The Veterans Cemetery: What Should Irvine Do Now?

Current view of the original (ARDA) site for a veterans cemetery.

The voters in Irvine recently rejected Measure B. The issues now are what, in rejecting Measure B, did the voters really decide, and what should the Irvine City Council do in response to the voters’ decision.

Some argue that the rejection of Measure B means that the voters said that the proposed veterans cemetery should be located at the ARDA site that was originally selected by the City Council in July 2014, and that the City Council should begin immediately to build a veterans cemetery at that location.

But the actual language of Measure B said nothing about the original ARDA site, except that the development previously zoned for the strawberry fields site would be moved there.

Looking at the specific language of Measure B, what the voters said No to was “allowing the previously planned development for the Bake Parkway Site to be relocated to the intersection of Pusan and Irvine Blvd and allowing the development of a veterans cemetery near the intersection of I-5 and Bake Parkway.”

Thus, by its express language, the no vote on Measure B rejects that zoning decision, but does not authorize the city to place a veterans cemetery on the ARDA site.

Sign used by Measure B opponents warning of thousands more cars on Irvine roads if Measure B passed.

In addition, the City Council’s approval of the ARDA site in 2014 was based on the belief that the City would provide the land for the veterans cemetery, but the costs of construction and subsequent maintenance of the cemetery would be wholly paid by state and federal government.

Crucially, the City Council’s approval of the ARDA site also came several years before we learned that construction of the veterans cemetery at the ARDA site would cost nearly $80 million, mostly due to the need for decontamination of the soil and the decontamination and removal of numerous existing structures, and that in addition to providing the land, the City would have to bear a significant portion of these construction costs.

In particular, Measure B said nothing at all about approving the spending of tens of millions of dollars that are now earmarked for creating the features of the Great Park that residents have said they want – such as museums, botanical gardens, a new Wild Rivers Water Park, and a permanent amphitheatre for live music – and, instead, using that money for a veterans cemetery.

My belief is that the rejection of Measure B means that the voters did not want a zoning change that, as the No on B campaign said, would have allowed “massive development projects” at the ARDA site, add “812,000 square feet of development,” and “bring 10,000 more cars and trucks to Irvine streets and neighborhoods every day.”

For me, the lesson of Measure B is that the voters did not want to risk the possibility that the land exchange would lead to more development and more traffic congestion, as well as the voters believing that it was too favorable a deal for the developer.

In other words, I see the rejection of Measure B as a vote against more development and traffic congestion, and not a vote in favor of spending $40 – $80 million dollars on a veterans cemetery rather than building other popular features of the Great Park.

In a survey of Irvine voters I conducted from my blog and through email, the great majority said that they voted against Measure B because they did not want more development and traffic.

Even more significantly, 64% said that Irvine should not spend $40 to $80 million dollars for a veterans cemetery, compared to only 13.5% in favor.

Current view of the original (ARDA) site for a veterans cemetery.

In a new and promising twist to the veterans cemetery saga, the Orange County Board of Supervisors has now agreed to have its staff study and advise whether county-owned open space outside Irvine might be a feasible location for an Orange County veterans cemetery. The approximately 234-acre site is in the city of Anaheim, near the 91 and 241, adjacent to Gypsum Canyon.

This site would provide a larger veterans cemetery for Orange County veterans, at no cost to Irvine, and be free from the divisive politics that has characterized the veterans cemetery debate in Irvine.

In fact, many of the veterans who initiated the fight for a veterans cemetery now favor this site, because, as Marine Corps Vietnam War veteran Nick Berardino has said, it appears that “veterans are removed from the political equation, and are now heading in a practical, reasonable direction to give all the brave men and women a final resting place.”

If the Irvine City Council approves Jeff Lalloway’s motion to spend $40 to $80 million dollars to clean up the original site for a cemetery, it will deplete the Great Park budget for at least a decade.

As the Irvine City News noted, “It sounds noble when [Jeff] Lalloway, [Larry] Agran and their followers hold up the service of our veterans. But when you understand that the veterans still can’t get what they were promised without taking away the gardens, the museums, the music, the culture and the future of the Great Park, it puts Lalloway’s political power move in perspective.”

I have been a strong and consistent supporter of a veterans cemetery in Irvine.  But I have also been a strong supporter of fulfilling the promises that the City made to residents when it created the Great Park, and I am not in favor of giving up on those promises.

I believe the Great Park should have great gardens and a great museum, as well as other features for the enjoyment of all residents, and I do not believe that the City can afford to spend $40 to $80 million on a cemetery and continue with these other projects.

What do you think?  

Do you favor spending $40 to $80 million dollars to clean up the original site for a cemetery or should that money go to create other features for the Great Park?

The City Council will decide on Tues, July whether to approve Lalloway’s motion or whether some other course is more sensible and also responsive to the will of the voters and the needs of the community.

As always, the public is invited to attend and speak on these issues at the City Council meeting.

I also urge interested residents to contact the Mayor and the City Council by email and tell us in writing what you think we ought to do.

Here is how to contact the Mayor and the City Council:

Irvine City Council
949-724-6233 or irvinecitycouncil@cityofirvine.org

Mayor Wagner: donaldwagner@cityofirvine.org
Mayor Pro Tem Christina Shea: christinashea@cityofirvine.org
Councilmember Jeff Lalloway: jeffreylalloway@cityofirvine.org
Councilmember Lynn Schott: lynnschott@cityofirvine.org
Councilmember Melissa Fox: melissafox@cityofirvine.org

Thank you.