(Senate - September 09, 2015)

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[Pages S6535-S6537]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


      By Mrs. FEINSTEIN (for herself and Mrs. Boxer):
  S. 2013. A bill to authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to 
enter into certain leases at the Department of Veterans Affairs West 
Los Angeles Campus in Los Angeles, California, and for other purposes; 
to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
  Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce legislation 
to facilitate additional housing and services for Southern California's 
veterans. It would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to leverage 
the resources of local governments and non-profits to build supportive 
housing for veterans at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center Campus. 
My colleague Senator Barbara Boxer is a cosponsor of this bill. 
Congressman Ted Lieu is introducing companion legislation in the House 
of Representatives.
  The Department of Veterans Affairs, Mayor of Los Angeles and Los 
Angeles County Board of Supervisors all support this legislation.
  Los Angeles has the largest concentration of homeless veterans in the 
United States, currently estimated to be 4,300. These are brave men and 
women who served our nation with honor, and I believe it is our duty to 
ensure they have access to housing and the clinical services of the 
Greater Los Angeles VA Health System.
  This legislation would provide two authorities to the department. 
First, it would allow the West Los Angeles VA to use enhanced-use 
leases to engage in public-private partnerships to provide supportive 
housing for veterans. Enhanced-use leases allow the department to 
leverage private or local funding and partners to construct new housing 
on the campus. For example, California passed a bond measure in 2014 
that provides $600 million in funding for the construction of 
supportive veteran housing. I want to note that this enhanced-use 
leasing authority is the same authority that the department has for 
every other VA campus in the nation.
  Second, my bill would allow the West Los Angeles campus to enter into 
out-leases to provide critical services to veterans housed on the 
campus, ranging from education to recreation. Services must be provided 
to create a healthy and sustainable community for veterans. Veterans 
housed on the campus will need access to mental health care options, 
job training, and physical recreation. These services can be provided 
by community partners leasing property on the campus, such as the 
University of California--Los Angeles.
  I would like to make you aware of the long history of the West Los 
Angeles VA campus. This campus is approximately 400 acres and is 
located at the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Interstate 405. 
The land was deeded to the Federal government by former Senator John P. 
Jones, for use exclusively as a ``soldier's home.'' The beautiful 
campus has numerous historic buildings, including a church.
  In 2007, I included language in an appropriations bill to prohibit 
the ability of the Department of Veterans Affairs to lease or sale any 
property on the West Los Angeles Campus, due to reports of 
mismanagement and inappropriate leasing of VA property to commercial 
entities. In several cases, these commercial entities had nothing to do 
with serving veterans.
  After the ban was signed into law, questionable practices continued 
through land-sharing agreements. This led to the American Civil 
Liberties Union, ACLU, of Southern California filing a lawsuit against 
the department in 2011 over its mismanagement of the campus.
  In a large part due to our new Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert 
A. McDonald, the department reached a settlement with the ACLU earlier 
this year to return the campus to its original purpose to serve 
veterans. The ACLU and the department are working to create a new 
Master Plan for the campus that includes community input, which I 
expect will include a focus on ending veteran homelessness in Los 
Angeles. My legislation will provide the department with the tools it 
needs to get veterans off the streets and ensure the West Los Angeles 
campus truly serves the veterans of Los Angeles.
  This legislation contains important oversight provisions to ensure 
the management mistakes of the past are not repeated.
  First, it maintains a restriction put in place in 2007 that prohibits 
any part of the West Los Angeles campus from being sold, transferred, 
or otherwise disposed of.
  Second, it requires the VA to report to Congress 45 days before 
entering into any lease, and to provide an annual evaluation of all 
land-use and leases on the campus.
  Third, it requires regular audits by the Office of the Inspector 
General, OIG, and restricts the VA from entering into any new leases if 
the OIG finds any violation of Federal law or policy, or gross 
mismanagement of the campus. The VA would have to certify to Congress 
that it addressed any issues found by the OIG before entering into new 
leases on the campus.
  Finally, the legislation requires all land-use, including leases, to 
be consistent with the new Master Plan that is agreed upon for the 
campus. It also requires all leases to principally benefit veterans.

[[Page S6536]]

