Tell the Irvine City Council No Back Room Deals! Keep Your Promises to Our Veterans!

Once again, we must fight to ensure that a Southern California Veterans Cemetery in Irvine becomes a reality.

All of us must tell the Irvine City Council, “No back room deals! Keep your promises to our veterans!”

Here are the facts:

Ever since the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro (MCAS El Toro) in Irvine was decommissioned in 1999, a growing number of veterans dreamed of locating a veteran’s cemetery and memorial on a portion of the closed base, where an estimated 2 million men and women served this nation in peace and war, and from which too many of them departed to foreign lands never to return.

These veterans formed the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation to advocate for an Orange County veterans cemetery.

Proud to stand with my dad, Korean War combat veteran Stan Kay, and Vietnam veteran and Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation leader Bill Cook.

The need is great. Orange County has a long and proud military tradition. Currently, 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 there is no Orange County military cemetery for the estimated 133,000 Orange County veterans and their families.  Those in Orange County who want to visit a veteran’s grave in a cemetery must travel to Riverside, San Diego or Los Angeles counties.  The national cemetery in Los Angeles is at capacity and the one in Riverside requires a lengthy wait.

In 2014, Assembly Bill 1453 (AB 1453) was introduced by Assemblymember Quirk-Silva in the California legislature to establish a Southern California Veterans Cemetery in Orange County.

The legislation, co-sponsored by Assemblymember Donald Wagner representing the City of Irvine, was approved by the state legislature as of August 25, and signed by Governor Brown on September 27, 2014.

On July 22, 2014, after several months of debate and hearings, and appeals from numerous veterans and veterans’ organizations, the Irvine City Council adopted a resolution expressing its intent to convey the Amended and Restated Development Agreement (ARDA) site, just north of the Great Park and on land that was formally part of former MCAS El Toro, consisting of 125 acres, to the state for the purposes of creating the Southern California Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery.

Speaking to the Irvine City Council in 2014 in support of an Orange County Veterans Cemetery located on the grounds of the old Marine base in Irvine.

I had spoken at City Council meetings numerous times in favor of this resolution, as had my father, a Korean War combat veteran.

We were thrilled that the City Council had approved providing 125 acres of City-owned land for the veterans cemetery.  While we knew that the City Council had not approved spending any money for the cemetery, our expectation, as well as that of the Irvine City Council, was that once the land was provided, sufficient funds to build and maintain the cemetery would come from the federal government and the State of California.

Over the next year and a half or so, very little was done to move the project forward, as both the state and federal government considered the matter.

Then in June 2016, the City received a disheartening report from California Department of General Services that projected the cost of Phase 1 of building the veterans cemetery at the ARDA site to be a startling $77,372,000.

Most of this enormous cost involved the decontamination and demolition of 77 buildings (both residential and non-residential) remaining on the site.  The report noted that many of these remaining buildings and facilities “contain hazardous building materials such as asbestos-containing building materials (ACM) and lead-based paint (LBP).”

More bad news followed.

On July 25, 2016, the City learned that the Federal Veterans Administration had ranked the Southern California Veterans Cemetery at a mere 74 out of 101 proposed state veteran cemetery projects, and that the project was eligible for only $10 million from the federal government.

In other words, we learned that there was a $67,372,000 shortfall between what the cemetery would cost and what the federal government was willing to contribute. Moreover, no state funding was promised.

It appeared that the Southern California Veterans Cemetery that so many of us had long fought for was not going to get built.

During this time, FivePoint, the developer of the Great Park and the Great Park Neighborhoods, made the City an offer to exchange 125 acres of land that it owns just south of the Great Park, which it was now using as a field to grow strawberries, for the ARDA land.

The City could then provide this Strawberry Fields land to the State of California for a veterans cemetery, rather than the ARDA site.

No costly decontamination or demolition would be necessary to begin construction.

Speaking with California Governor Jerry Brown after his tour of the two proposed sites for an Orange County veterans cemetery in Irvine.

Like the ARDA site, the Strawberry Fields site had once been part of the El Toro Marine base.

In addition, FivePoint offered to pay for the cost of building Phase 1 of the veterans cemetery, thus saving the public nearly $80 million as compared to attempting to build the cemetery on the original ARDA site.

Still, there remained some uncertainty about the details of FivePoint’s offer.

