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Letter to Supervisor Burgis 6 July 2023


6 July 2023


Diane Burgis

Contra Costa County Supervisor, District 3

3361 Walnut Boulevard, Suite 140 Brentwood, CA 94513

Dear Supervisor Burgis,

We express our sincere gratitude for your proactive outreach to the veterans of East County regarding the issue concerning the purchased property designated for the Veterans of East County, and its current adjacency with the fire department's property line.

During World War I, countless brave men and women selflessly served our beloved nation on foreign soil. Sadly, a significant number of them made the ultimate sacrifice and never returned. Those who did come back faced immense challenges, including a condition we now recognize as shell shock, or what we call today, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As a nation deeply grateful for their sacrifices, we acknowledge the hardships they endured upon returning home. In a true display of appreciation, numerous counties across the state of California purchased land for the purpose of establishing halls where veterans could gather, find solace, and honor the memory of their fallen comrades who could not join them in their homecoming.

In heartfelt tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice and to the brave servicemen and servicewomen who returned, the County Board of Supervisors had undertaken the noble endeavor of acquiring land in every community within Contra Costa for Veterans Memorial Halls. A parcel of land in downtown Brentwood was consecrated to honor our esteemed veterans through its acquisition by the Board of Supervisors from R.J. Wallace in 1923. The original declaration states "In the matter of purchase of lands from R. J. Wallace, for purpose of building and maintaining a building or Memorial Hall for the use of patriotic, fraternal, or benevolent associations, for veterans soldiers, sailors, and marines who have served the United States honorably in any of its wars, and for all and every purpose for which same may be lawfully used." Book 438 Deeds page 321

Since 1923, the dedicated veterans service organizations of Brentwood have faithfully upheld the duty of preserving and cherishing the building as a sacred memorial. This hallowed space serves as a solemn tribute to those brave souls who made the ultimate sacrifice, to those currently serving our nation, and to the future generations yet to come. The esteemed BVMB Board is entrusted with this noble responsibility and is comprised of members from American Legion Post 202, VFW Post 10789, and Marine Corps League Detachment 1155. Their unwavering mission revolves around the reverential task of upholding the building as a timeless memorial, resonating with the valor of those who gave their all. To us, it is more than just a hall or gathering place; it stands as a sanctuary, a cherished memorial that commands the utmost respect. Throughout the past century, the veterans service organizations (VSOs) of East County have remained resolute in their unwavering commitment to fulfill this sacred duty.

Since its completion in 1925, the hall has steadfastly served the Brentwood community and its surrounding areas. Guided by the unwavering dedication and nurturing spirit of our veterans, this cherished establishment has been a beacon of service for nearly a century. Throughout its illustrious history, the hall has served the community as a theater, a school, a gymnasium, a place of worship, and a hub for community gatherings. Countless crab feeds, fundraisers, dances, weddings, funerals, memorials, and quinceañeras have been held at our beloved hall in downtown Brentwood. Its multifaceted nature stands as a testament to the enduring commitment of our veterans to meet the diverse needs of our veterans and our beloved community.

The significance of the hall extends beyond its role in serving veterans; it plays a vital role in supporting the entire community, particularly lower-income and minority communities who may not have access to more costly venues. By offering an affordable space for various events, the veterans hall has become a valuable resource, providing a gathering place where these communities can hold their important occasions. It is a testament to our commitment to inclusivity and solidarity, ensuring that everyone, regardless of their background or financial means, has a place to come together and celebrate. The hall's dedication to serving the broader community exemplifies the values of unity and support that lie at the heart of our mission.

Today, our valiant veterans find themselves embarking on a new battle, one that demands their unwavering dedication in protecting our cherished memorial hall. It is disheartening to witness bureaucratic officials opting for convenient solutions rather than honoring the sanctity of the land entrusted to our revered veterans. This pattern of bureaucratic overreach in matters concerning the property dedicated solely for the use of veterans is not new, but it is a history that must cease repeating itself.

In July of 2022, Deputy Fire Chief Aaron J. McAlister paid a visit to the BVMB Board with a request regarding the potential adjustment of the lot line. His purpose was to explore the veterans' willingness to accommodate the need for a larger footprint on the alley side of the property to accommodate the larger fire engines and provide staff parking. Although no guarantees were made, Chief McAlister indicated compensating the BVMB for the veteran's cooperation in the lot line adjustment.

The BVMB board indicated that we were open to negotiations and might entertain the idea of a lot line adjustment depending on what compensation could be worked out. However, some veterans were against any further encroachment of the fire department. We left the meeting with McAlister and agreed to continue the dialogue. The BVMB Board sent a follow-up email to Aaron and the County Veterans Service Officer on July 22nd and another on August 2, 2022. No reply from either party.

In the August 8, 2022, Fire Chief's report, Fire Chief Lewis T. Broschard III, mentioned the Fire District staff has met with the Veterans organization in the neighboring Veterans Hall. There is a possibility of a lot line adjustment, involving County property on both sides, that will help increase the success of the project."

Earlier this month, a veteran reported to the BVMB Board new property line markers near the hall. President of the BVMB Board, Daniel Moses contacted the county to inquire about the new property line markers.

You can find the emails here:

Without notice, discussion or consent of the veterans, the county has unilaterally moved the property line. The planned lot line will greatly impact the Veteran's storage containers and parking on the alley side of the property. Disabled veterans who park in the impacted area must now find parking elsewhere.

It is a disheartening revelation that, to this day, the fire department has failed to engage in meaningful discussions with our esteemed veterans regarding the crucial matter of the property line adjustment. The lack of initiative displayed by the Fire Chief and Deputy Fire Chief raises questions about their commitment to acting in good faith and honoring the significance of open communication. Have the board of supervisors been fully informed by their staff about this issue? Were they made aware that the fire department had no intentions of seeking consent from the veterans or that they deliberately severed communication channels? It is our duty to ensure transparency and accountability, and it is our patriotic obligation to demand that all parties involved approach this matter with the respect and sincerity that our veterans truly deserve.