  I believe these oversight provisions will ensure that the historic 
mismanagement of the West Los Angeles campus will not recur.
  Let me conclude by saying that Congress must meet its responsibility 
to care for the veterans who have fought for our Nation's freedom and 
security. It would be a shame to leave private resources untapped in a 
city where 4,300 veterans are currently homeless. I hope all of my 
colleagues will support enacting this legislation as quickly as 
      By Ms. MURKOWSKI:
  S. 2017. A bill to amend the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act to 
recognize Alexander Creek, Alaska, as a Native village, and for other 
purposes; to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
  Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, today I introduce legislation, already 
pending in the House of Representatives, where it was first introduced 
in 2009, 2011, and 2013 by Alaska Congressman Don Young to finally 
settle a long-standing injustice to the Native residents of Alexander 
Creek, a Native village built along the creek that runs into the 
Susitna River near its entrance to Cook Inlet, north of Anchorage and 
southwest of Wasilla, AK.
  The story of Alexander Creek's Alaska Natives is a sad story, in that 
it is a story of Natives whose village happened to be located at the 
site of one of the State's prime salmon fishing locations, a site that 
may have prompted efforts by some to deliberately prevent the village 
from rightfully gaining the lands it was entitled to receive under the 
Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, ANCSA, passed by this Congress in 
  It is especially sad since the villagers succeeded in the Federal 
courts in winning confirmation of their status as a village under ANCSA 
nearly four decades ago but because of decades of mistakes and 
misunderstandings, still have received only about 10 percent of the 
land village residents are entitled to receive.
  The legislation I am introducing today would give the Secretary of 
the Interior the authority to enter into negotiations to settle 
aboriginal land claims with Alexander Creek, after conferring village 
instead of group status on the community. It gives the Secretary wide 
latitude to find a just, environmentally acceptable, and economically 
reasonable means to bring Alexander Creek to ``approximate parity'' to 
the other more than 210 villages that were established by the 1971 law 
that settled all aboriginal lands claims in Alaska.
  Alexander Creek, whose Native name is Tuqentnu, traditionally was a 
healthy Native village with abundant resources, whose residents lived 
off fish traps located near the mouth of the Susitna River year round. 
While its population suffered as a result of whooping cough, measles, 
and influenza epidemics in the early 1900s caused by the influx of the 
non-Native population into upper Cook Inlet--the village being 
literally decimated by the 1918 epidemic--by 1939 the village had been 
reoccupied by Native families. When the Alaska Native Claims Settlement 
Act passed in December 1971, there were 37 residents of the village, 12 
more than the 25 needed to be entitled to form a village corporation 
under the act and to be entitled to receive 69,120 acres around the 
core townships of the village.
  The Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1971 made that determination. But the 
village had the misfortunate of being located in a prime salmon fishing 
area that was sought by the State of Alaska at the time of statehood in 
1959 and that was later conveyed by the State to the then new 
Matanuska-Susitna Borough at the time of its creation in the early 
1960s. Thus there was opposition to Alexander Creek being allowed to 
claim its lands. The State, in fact, protested its eligibility for land 
under ANCSA. A hearing was held before an administrative law judge on 
July 11, 1974, but oddly the hearing was not widely noticed and a 
number of village residents were specifically not told of the hearing, 
so they were not in attendance. When the appeals board released its 
decision on November 1, 1974, the board ruled that the village only 
contained 22 residents--3 short of the required number for creation--
simply because 5 other families and their children had not appeared at 
or testified at the hearing.
  The board's decision was appealed to U.S. district court that 
reversed the appeals board's decision on November 14, 1975, ordering 
the reinstatement of Alexander Creek's ANCSA eligibility. While that 
decision was appealed by the State of Alaska, the lower court decision 
was upheld by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals on August 29, 1976, which 
ordered that the case be remanded back to the Secretary of the Interior 
for further proceedings. But since all of the land around Alexander 
Creek had already been conveyed to the State and to the Mat-Su Borough, 
the village was required to join other Cook Inlet region villages in 
selecting ``deficiency lands'' near Lake Clark to the southwest of the 
region. But the creation of the Lake Clark National Monument in 1978, 
prior to passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act 
in 1980, further complicated the land selection issue for the village.
  Alexander Creek villagers, who could not afford independent legal 
counsel following the 1976 district court and court of appeals rulings, 
did not immediately pursue their claims to full village status and 
apparently did not understand the complexities of the Lake Clark land 
conveyance decisions. Somehow, they instead were convinced to sign an 
agreement with Cook Inlet Region, Inc., the regional corporation for 
the area, and the Interior Department in December 1979, where the 
village dropped its claim to be a village in exchange for receiving 
``group'' status under the ANCSA, and also in return for being 
guaranteed 7,680 acres of land, some of which was to come from the 
State of Alaska and or the borough. While the State did provide the 
village with 1,686 acres, no borough or Federal land was conveyed to 
complete the 7,680-acre ``group'' agreement reached in 1979 until just 
  It wasn't until the next generation of Native leaders arrived in the 
village that they realized that Alexander Creek never received the 
lands it should have received.
  Over the past decade residents of the village have been seeking to 
have the original court of appeals decision affirmed and implemented. 
Over the years they have been gaining support for their efforts. First, 
BIA Alaska Region Field Representative Charles F. Bunch concluded after 
``a thorough assessment'' that the BIA's original determination was 
correct and that Alexander Creek ``met the requirement'' for village 
eligibility and that the land conveyances should have been implemented. 
Recently the Alexander Creek village leaders have received support from 
the Alaska Federation of Natives, Cook Inlet Region, Inc., CIRI, the 
State of Alaska and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, all agreeing that 
the village should receive its full lands promised under ANCSA--plus 
from a host of other groups.
  So this legislation will reinstate Alexander Creek's eligibility, 
overriding the 1979 ``group'' agreement, reached under section 1432(d) 
of ANCSA, and giving the village the right to negotiate a fair 
settlement with the Interior Department. Under the act the Secretary is 
free, at his sole discretion, to propose what assets are to be provided 
Alexander Creek to capitalize the corporation, not setting any 
predetermined amount of land, cash, surplus Federal property or other 
assistance. The bill does hold the regional corporation for the area, 
Cook Inlet Region, Inc. harmless from any impacts of the village 
corporation's creation.
  The Alexander Creek case represents a sad chapter in the story of the 
settlement of Native aboriginal land claims in Alaska. It is a story of 
Native land owners being actively discouraged from selecting their 
traditional lands, of being deliberatively misinformed about land 
selection processes so they would not qualify for their lands, of being 
pressured to accept inferior compromises so they would gain less land, 
and of then being ignored for far too long when it came time to 
consummate the inferior deal they were encouraged to accept. It clearly 
is time this Congress rewrites that chapter and allows it to have a 
happier ending.
      By Ms. MURKOWSKI:
  S. 2018. A bill to convey, without consideration, the reversionary 