Based on these financial facts and FivePoint’s offer, the City Council voted on April 4, 2017, to adopt my motion to pursue a dual track option of telling the Governor’s office, CalVet, and the State Legislature, that the City would guarantee local funding of up to $40 million, and, simultaneously, to direct staff to clarify and nail down the details of FivePoint’s land exchange, which could expedite the creation of the cemetery and save the City millions of taxpayer dollars that could then be used for other purposes, including construction of the Cultural Terrace and other amenities at the Great Park.

On May 12, 2017, Governor Brown toured both of the sites proposed for a veterans cemetery on the former El Toro Marine base. After his tour, Brown said either site was acceptable to the state. He also indicated that he preferred the Strawberry Fields site offered by FivePoint:  “It’s absolutely certain that Orange County will get the veterans cemetery that it deserves and the veterans deserve,” Brown said.  He later added, “Obviously, I like [the] strawberry patch — ‘Strawberry Fields Forever.’ Remember that song?”

Following the Governor’s visit, the land exchange proposed by FivePoint was supported in letters to the City Council by a formidable and bipartisan array of Orange County elected officials, including Congresswoman Mimi Walters (Republican), Congressman Lou Correa (Democrat), State Senator Josh Newman (Democrat), Assemblymember Steven Choi (Republican), and Assemblymember Sharron Quirk-Silver (Democrat) — the author of the original Southern California Veterans Cemetery legislation.

In addition, the land exchange was strongly supported by the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation, the non-partisan veterans’ group that had tirelessly and heroically pressed for an Orange County veterans cemetery for many years.

On June 6, 2017, the Irvine City Council voted 3-2 to change the site originally designated for a veterans’ cemetery and to proceed with the land exchange (125 acres of the ARDA for 125 acres of the Strawberry Fields) with FivePoint.

Mayor Don Wagner, Councilmember Christina Shea, and I voted in favor of this land exchange.  Councilmembers Jeff Lalloway and Lynn Schott voted against.

The State legislature then adopted two budget trailer bills related to the Southern California Veterans Cemetery. These bills authorized CalVet to acquire, study, design, develop, construct, and equip a state-owned and state-operated Southern California Veterans Cemetery at the new Strawberry Fields sites; provided $500,000 for a new CalVet study; authorized CalVet to submit a request for Federal Cemetery Grant funds; and provided $5 million to the Southern California Veterans Cemetery Master Development Fund.

Over the next few months, further approvals of the land exchange were then made by the Irvine Transportation Commission, which found that the land exchange would not have any significant impact on Irvine’s traffic, and by the Irvine Planning Commission, which urged approval necessary zoning changes.

Proud to wear a Southern California Veterans Cemetery cap with Vietnam War veteran Bill Sandlin, after receiving a commemorative cup on the 241st anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps.

It now seemed that the Southern California Veterans Cemetery was finally on track and was smoothly moving forward at last.  All that remained was final approval of the land exchange agreement by the City Council at the City Council meeting on September 26, 2017.

But just when it seemed that the veterans cemetery was soon to be launched with a jubilant official groundbreaking ceremony, suddenly everything was thrown up in the air once again.

I heard from Bill Cook, a leader of the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation and a Marine Corps Vietnam War veteran, that the City Manager was now insisting on providing only 25 acres for a veterans cemetery.  According to the scheme concocted by the City Manager, the remaining 100 acres would then be available for more houses, apartments, and hotels.

Next, I read in Voice of OC that the Irvine City Council is rumored to have “scheduled a closed session discussion of the veterans cemetery during its Sept. 26 meeting. The discussion reportedly will include using 100 acres of the veterans cemetery land for hotels, homes or other commercial purposes until the land is needed to bury veterans.”

Apparently, the City Manager had taken it upon himself to push this new 25 acre scheme for several weeks in staff negotiations with FivePoint, without direction from — or even informing — the City Council.

This action by the City Manager is outrageous.

Let me be clear:

Failing to provide the full 125 acres as promised will kill the veterans cemetery.  CalVet has made it clear to the City that “The USDVA requires that the entire 125 acres be transferred to the state in whole in order for the state to receive a grant to begin Phase I construction. Additionally, the CA Public Works Board requires the same. Anything short of a 125 acre transfer to the state puts the entire project in jeopardy. Once the state takes possession of the land and construction begins, the land can only be used according to the SCVC Master Plan. No additional use leases, etc. will be authorized.”

