Call for Action: Support Our Veterans at the July 22 Irvine City Council Meeting and Urge the Irvine City Council to Designate a Portion of the Great Park for the Orange County Veterans Cemetery

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If you agree that our Orange County veterans deserve a final resting place close to their families and loved ones, and that a portion of the Great Park in Irvine, which was once Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, would be an altogether fitting and proper location for this Orange County Veterans Cemetery, as well as a lasting memorial to the Great Park’s military heritage, please attend the Irvine City Council meeting on Tuesday, July 22, beginning at 5:00 PM, make your voices heard!

This may be our last, best chance to create a veterans cemetery in a portion of the Great Park that was formerly the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro.

Orange County has a long and proud military tradition. More than two million veterans live in California – more than in any other state. This military tradition continues into the present, as nearly 7,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars live in Orange County.

Yet Orange County veterans do not have their own official military cemetery and those in Orange County who want to visit a veteran’s grave in a national cemetery must travel to Riverside, San Diego or Los Angeles counties. We are the state’s largest county with no dedicated burial ground for its combat veterans and other servicemen and women.

Last January, California Assembly Member Sharon Quirk-Silver introduced a bill (AB 1453) to right this wrong and create a state-owned and state-operated veterans’ cemetery in Orange County.

For several years, a group of Orange County veterans has urged that a veterans cemetery be located in the Great Park, on land which from 1942 to 1999 served as Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, and where an estimated 2 million men and women served this nation in peace and war.

When Assembly Member Quirk-Silva’s Orange County veterans cemetery bill was introduced, the Great Park in Irvine seemed to them – and to many others –  to be the perfect and most appropriate location.

The question was, would the City of Irvine – which owns and controls this land – make it available for a veterans cemetery?  This is still the question now.

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Melissa Fox in March 2014 addressing the Irvine City Council in support of locating an Orange County veterans cemetery in the Great Park (the former MCAS El Toro).

When the matter of the location of the veterans cemetery first come before the Irvine City Council in March, I wrote that “as the daughter of an Orange County Korean War combat veteran, I strongly support this bill [to create an Orange County veterans cemetery]. It is time that Orange County offered its veterans – who have sacrificed so much for us – a final resting place close to their families and loved ones.”

I also wrote that “as an Irvine resident, I believe that a portion of the Great Park in Irvine, which was once the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, would be an altogether fitting and proper location for this Orange County Veterans Cemetery, as well as a lasting memorial to the Great Park’s military heritage.”

In addition, I personally addressed the Irvine City Council and urged them to support AB 1453. I was also tremendously proud that my father joined with many other Orange County veterans and spoke to the Irvine City Council, urging them to support a veterans cemetery in a portion of the Great Park.

The Irvine City Council then narrowly voted 3-2 to support AB 1453 and call for the establishment of the Southern California Veterans Cemetery in Orange County, to express the City’s strong interest in providing at least 100 acres of land at the Orange County Great Park (formerly MCAS El Toro), and to form an ad hoc committee to see if a suitable location is feasible in and around the Great Park.

However, instead of creating a committee composed of council members and a few interested parties, at Council Member Jeff Lalloway’s insistence the committee was composed of numerous politicians, including Irvine Mayor Choi, who had opposed establishing a veterans cemetery at the Great Park because it might make it more difficult for a developer, FivePoint Communities, to sell homes in the area.  Council Member Larry Agran, who had proposed that Irvine make at least 100 acres of the Great Park available for an Orange County veterans cemetery, was left off the committee.

By April, it appeared that the committee created by the Irvine City Council was not actually interested in finding a location for a veterans cemetery in the Great Park. The veterans of the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park group, along with many leaders of Orange County veterans’ groups, issued a “Call to Action” to attend the Irvine City Council meeting.

melissafoxblog, Melissa Fox, melissajoifox, Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox, Melissa Fox for Irvine City Council,votemelissafox, votemelissafox.com

Melissa Fox in April 2014 addressing the Irvine City Council in support of locating an Orange County veterans cemetery in the Great Park (the former MCAS El Toro).

I again addressed the Irvine City Council, again urging them to provide Orange County veterans with a final resting place close to their families and loved ones, and to designate a portion of the Great Park in Irvine, which was once the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, as an altogether fitting and proper location for this Orange County Veterans Cemetery, as well as a lasting memorial to the Great Park’s military heritage.

In May, on learning that ad hoc committee set up by the Irvine City Council to establish an Orange County Veterans Cemetery had not even had its first meeting because some politicians who were added as committee members could not find the time in their schedules, I wrote that the Irvine City Council should fulfill its promise to create an Orange County veterans cemetery without any further delay.

I noted that there is now profound concern in the veteran community that the unnecessarily large committee formed by the Irvine City Council, based on Council Member Jeffrey Lalloway’s insistence on including numerous politicians, is a sham, set only up for show and delay, not to take action.

Speaking again to the City Council, I said that “the addition of so many players seemed to me a way to hamstring the committee, to actually prevent it from reaching its stated goal, which was to find a suitable location for a veterans cemetery in Irvine. This concern is exacerbated by the rancor I’ve witnessed here this evening at the mere mention of a request for a progress report. I hope that my fears are not realized and that this isn’t a way to ground the ball and run out the clock. When I last addressed the Council, I was here with my father, and when the veterans were asked to stand, he could barely stand because he had just had chemotherapy. His passion was to come here and talk to you. He isn’t physically able to do that for himself, so I am his voice . . . Please don’t ground the ball. Don’t let time run out.”

My comments, as well as the comments and questions raised by numerous veterans, about the seriousness of Irvine’s commitment to an Orange County veterans cemetery, were met with stone cold silence from the Irvine City Council.

We have now arrived at another crossroads.