While it is true that the land and building are owned by the county, we must recognize the profound significance of the land's original dedication to our honorable veterans back in 1923. California law dictates the rightful usage and most importantly, that any changes to the dedication require the veterans' consent. As patriotic citizens, we uphold the principles of honor and respect, acknowledging the enduring value of the original dedication and advocating for the veterans' rightful role in any decision regarding the land. Let us stand united in protecting the integrity of the dedication and honoring the sacrifices of those who have served our nation and continue to serve our community.

One critical aspect that demands attention is the appropriateness of the chosen property for the placement of a new fire station in Brentwood. A pertinent question arises: why does the county opt to acquire veteran land for this purpose, instead of exploring alternative locations on other main streets or thoroughfares that may better serve the community's needs? The current site downtown poses challenges due to its crowded nature, characterized by narrow streets/alleyway and significant foot traffic.

Of particular concern is the presence of an extremely narrow alleyway that experiences heavy traffic. By utilizing this land for the fire station, it would inevitably eliminate parking spaces frequently used by veterans and hall patrons during events. For those familiar with the bustling atmosphere of events like the popular crab feeds at the hall, the congestion in the back alleyway is well-known. Accommodating large fire engines within this limited space during such events would prove difficult, potentially resulting in further displacement of veterans.

Moreover, it is vital to consider the potential impact on downtown businesses and pedestrians when envisioning fire engines blaring down First Street. This raises valid concerns about the disruption caused to individuals seeking to enjoy themselves in downtown Brentwood, as well as the potential effect on local businesses. Would you invite the blaring sirens for your wedding, funeral, memorial, quinceañera? Or while you are seated outside enjoying a meal at one of the numerous restaurants in downtown Brentwood?

It is crucial to objectively evaluate the decision to acquire veteran land for the new fire station, as it appears to have been driven primarily by cost-saving considerations. However, this approach neglects the value and significance of the veterans' dedication, the well-being of downtown businesses and pedestrians enjoying downtown streets. A thorough assessment is necessary to determine the most suitable location for the fire department, prioritizing the needs of the community while ensuring minimal disruptions to foot traffic and local establishments. This will ensure a thoughtful and well-planned outcome that serves the best interests of all stakeholders involved.

While it is evident that a new fire station may be necessary and enjoys support from veterans and businesses, it is crucial to acknowledge that the decision to utilize the small plot of land for a larger firehouse was not driven by the consideration of its impact on veterans or downtown businesses. The concerns lie not in the need for a new facility, but rather in the appropriateness of its location. Veterans and businesses stand united in asserting that this specific site is not the optimal choice. It is imperative that the decision-makers reevaluate the chosen location and explore alternatives that better align with the needs and interests of all stakeholders involved, ensuring a harmonious balance between the requirements of the fire department and the well-being of the veterans and downtown businesses.

Both veterans and businesses express our shared sentiment in preserving the cherished hometown ambiance of downtown, voicing our concerns about the potential impact of introducing a massive building with large vehicles into the area. It is a collective desire to maintain the unique charm and character that defines our downtown, fostering a sense of community and warmth. Ensuring that any developments align harmoniously with the existing architectural fabric and retain the beloved hometown feel that holds immense value for all.

As devoted veterans, our unwavering support extends not only to our fellow servicemen and servicewomen but also to our esteemed first responders, including our dedicated fire, police, and emergency personnel. Many of us proudly embody the dual roles of veterans and first responders, recognizing the invaluable contributions they make to our communities. Our concerns lie not with these admirable individuals, but rather with the bureaucratic decisions and government actions that encroach upon the sacred land dedicated to veterans. We refuse to accept a narrative that sacrifices the well-being and dignity of veterans in the pursuit of financial gains. It is disheartening to witness the repeated attempts to dishonor and overlook the sacrifices made by veterans. We must stand strong and united against any government actions that undermine the respect and gratitude owed to those who have served. Let us not grow accustomed to the mistreatment of veterans by the very government they have fought to protect.

As veterans our honor requires, we take a stand, drawing a resolute line that declares, "Here, and no further!" Our veterans deserve our steadfast support as they courageously defend what is rightfully theirs, safeguarding the legacy of sacrifice and camaraderie embodied within those hallowed grounds. Together, we can preserve the sanctity of our community hall and honor the sacred bond we share with our heroic veterans.

First and foremost, we express our gratitude for the county's previous support in assisting veterans, particularly through the provision of a grant that facilitated retrofitting the building and creating an accessible front entrance to accommodate our disabled veterans. We value the collaborative relationship we have built over time, and our intention is to continue working together with the county in a spirit of cooperation. However, the current situation has evolved in a manner that has raised concerns among veterans. We respectfully request a meeting with you to discuss these matters in person and implore you to reach out to the county to halt the ongoing project. It is our earnest appeal that the appropriateness of the fire department's chosen location be reevaluated, and we ardently advocate for the return of all land that was taken away from the veterans. By engaging in open dialogue and reassessing the situation, we can strive towards a resolution that respects the needs and aspirations of both veterans and the community at large.

Respectfully,

Board Members, Brentwood Veterans Memorial Building

Commander VFW Post 10789

Commander American Legion Post 202

Commandant Marine Corps League Detachment 1155

cc

Brentwood Press

Brentwood City Council

Brentwood Chamber of Commerce


Mailing Address: 161 Chestnut Street #20, Brentwood, CA 94513

Physical Address: 757 First Street, Brentwood, CA 94513

Email Address: brentwoodveteransbuilding@gmail.com

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