The City Council never authorized or even discussed this outrageous betrayal of our commitment to provide 125 acres for a veterans cemetery. This was undertaken by the City Manager without my knowledge or, as far as I know, the knowledge of any other member of the City Council.

I will not participate in any secret session or back room deals. There are no terms in the land exchange agreement that cannot be shared with the public in open session. 

I will fight to ensure that Irvine provides the full 125 acres as approved and committed by the City Council.  Anything less would be a betrayal of our promise to our veterans, and I will vehemently fight against it.

What you can do:

Send emails to the Mayor and City Council. Tell them to stick to their promise to provide the full 125 acres.  Tell your friends and neighbors, especially veterans, to do so as well.

Attend the City Council meeting on Tuesday, September 26, 2017.  Publicly tell the Council to keep its promise to our veterans.  The meeting will start at 4:00 pm and be held at the Irvine City Hall City Council Chamber, One Civic Center Plaza, Irvine, CA 92606.

We’ve fought long and hard so that Orange County veterans have a final resting place close to their families and loved ones.

The fight isn’t over yet.

Let’s make sure Irvine keeps its promise to our veterans.

See you there!

Update:

I have seen the official appraisal of the two properties (the ARDA site and the Strawberry Fields site). The Strawberry Fields site, being given up by FivePoint, is by far the more valuable of the two properties.  It is the City of Irvine (not Fivepoint) that is getting the best of the land exchange for pennies on the dollar. ARDA Appraisal Report (1)

 

 

Irvine’s Kids Need You! City of Irvine Seeks Applicants for Four Positions on Child Care Committee!

The Irvine Community Services Commission is accepting applications to fill two government, civic, or community agencies vacancies, and two child care provider vacancies on the Irvine Child Care Committee.

There is a serious child care crisis in Irvine.  At present, nearly 2,500 Irvine families do not have adequate child care. Irvine will need an additional 4,551 child care spaces by 2035, due to the increase in housing development and the concomitant increase in the number of families with young children moving to Irvine.

As a member of the Irvine City Council, I have made it a priority to increase childcare and early childhood education opportunities in Irvine. By volunteering to serve on the Irvine Child Care Committee, you can serve our community and help me and others work to alleviate our childcare crisis.

The Irvine Child Care Committee is a 15-member advisory body to the Irvine Community Services Commission, and works cooperatively with the Irvine Children, Youth, and Families Advisory Committee, Child Care Coordination staff, and Community Development to enhance the quality of childcare and school readiness in the City of Irvine.

Committee meetings  are held on the second Tuesday of January, March, May, September, October and November, from 9:00 am to 10:30 am at Heritage Park Community Center, or other designated Irvine location.

Staff and committee members will interview candidates in October 2017.  Following interviews, recommendations will be presented to the Community Services Commission for appointment effective January 2018.

Applications are available here, or at the Irvine Civic Center (on the 2nd floor in the Community Services Department), and at the Irvine Child Resource Center.

If you would like more information, please contact my Lead Council Executive Assistant, Allison Binder, at abinder@ci.irvine.ca.us.

Thanks!

Join Me at OCFA’s “Day of Remembrance” Ceremony Honoring Those We Lost on September 11, 2001

The sky was falling and streaked with blood
I heard you calling me, then you disappeared into the dust
Up the stairs, into the fire . . . 
May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love.

Please join me, the brave men and women of the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA), and other members of the OCFA Board of Directors at a special “Day of Remembrance” Ceremony at OCFA Headquarters in Irvine, honoring those lost on September 11, 2001.

The ceremony is in memory of all of those lost at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

This service will provide an opportunity for the OCFA to conduct an organizational salute to all of those who lost their lives and pay a special tribute to the following uniformed services:

• 343 fallen members of F.D.N.Y.

• 23 fallen members of N.Y.P.D.

• 37 fallen members of the NY Port Authority Police

Speakers include OCFA Senior Chaplain Dave Keehn, OCFA Acting Fire Chief Dave Anderson, OCFA Board Chair Beth Swift, OCFA Board Vice-Chair Ed Sachs, Third District OC Supervisor and Board Director Todd Spitzer.

The OCFA’s Honor Guard will be present.

The ceremony will include a bell ringing by OCFA Honor Guard Member Mike Patterson and the playing of “Amazing Grace” by OCFA Bagpiper Marc Stone.

The services will start at 8:40 a.m. on Monday, September 11, 2017, and conclude at 9:10 a.m.

