Irvine Needs a Permanent Veterans Advisory Committee Comprised Solely of Veterans

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Irvine is home to thousands of military veterans and members of the active military returning from deployment overseas. These veterans should be represented within Irvine’s city government by a Veterans Advisory Committee expressly dedicated to the unique needs and interests of the men and women who have served and are currently serving in our nation’s armed forces.

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Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox with her father, Korean War US Air Force combat veteran Stan Kay, at Memorial Day ceremony at Col. Bill Barber Marine Corps Memorial Park

One of the key lessons of the fight for the Irvine City Council’s approval of a Veterans Cemetery and Memorial in the Great Park is that Irvine needs a permanent Veterans Committee, composed solely of Irvine veterans, to advocate for veterans and advise the City and the Council on veterans’ issues.

The Ad Hoc (temporary) Veterans Cemetery Committee established by the current Council majority of Mayor Steven Choi and Councilmembers Jeffrey Lalloway and Christina Shea during the fight for approval of the Veterans Cemetery was anything but an advocate for veterans.

It all began in March, when Councilmember Larry Agran, himself a veteran, having served in the U.S. Army Reserve, introduced a resolution supporting AB 1453 (creating a state Veterans Cemetery in Orange County) and, more importantly, expressing the City Council’s strong interest in locating the Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park (formerly the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro).

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Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox urging the City Council to set aside land in the Great Park as a final resting place for Orange County veterans in March 2014.

The resolution passed, over the objection of Mayor Choi, who made clear his opposition to a Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park because a big developer – FivePoint Communities – thought it might affect the prices of the homes it plans to sell in the area.

The Council then set up an Ad Hoc Committee, supposedly to identify a specific site for a Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park.

However, it soon became apparent the real purpose of the Ad Hoc Committee created by the Council majority was to delay and obstruct the search for a site in the Great Park, and at the same time to try to find a site somewhere else – anywhere else – in Orange County, in order to please the developer.

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Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox with veterans’ advocate, USMC veteran and VFW Chaplain Bill Cook

The Council majority appointed Mayor Choi as the Ad Hoc Committee vice chair – despite his publically announced opposition to a Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park because of FivePoint’s objections.

They appointed Councilmember Jeffrey Lalloway as the Committee Chair, who then insisted on placing nearly every one of his local political cronies on the Ad Hoc Committee, not one of whom is a veteran.

The only U.S. military veteran on the Irvine City Council – Councilmember Larry Agran, who was also the author of the resolution and a strong advocate for locating the Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park – was deliberately not placed on the Ad Hoc Committee.

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Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox speaking to the City Council on behalf of a Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park in April 2014

After excluding the only U.S. military veteran on the Council from the Ad Hoc committee, Choi, Lalloway and Shea insisted that a Five Point representative be included on the committee.

Only one Orange County veteran (USMC veteran and VFW Chaplain Bill Cook) and one long time veterans advocate (Isabelle Krasney) were made part of the Ad Hoc committee.

By late April, the Ad Hoc Committee created by the Irvine City Council majority had not met and had not conducted any business.  Veterans groups were becoming increasingly concerned that the Ad Hoc Committee was not interested in finding a location for a Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park, and that the Committee was a sham, set up only for show, not to take action.

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Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox with USMC veteran and veterans’ adocate Bill Sandlin

In response to the Ad Hoc Committee’s inaction, Orange County Veterans Memorial Park group (OCVMP), along with many leaders of Orange County veterans’ groups, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, and the Disabled American Veterans, issued a “Call to Action” to attend the next Irvine City Council meeting, where I, among others, called on the Council to fulfill its promise to create an Orange County Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park without delay.

In mid-May, we learned that the Ad Hoc Committee still had not met because, supposedly, many of the politicians who were added by Jeff Lalloway as Ad Hoc Committee members, including Irvine Mayor Steven Choi, could not find the time for a Committee meeting in their schedules. In addition, the Ad Hoc committee refused to provide a progress report (or, rather, a lack-of-progress report).

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Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox speaks to City Council on behalf of OC veterans, urging the City Council to set aside land in the Great Park as a final resting place for Orange County veterans

I spoke to the City Council, saying that “the addition of so many players [to the ad hoc committee] 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.”

Melissa Fox for Irvine City Council, melissafoxblog, Melissa Fox, melissajoifox, Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox, Melissa Fox for Irvine City Council,votemelissafox, votemelissafox.com, veterans, Orange County veteransMy 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 majority of Choi, Lalloway and Shea.

By late July, AB1453 has sailed through the Assembly and was going through the final phases of the legislative process. Senator Lou Correa’s Senate Veterans Affairs Committee had passed the bill on June 24th and sent it to Senate Appropriations Committee with the recommendation to approve it.  The only thing missing to make an Orange County Veterans Cemetery a reality was a decision by the Irvine City Council to make a portion of the Great Park available as its location.

Yet the developer-beholden Ad Hoc Committee had done nothing since its inception in March except delay, obstruct, and attempt to prevent the cemetery from being located in the Great Park

Here is what the only two real veterans’ advocates on the Committee (Bill Cook and Isabelle Krasney) had to say in a message from the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park group:

Melissa Fox for Irvine City Council, melissafoxblog, Melissa Fox, melissajoifox, Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox, Melissa Fox for Irvine City Council,votemelissafox, votemelissafox.com, veterans, Orange County veterans“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).  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.”

The message from the OCVMP led to the Council chamber being packed with veterans and their supporters.  Councilmember Agran then proposed a resolution designating a specific 125-acre parcel of the Great Park for future conveyance to the State of California for “purposes of establishing a Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery”

When speaker after speaker after speaker, including Bill Cook, the only veteran on the Ad Hoc Committee, then spoke in favor of the resolution, the Council majority was forced to concede that they had been licked, that their strategy of using the Ad Hoc Committee as a means of delay and obstruction had failed.  They then voted in favor of the resolution.

What this experience teaches me is that Irvine’s veterans need a strong, permanent voice of their own in city government, not adulterated by developers or by politicians whose interests may well conflict with those of the veterans they supposedly serve.

It’s the right thing to do.