AB 1453, melissafoxblog, Melissa Fox, melissajoifox, Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox, Melissa Fox for Irvine City Council,votemelissafox, votemelissafox.comAB1453 has sailed through the Assembly and is now going through the final phases of the legislative process. Senator Lou Correa’s Senate Veterans Affairs Committee passed the bill on June 24th and sent it to Senate Appropriations Committee with the recommendation to approve it. To date, there have been zero “no” votes on this bill.

Now, the only thing missing to make an Orange County veterans cemetery a reality is a decision by the Irvine City Council to make a portion of the Great Park  – the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro  – available as its location.

This Tuesday, July 22, Irvine City Council Member Larry Agran intends to propose a resolution designating a specific 125-acre parcel at the Great Park the Orange County veterans cemetery.  He has also prepared a Memorandum in support of this proposal and map of the proposed veterans cemetery site within the Great Park.

Once this resolution is adopted by the Irvine City Council, AB 1453 will likely pass through the Senate Appropriations Committee on August 4th with an appropriation of funds. Then, it’s on to the Governor’s desk for signature. The Orange County Veterans Cemetery — appropriately located in a portion of the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro — would be a done deal.

But we have serious concerns that the same group of developer-beholden politicians who have thus far delayed and stymied the process will prevent the Great Park location from being selected — unless large numbers people show up on July 22 and tell the Irvine City Council that they must support the resolution to designating the 125-acre site in the Great Park as the Orange County veterans cemetery.

Here is what a leader of Orange County Veterans Memorial Park group has to say:

OCVMP, Orange County Veterans Memorial Park, melissafoxblog, Melissa Fox, melissajoifox, Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox, Melissa Fox for Irvine City Council,votemelissafox, votemelissafox.com“We need your help! Next Tuesday  – July 22  – the next Irvine City Council meeting will be held. The OCVMP committee is asking for all veterans and all of our supporters to attend this most important meeting as the issue of the Veterans Cemetery at the Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro promises to be the hot topic.

We on the committee have reason to believe that our concerns as a group may be tied up in a mishmash of parliamentary procedures and legal manipulation by some members on the Ad Hoc Committee who have expressed no interest in seeing their charge through to completion. . . Unfortunately, [some] members of the Ad Hoc Committee seem to be doing their utmost to drag the process out until a target date of August 1 has come and passed. OCVMP Committee Chair Bill Cook had put a motion on the floor to present both viable site options to the Irvine City Council. Bill’s motion was ruled out of order as it was Ad Hoc Chairman Jeff Lalloway’s opinion that we had moved on to discussing the agenda items for the next Ad Hoc meeting. This undue action took the audience by surprise and resulted in a great deal of disappointment and distrust in the Ad Hoc Committee’s leadership (bear in mind that the Ad Hoc Committee Chairman is Irvine City Councilman Jeff Lalloway, the Vice-Chairman is Irvine City Mayor Steven Choi, and a third member is a representative from the Five Points Communities). It is our hope and our goal that we can expedite the process and get the issue to the next level in the approval and funding process. Please join us in this worthwhile endeavor. There has been too much work done and too much time spent to let the whole concept get hijacked by those who were predisposed to prevent a cemetery from being built at the outset. We are YOUR veterans, and we need your support.”

This is not  – and should not be  – a partisan issue. I agree completely with blogger Jeff Gallagher that “the only ones who don’t think placing a veterans cemetery at the Great Park is appropriate are those who desperately want the income that would be lost by establishing one [and the politicians who are doing their bidding].”

“We think MCAS El Toro is the most appropriate location to honor our veterans. . . .Surely, the time has come to bring this dream to fruition. Every veterans organization from the Orange County Veterans Advisory Council to The American Legion, to the Veterans of Foreign Wars are actively involved with this project. More than 200 veterans and interested persons showed up to hear Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva’s update on AB1453 and efforts to put this plan together. Importantly, Quirk-Silva said AB1453 is just the beginning. Once the legislative authority has been granted, money still needs to be raised. Hope lies in the Feds who, although they won’t establish a cemetery here, will provide grant money to allow the state to establish and run one. Speaking as a veteran, I don’t really care one way or the other where the money comes from. The important thing is to honor our veterans by giving them a final resting place near their home. By rights, that resting place should be on, what The American Legion 29th District Commander, Bill Cook, called “Sacred Ground.”

The Irvine City Council needs to know that Orange County veterans and their families and supporters are not going to fade away.

Marine Corps veteran Nick Berardino, General Manager of the Orange County Employees’ Association, has has announced that the OCEA will be there with their hot dog cart from about 3:30 PM until the meeting starts around 5:00 PM. The OCEA is providing free hot dogs and condiments to all attendees as long as the hot dogs last.

What: Support an Orange County Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park (the former MCAS El Toro).
Where: The Irvine Civic Center, 1 Civic Center Plaza, Irvine, CA 92606
When: The meeting will start at 5:00 pm. If you want a seat in the Council Chambers you may want to arrive earlier.

Please share this information with your Facebook friends and e-mail contacts.

See you there!

UPDATE 

We just received the following information from American Legion 29th District Chaplain Bill Cook:

• The Irvine City Council meeting starts at 4:00 pm with a closed session;  open session will start at 5:00 pm.  We expect the cemetery vote around 6:00 pm.

• Overflow parking, with shuttle service, will be provided from Creekside High School at Harvard/Barranca.

• Water will be provided in the courtyard to go with the great OCEA hot dogs

• Extra motorcycle parking area will be provided.

• Video connections will be provided in the conference room and lobby for overflow, if the chambers get full.

• Plenty of speaker cards will be available, and all speakers will be accommodated. Wanna speak? Fill out a speaker card!

• Spread the word!