OCFA Headquarters is located at 1 Fire Authority Road, Irvine, CA 92602

For more information, please contact Captain Steve Concialdi, OC Fire Authority PIO,  at (714) 357-7782 or steveconcialdi@ocfa.org.

Stay Cool!

Temperatures will reach triple digits this week in some parts of Orange County, increasing the risk of heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke for those who are sensitive to heat.

Stay hydrated, limit outdoor activities, and NEVER leave kids or pets in a parked car!

ALL City of Irvine facilities are designated cooling centers.  Click here for a list of facilities and open hours!

Here are some recommended precautions to prevent heat-related illnesses:

  • Drink plenty of water; don’t wait until you are thirsty.
  • Wear light, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Stay out of the sun if possible, and when in the sun wear a hat, preferably with a wide brim. Use sunscreen.
  • Avoid strenuous activities if you are outside or in buildings that aren’t air-conditioned. If you are working outdoors, take frequent rest and refreshment breaks in a shaded area.
  • Never leave children, older people or pets unattended in closed vehicles.
  • Ensure outdoor pets have access to shade and water.
  • Check on those who are at high risk to make sure they are staying cool – including seniors who live alone, people with heart or lung disease, and young children.
  • Stay cool indoors – if your home is not air-conditioned, visit public facilities such as shopping malls and libraries to stay cool.

Prolonged exposure to excessive temperatures may cause serious medical conditions and can even be fatal. Symptoms of heat exhaustion may include heavy sweating, muscle cramps, weakness, headache, nausea or vomiting, and dizziness. Warning signs of heat stroke may include an extremely high body temperature; unconsciousness; confusion; hot and dry skin (no sweating); a rapid, strong pulse; and a throbbing headache. If symptoms of heat stroke occur, immediately call for medical assistance. Assist those with signs of heat stroke to a shady area and begin cooling their body with water.

Let’s be cool — and make sure we all survive the heat!

Irvine Should Move Forward with a Memorandum of Understanding for Pretend City Children’s Museum at the Great Park

Irvine Should Move Forward with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for Pretend City Children’s Museum at the Cultural Terrace of the Great Park.

I am disappointed that at last Tuesday’s City Council meeting, only Councilmember Christina Shea joined with me in agreeing to an MOU with our great Irvine-based Pretend City Children’s Museum regarding a lease of property at the Cultural Terrace of the Great Park.  Mayor Don Wagner and Councilmember Lynn Schott voted against.  Councilmember Jeff Lalloway was absent.

Because of the City Council’s decision, Pretend City Children’s Museum is in danger of losing a seed money grant from the County for $5 million that depends on the MOU.

Pretend City Children’s Museum, which opened in Irvine in 2009, is an interactive children’s museum that builds better brains through whole body learning experiences, educational programs, and creative exhibits.  Designed as a small city, with a grocery store, construction site, art studio, house, café, bank, emergency services, health center and farm, Pretend City will be a familiar environment in which children infant through eight-years-old will have joyful opportunities to build problem solving and critical thinking skills, develop creativity and begin a life-long love of learning. It is dedicated to ensuring that each child is ready for school success by providing the ideal real-world learning experiences needed by children to develop their essential foundational learning skills.  This month, the Institute of Museum and Library Services announced that Pretend City is a finalist for the 2017 National Medal for Museum and Library Service.

Susan Bolton, the Executive Director of the Pretend Museum, has explained that the museum “seeks to move to the Great Park to expand its mission in serving the county’s children in providing early childhood education, developmental screenings, hands on play environment for children of ALL abilities and school readiness.”

The arguments against the MOU were that it would give Pretend City Children’s Museum an advantage over other possible occupants of the Cultural Terrace, and that the Cultural Terrace project should not be approved piecemeal. However, we already know the value and quality of Pretend City, which has operated in the city for many years, and the MOU would not commit the city to any final decision regarding the Cultural Terrace.

Moreover, we should be not be pitting the fine organizations that are seeking space in the Cultural Terrace against each other.  As Don Croucher – the leading advocate for a California Fire Museum at the Great Park – has pointed out, he and other supporters of the Fire Museum “are very much in favor of Pretend City getting their MOU so they do not lose the grant that is offered to them. We understand the need for them to move forward. It is NOT putting them ahead of any others at the Cultural Terrace, but rather a hand up to get the $5 million grant. We, in no way, want to hinder this important step for Pretend City.  We will support them in every step of the way to make sure they get this MOU ASAP.”

