleging state and federal environmental violations that the new site would negatively impact the surrounding ecosystem, to include most notably the Bakersfield kit fox. According to Bakersfield Deputy City Attorney Viridiana Gallardo-King, the state lawsuit, which alleges violations under the California Environmental Quality Act, alone could take up to three years to resolve.

Signed by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1970, the statute known as CEQA has become recognized as a legal tool for delaying or stopping public works projects, from the massive to the micro — from bridges to bike lanes.

The Realtor’s legal team, Channel Law Group, did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

Due to timetables in its expired lease agreement, the VA currently pays PBV about $415,000 per month to lease the clinic, with 10% increases “every six-month anniversary” on top of regular market adjustments, according to VA spokesman Damian McGee.

This is a far cry from the $223,000 the VA will pay monthly for the new site, which will provide audiology, mental health, telehealth, ambulatory care, an eye clinic, physical and occupational therapy, prosthetics, dental services, a lab and a pharmacy, among other services.

Many veterans, due to the limited capacity at the current site, commute by bus to Los Angeles for treatment. Some go weeks or months without care.

In the coming weeks, representatives with Valadao’s office will meet with VA department heads and members of SASD Development Group to discuss a strategy moving forward.

Meanwhile, in the absence of construction, a new population has reclaimed the Knudsen Drive site. And it’s not kit foxes.

“The city has had to send people out there to clear encampments,” said Sandi Jantz, a nearby resident.


(c) 2024 The Bakersfield Californian

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