The Strawberry Fields Site is the Best Location for the Veterans Cemetery. Now Let’s Get it Done!

I believe that locating the Orange County Veterans Cemetery at the Strawberry Fields Site is by far the most advantageous option for the residents of Irvine.  This site, overwhelmingly preferred by the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Committee (OCVMP), saves at a minimum $77.5 million in city, state and national tax dollars, does not require the substantial remediation and decontamination of the original site, and reduces traffic through the City.

My family has a long history of service. My father sacrificed his hearing and many years flying combat missions over North Korea as a bombardier and crew chief.  We lost his cousin at Inchon.  All of my uncles served in the Marine Corps.  My grandfathers and my father-in-law served in WWII in the Navy.  There are many more.  I respect and honor our military tradition and I serve the residents of Irvine.

I was one of the earliest and strongest advocates for a Veterans Cemetery located at the old El Toro Marine Air Station.  I attended and spoke at every Irvine City Council meeting where the Veterans Cemetery was discussed.

I was also tremendously proud that my father, a Korean War combat veteran, 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 former Marine Corps base.  As an Irvine resident and as the daughter of a combat veteran, I believe that 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.

My strong commitment to an Orange County Veterans Cemetery located on the grounds of the old El Toro Marine base in Irvine has never wavered.  My goal remains to establish this cemetery as expeditiously as possible.

Here are the facts:

  • Neither the ARDA Site nor the Strawberry Fields Site are within the boundaries of the Great Park. Both are contiguous to the Great Park: The Wildlife Corridor bisects the Strawberry Field Site and the ARDA Site sits just to the north of the park.
  • For providing the Strawberry Fields Site and a financial commitment to build the entirety of the veterans cemetery through Phase 1, the developer seeks no additional entitlements, only to move what they already have at the Strawberry Fields Site to the ARDA Site, adding no new housingno additional traffic and no additional automobile trips.
  • The $77.5 million estimate to prepare the ARDA site is only an estimate. The ARDA Site contains 77 buildings that would need to be demolished, and a dump site filled with unknown materials dumped over the entire lifespan of the base.
  • The ARDA Site contains FAA facilities that must remain in use and cannot be removed.
  • The Strawberry Fields Site is currently used as agricultural fields. No decontamination or demolition would be necessary before construction could begin.
  • The majority of the funding for the Great Park comes from a settlement with the State of California for the return of $280 million over an unspecified period of time. A portion of those funds are dedicated to affordable housing, leaving $258 million available for the Park. The $38 million proposed by the City would come from these funds, necessarily reducing the funds available for gardens, museums, a library, maintenance and operations.
  • The veteran members of the OCVMP Committee, who have fought for an Orange County Veterans Cemetery on the grounds of the old MCAS El Toro for many years, favor the Strawberry Field Site because it would be more visible from the freeway, has easier access, and the motorcade traffic and daily rifle volleys would not impact surrounding residences and schools.
  • The ARDA was last appraised in 2014 at $9,425,224. In 2015, the developer sold 72 acres adjacent to the Strawberry Fields Site for $128,000,000.

This is not  – and should not be  – a partisan or divisive issue.

Let’s do what’s best for Orange County veterans and for the residents of Irvine.

Let’s get it done.

Update:

The Irvine City Council voted on June 6, 2017, to designate the Strawberry Fields Site as the new location of the Orange County Veterans Cemetery.

The vote was 3-2 with Mayor Donald Wagner, Councilmember Christina Shea and myself voting in favor, and Councilmembers Jeffrey Lalloway and Lynn Schott voting against.

In addition, the State legislature has adopted two budget trailer bills related to the Southern California Veterans Cemetery that Governor Brown has now signed into law.  

These bills provide for:

§ $500,000 for CalVet study (site studies, concept plan and Phase I cost estimates).

§ Authorizes CalVet to acquire, study, design, develop, construct, and equip a state-owned and state-operated Southern California Veterans Cemetery at the Bake Parkway [Strawberry Fields] Site.

§ Authorizes CalVet to submit a pre-application requesting Federal Cemetery Grant funds.

§ $5 million transfer to the Southern California Veterans Cemetery Master Development Fund.

I believe that designating the Strawberry Fields Site will get the Veterans Cemetery built faster and with significant less cost.  In fact, it will save Irvine taxpayers upwards of $50 million — money that we can use to create more and better amenities at the Great Park, including museums, a library, and a world-class botanical garden.

I want to thank those elected officials who have stood with me throughout this process.

I want to thank Governor Brown for supporting the decision of the Irvine City Council to designate the Strawberry Fields Site as the better location for the Orange County Veterans Cemetery, and for signing the legislation quickly providing for state authorization and state funds for the Strawberry Fields Site.

I want to thank Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva for originating this process in the state legislature and seeing that it received the support of Governor Jerry Brown.  She made it clear that she would be pleased with the Strawberry Fields Site and that she “wholeheartedly back[ed] the decision of the Irvine City Council.”

I want to thank Congressman Lou Correa, who sent a letter to the Irvine City Council expressing his “support for the Orange County Veterans Cemetery to be built on the “Strawberry Field” site at the old MCAS El Toro  . . . This is the site perferred by the Orange County Veterans Memorial Foundation and the consensus of most Veterans, family, and friends.”

I also want to thank State Senator Josh Newman, Chair of the California Senate Veterans Committee and proud U.S. Army veteran, for writing to the City Council stating that in his view “the recently presented alternative site [i.e., the Strawberry Fields Site] represents the best prospect for a feasible location and plan [for the Veterans Cemetery].”

I ran on a platform of using my skills as a business attorney to safeguard every public dollar.  I also ran on the promise to build the Veterans Cemetery in Irvine at the old El Toro Marine base, and to build it as quickly as possible. I’m extremely happy that this land exchange has allowed me to fulfill both of these campaign promises.