Jury rules Santa Cruz County has been negligent to displaced veterans


By Kurtis Alexander — Santa Cruz Sentinel

SANTA CRUZ – A jury has found Santa Cruz County negligent in its obligation to accommodate local veterans in the wake of the closure of the downtown Veterans Memorial Building in January.

The verdict reached Wednesday, which followed two days of court testimony, caps a high-profile dispute over whether the county’s effort to provide space for veterans at a satellite government campus was sufficient.

“Obviously the county is going to have to go back to the drawing board now … and rethink our location,” said Bob Patton, president of the United Veterans Council of Santa Cruz County. Patton said he was pleased jurors agreed the county had been “cold-hearted and unreceptive” to vets by seeking to relocate them at facilities that didn’t meet their “honest needs.”

The mess began when county officials closed the Vets Hall because of seismic safety concerns. The Veterans Council responded with a lawsuit, alleging the new Emeline Avenue facility offered as a substitute for the veterans benefits office and meeting space downtown was hard for elderly vets to reach and didn’t have adequate features, like a kitchen.

Wednesday’s decision in favor of the vets did not come with a directive for the county. Superior Court Judge Timothy Volkmann is expected to take up the matter Jan. 7.

But county Supervisor Neal Coonerty pledged to reach out to veterans sooner.

“The court has spoken. The county will seek out other substitute spaces and hope we can find something that can work,” he said.

No new options for accommodating the vets, however, exist at this time, according to county officials. County officials also don’t have the money for the estimated $1.4 million of repairs needed at the Vets Hall, which is owned by the county.

State law requires counties to accommodate veterans displaced from county-owned facilities.


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