Irvine is a great city for families with young children, but we can and should make it even better.  We need more childcare and more pre-school programs for children under six-years-old, and I and my Commissioners are working to make this happen. We should also do everything we can to support the terrific work being done by the Pretend Museum for young children right here in Irvine.

As Councilmember Christina Shea has said, “If Pretend City loses their grant and we in turn lose a fantastic partner that supports our children and families, the community will lose and this isn’t what Irvine is about.”

I hope that we can move forward with the MOU soon and that the grant is not lost.

I recommend that those who are interested in this issue contact other members of the Irvine City Council.

Join Me Saturday at the Grand Opening of the Orange County Great Park Sports Park!

Join me for a free Grand Opening and fun-filled day from 2-9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5, as the first phase of the Orange County Great Park’s Sports Park is unveiled.
No RSVP is needed. Click  here for the map for directions into the Great Park.
All fields will be activated at 2 p.m., then join the Mayor and City Council for an official ribbon-cutting at 3:30 p.m. inside the Soccer Stadium at the Great Park, followed by the first soccer match in the new stadium.
There will be exhibitions, and opportunities, on the six soccer fields, 25 tennis courts, and five sand volleyball courts that will be open on that day.
Bring the family to enjoy the new Children’s Play Area. Food trucks will available for guests to purchase food from 2-8 p.m.
A  special free family concert featuring The Blues Brothers with Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi will begin inside the Soccer Stadium at 7:15 p.m.
Wear comfortable shoes to experience the first 53 acres of what will become the 194-acre Sports Park!
Here’s the schedule of events for the Sports Park Grand Opening on Aug. 5:

2:00-5:30 pm: Exhibitions, clinics, competition at tennis courts, soccer fields, & volleyball courts.

2:00-8:00 pm: Food/dessert trucks available on-site.

3:30 pm: Opening ceremonies – FivePoint/City of Irvine – at the Soccer Stadium.

4:00-5:30 pm: O.C. all-star soccer shoot out at the Soccer Stadium.

7:00-9:00 pm: Free community concert featuring The Blues Brothers with Dan Aykroyd & Jim Belushi at the Soccer Stadium.

See you there!

Save a Life — Be a Water Watcher!

Summer is a time for fun in the water, especially here in Southern California.

But far too often this summer, as a member of the Board of Directors of the Orange County Fire Authority, I have received a notice that there has been another drowning or near drowning at our local swimming pools.

Irvine Community Services Commissioner Lauren Johnson with Water Watcher Tag.

The news was particularly devastating this past Sunday: A 5-year-old girl was drowned in an Irvine swimming pool. She was found at 4:23 p.m. in a community pool at 120 Spring Valley.  Fire Captain Larry Kurtz said there were “lots of other kids in the pool when she was discovered” and that a nurse pulled her from the water and performed CPR.  It was too late.

Please, please, please be vigilant and assign a Water Watcher at all times near water, so these tragedies can be prevented!

Drownings occur without a sound, quickly and silently. Drowning continues to be the leading cause of accidental death among children age five and under. The majority of drowning and near drowning incidents occur in residential swimming pools and in open water sites. Drowning usually occurs quickly and silently.  Drownings and near-drownings can happen in a matter of seconds.

The good news is that drowning is 100% preventable!

To combat this needless tragedy, never swim alone and volunteer to be a Water Watcher.

A Water Watcher is a responsible adult who agrees to watch the children in the water without distractions, and to wear a Water Watcher tag.

The Water Watcher wears a tag stating:

Wearing this tag, I accept responsibility to supervise the children in and around the water, keeping them in sight at all times.  To prevent children from drowning, I’ll avoid distractions such as talking on the phone, reading, or poolside chats.  Before I leave the area, I will give this tag to the next adult water watcher who can swim.”

After a certain amount of time (such as 15-minutes), the Water Watcher card is passed to another adult, who is then responsible for the active supervision.

Water Watcher tags are available at your nearest Orange County Fire Authority Fire Station.

You can also call OCFA at 714-573-6200.

If you’re in Irvine, I will bring Water Watcher tags to you. Send me an email at mefox@cityofirvine.org.

Drowning is preventable.  Let’s prevent it from happening in our communities.

Let’s make Irvine the nation’s Safest City for Swimming!