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UCLA: We want to keep Jackie Robinson Stadium, but we do have Plan B

UCLAAfter a court ruled the land underneath Jackie Robinson Stadium was confined to healthcare for veterans, UCLA asked the court to reconsider its position — but athletic officials hinted a new Bruins ballpark could be in the offing.

It’s a sticky land-use situation: the ballpark, built in 1947 and upgraded in recent years, was built on land controlled by the Veterans Administration on the West Los Angeles VA Healthcare campus. A lawsuit from homeless vets brought by powerhouse law firm Arnold and Porter (no, we’re not understanding why the huge corporate firm is suing on behalf of homeless vets) argues the land use is illegal and the ballpark must be removed. However, UCLA was not a party to the original lawsuit and now wants to intervene in the case. The argument: other services to vets provided by UCLA more than offsets the land usage of Jackie Robinson Stadium.

Whether that argument flies remains to be seen — an Oct. 21 hearing should clarify the issue, but we’re guessing the Bruins won’t be kicked out in the middle of the 2014 season — but meanwhile, university athletic-department officials are putting together a backup plan, per NBC Los Angeles:

“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,” [Athletic Director Dan] 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.

Of course, there are several places UCLA could temporarily play while a new facility is being built. But given the arms race we’ve seen pop up in college baseball, the optimal solution would be an on-campus ballpark with all the bells and whistles a modern ballplayer expects.

Here’s the full statement from Dan Guerrero:

Following a lawsuit filed by disabled veterans and their advocates against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), a federal court judge ruled yesterday that the VA invalidly leased property to certain third parties. For the past 50 years, UCLA has operated Jackie Robinson Stadium on the property and, although UCLA is not a party to the lawsuit, we have been monitoring this case. In yesterday’s ruling, the judge delayed its impact for a full six months in order to give the VA an opportunity to file an appeal. If the ruling stands and, unless a settlement can be reached, the decision could force UCLA to vacate Jackie Robinson Stadium.

The ruling is especially disappointing because I consider UCLA’s partnership with our nation’s veterans to be truly exceptional. On a campus-wide level, UCLA serves veterans through Operation Mend, providing reconstructive surgery to U.S. military personnel injured and disfigured in Iraq and Afghanistan, and through the Nathanson Family Resilience Center, providing an array of programs for military families facing the challenges of deployment and reintegration. In addition, through our operation of Jackie Robinson Stadium, UCLA has employed hundreds of veterans through the years, furnished our heroes with complimentary admission to games, and provided a home field for local American Legion baseball teams for several decades. Our services to vets includes, but is not limited to, our use of Jackie Robinson Stadium and we intend to press our case to both sides in this lawsuit, to show how UCLA’s continued presence on the campus supports the core mission of the VA and those who have served our nation. Chancellor Block, our legal counsel and top officials on campus and in athletics will work tirelessly with all parties to ensure our partnership with the West Los Angeles VA continues for many more decades.

It is my expectation that we will, indeed, continue to play Bruin baseball at the current home of the NCAA Champions. I have been in regular communication with Coach John Savage, and he, along with our fans, has my commitment that UCLA will continue to do everything possible to work toward making this a reality.

Despite our optimism and high expectations 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.

While there are still many questions in this fluid process, we will work with the campus administration to find answers and will keep everyone abreast of further developments. We owe it to our coaches, student-athletes and Bruin supporters to do what is in the best interest of our program.


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