[[Page S6537]]

of the United States in and to certain non-Federal land in Glennallen, 
Alaska; to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
  Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, today I introduce legislation to aid an 
Alaska higher educational institution obtain title to property it no 
longer needs, and that the Federal Government clearly no longer wants. 
I rise to introduce legislation to clear the title to a 210-acre parcel 
in Glennallen, AK, so that the land can be put to more productive uses 
in the future.
  Back in 1926 the Central Alaska Mission began operations in 
Glennallen. In 1954 it received a Federal land grant from Congress, 
modified in 1959, and received 210 acres in ``downtown'' Glennallen--
the current site of the hospital and radio station and former site of 
the Alaska Bible College. In 1961 it actually opened the Bible College 
on 80 acres of the tract, the site apparently having about 64 separate 
buildings erected on it. The 1959 land grant, like many in first the 
Territory of Alaska and later the State of Alaska, had a clause that 
should the property no longer be used for religious/public purposes 
that it would revert to the federal government. The Bible College, 
because of a lack of students in Glennallen, moved into the Matanuska-
Susitna Borough, to Palmer, AK, last decade. Now it wishes to be able 
to sell the property to be rid of the maintenance costs on the 
  The problem is that there apparently are no non-profits or few 
businesses in Glennallen that can afford to pay the officially 
appraised value for the properties. The parent of the Bible College 3 
years ago asked the Federal Bureau of Land Management, BLM, 
administratively to start a process where it would decide the value of 
the properties and what it would have to pay the government to buy out 
the value of the ``reversionary clause'' so it could obtain clear title 
to sell the properties for whatever amount it could get. That appraisal 
was conducted mutually and came back late last year that the 210-acres, 
minus a sewage lagoon on the property that has no sales value, is worth 
$210,000. The college says the college can't afford that amount to buy 
out the value of the reversionary clause--because regardless of the 
appraisal, there is no entity in Glennallen that can afford to pay 
anywhere near that amount for the properties given the level of 
economic activity at present in the upper Copper River Valley in 
  The college is arguing, correctly, that the Federal Government is 
wrong in setting the value of the reversionary clause as the full 
appraised value of the property for tax purposes. If willing sellers 
can't be found who can afford to pay the ``appraised'' value of the 
property, then obviously the appraisal process is faulty. Secondly, the 
college is arguing that it has fully met the goal of Congress in 1959 
that the land be used for the public purpose of operating an 
educational institution. For more than 40 years the property was used 
by Alaska Bible College, the college only moving into a more urban part 
of Alaska when student levels proved insufficient to support the 
school. Clearly it makes no sense for the reversionary clause to remain 
in effect in perpetuity when land use patterns have changed. Third, the 
Federal Government does not need the land for any federal purpose. The 
land, not located in an urban setting in the small town of Glennallen, 
population, 491, is not suited for a park. The land is not needed for 
any Federal facility given its location in sparsely populated east 
central Alaska. Being inside the Glennallen city limits, the land can 
not be allowed to revert to a natural vegetative state under the town's 
ordinances. It simply makes good sense for the land to be sold for 
economic purposes so it can generate more revenues for the town's tax 
rolls. Given the real estate market in Glennallen, the Federal 
Government will lose far more money than it will make if it has to tear 
down the unwanted buildings in order to sell the property, or maintain 
them until another purpose for the structures can be found, at the 
current appraised tax values of the properties.
  In each case, reversion of the lands to the Federal Government would 
result in Federal ownership of tracts unneeded for Federal purposes, 
but lands that would produce greater conveyance and management costs to 
the Federal treasury than are likely to be recovered through fair 
market sales. There is just no public policy purpose in the 21st 
century not to permit these very limited Federal reversion 
extinguishments, especially since the land did meet the purpose of the 
reversionary clause for more than four decades.
  Passage of this act would cost the Federal Government nothing, but 
would aid the citizens of Glennallen by allowing the lands to be put to 
a better use, hopefully adding to the city's economy and perhaps 
increasing its future tax revenues. I hope this bill will be able to 
advance and become law within the 114th Congress.