Veterans Maintaining Reedley’s Armory Told to Vacate, Make Way for Low-Income Housing

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An inactive National Guard Armory licensed to “The Reedley Area Veterans” to operate and maintain since 2004 has been torn down.

REEDLEY, Calif.—An inactive National Guard Armory licensed to “The Reedley Area Veterans” to operate and maintain since 2004 has been torn down, and the site is being turned into low-income apartments.

“I’m not happy about it, and I just think we were dealt a low blow, if you will, by the state,” Vietnam veteran Ralph Urbano, president of the Reedley Area Veterans, told The Epoch Times.

In 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order to address the shortage of housing for Californians. The executive order states the goal of identifying state-owned property for cost-effective housing.

The California State Real Estate Services Division states that the former Reedley Armory had been identified as excess to the needs of the California Military Department.

Due to the executive order, the site of the Reedley Armory was proposed to be repurposed for low-income housing.

The construction of “The Reedley Affordable Housing Project” at the site where the Armory once stood is underway and projected to be finished in the summer of 2024. The project is being developed by Self-Help Enterprises and will consist of 48 units. The organization received a long-term ground lease from the state.

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Mr. Urbano said, “After being there for 17 years and told that we have to vacate, it’s kind of a hard pill to swallow.”

He said “The Reedley Area Veterans” is comprised of three groups: the Reedley Vietnam Veterans, the American Legion, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Ralph Urbano, president of the Reedley Area Veterans. (Courtesy of Ralph Urbano)
Ralph Urbano, president of the Reedley Area Veterans. (Courtesy of Ralph Urbano)

Prior to being granted the Armory, the groups didn’t have a meeting place; one group was meeting at somebody’s house, and one was meeting in a local restaurant, said Mr. Urbano.

He said the Armory was built in the mid-1950s to house the Army National Guard and it was in operation until roughly the year 2000.

In 2003, the three groups got together and formed the “Reedley Area Veterans” to petition the State of California as a group to operate and maintain the Armory that had become inactive a few years earlier. In 2004, they were granted a license by the State Military Department to do just that.

“By doing so, all three units had a place that we could call home, and we used the Armory as a meeting place,” said Mr. Urbano.

In addition, they rented out the Armory to generate money for their scholarship fund for local Reedley High School seniors, he said.

The scholarship fund was originally set up in 1986 by the Reedley Vietnam Veterans. Every year, they would hold a dance to help fund the scholarships.

“We also used the Armory for weddings, receptions, birthday parties, quinceaneras … and all of those funds that we made go to the scholarship fund,” he said.

He said every Fourth of July they would set up a booth in front of the Armory and sell fireworks, which generated a lot of money for their scholarship fund. He added that because they had the Armory, they could use it to lock up the fireworks at night. Since they’ve been made to vacate the Armory, they’ve had to stop selling fireworks because if the fireworks were left in a booth overnight they would probably be stolen.

He said through the years at the Armory they held services and luncheons for military personnel who had passed away in and around the Reedley area. He said they would hold their final lunch at the Armory free of charge and they would put up the service flag that the deceased member was a part of on the stage that they had built at the Armory.

The National Guard Armory in Reedley, Calif. (Courtesy of Ralph Urbano)
The National Guard Armory in Reedley, Calif. (Courtesy of Ralph Urbano)

With all the different functions held at the Armory, they were doing a service to the city and the surrounding communities, he said.

Mr. Urbano said that it was a big letdown by the state to not let the veterans continue to take care of the Armory. He felt like their voices were not being heard.

Mr. Urbano played a caretaker role at the Armory. He would be in the office almost on a daily basis keeping up the books, paying bills, and helping people who wanted to rent out the space.

He said it was also a place where veterans could come to get help applying for veterans benefits.

He said the city of Reedley would use the Armory a couple times a year, and one of their big occasions was their Halloween party; they’d invite the community, and Reedley veterans would help with the event.

The police department and fire department also used it for various training purposes, he said.

In 2015, the state military department was going to sell the Armory, so the Reedley veterans petitioned to get bumped up in line to purchase it, but they were told to get in line with the rest of the people, Mr. Urbano said.

He said the state military department decided then to not sell the property. Then, a few years later, they decided to put the Armory up for bid to be made into low-income housing. The Reedley veterans were told to vacate by March 2022.

The National Guard Armory in Reedley, Calif. (Courtesy of Ralph Urbano)
The National Guard Armory in Reedley, Calif. (Courtesy of Ralph Urbano)

Mr. Urbano said that their contact in Sacramento with the military real estate department mostly said “no” anytime the veterans asked for help.

“We got very little cooperation from our contact, unfortunately; he was the one that we had to go through, so it was kind of difficult working with him,” he said.

The contact wasn’t a military veteran because the state hires a lot of civilians, and “they have no idea what we were going through or how we were represented, so that was a big letdown,” he said.

Nicole Zieba, city manager for Reedley, told The Epoch Times in an email, “The city attempted to fight back against this so that our Veterans wouldn’t be kicked out of their location.”

She said they even ran a bill, SB 501 (Hurtado), to try to have a legislative fix to keep the Armory from being surplussed. She went up and testified before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee with one of the local veterans and was successful in getting it passed through the Senate, but the Assembly wouldn’t take up the bill and it died.

Ralph Urbano, president of the Reedley Area Veterans. (Courtesy of Ralph Urbano)
Ralph Urbano, president of the Reedley Area Veterans. (Courtesy of Ralph Urbano)

Mr. Urbano said he was told that the housing was going to be for veterans, but that didn’t pan out.

He added that he was told that there would be a community room for veterans and other groups to meet, but he’s not sure if that’s going to come to fruition.

“They kind of left a sour taste with us,” he said.

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