July 4th: We Hold These Truths . . .

We hold these Truths to be self-evident,

that all Men are created equal,

that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights

that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

— That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men,

deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed,

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude of our Intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly Publish and Declare, that these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be, Free and Independent States, that they are absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political Connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

    —  The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.

Let Us Remember and Honor Those Who Fought for Korea’s Freedom

The Korean War started on this day — June 25 — seventy years ago, when when North Korea invaded South Korea.  By early July, the United States had sent troops into battle against the North Koreans, who were aided by their fellow Communist ally, China.

My father. Stan Kay, in Korea.

More than 36,000 Americans, 170,000 South Korean soldiers, 400,000 North Korean soldiers, 200,000 Chinese soldiers, and 2-3 million Korean civilians would die before the intense three-year conflict came to an end in an uneasy truce that has lasted to the present.

My family was deeply affected by the Korean War.  My father, his brothers, and all of his male first cousins served in combat.  My father’s cousin PFC Irwin Handler, USMC, was 20 years old when he killed in action on December 5, 1950, at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.  My father served in the U.S. Air Force, flying combat missions as the bombardier on a B-26 Invader.  He lost most of his hearing.

Photo taken by my father during a bombing mission.

Long called “The Forgotten War,” news of the Korean War was censored at the time, and decades later its memory is far overshadowed in public consciousness by World War II and the Vietnam War.

It was not until July 1995, 42 years after the end of the war, that a memorial was finally dedicated in Washington, D.C., to those who served.

But my father and his family have never forgotten those who suffered and died fighting for Korea’s freedom, nor have the millions of Koreans and Korean-Americans whose lives and families were shaped, in part, by those three very bloody years of war.

Let us remember and honor their bravery and sacrifice today and always, as we continue to pray for a Korea that is united and free.

The People Have Spoken: The Irvine City Council Should Designate the ARDA as the Site for the Orange County Veterans Cemetery. UPDATED!

UPDATE[May 13, 2020] At last night’s Irvine City Council meeting, the Council voted 4-1 to agree with me and to adopt the citizens’ initiative calling for locating a state veterans cemetery at the originally designated ARDA site adjacent to the Great Park on the ground of the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS El Toro).  The ARDA is located in the 68th Assembly District.  As the Assemblymember for the 68th Assembly District, I will work to ensure that the state fulfills its promise to “acquire, study, design, develop, construct, and equip a state-owned and state-operated Southern California Veterans Cemetery” on the hallowed grounds of the former El Toro Marine Base.

The time has come to settle the issue of where to locate a state veterans cemetery in Irvine. The people have spoken – twice – on this issue. Accordingly, at the next Irvine City Council meeting, I will propose that the City Council adopt, as an ordinance, the recent citizens’ initiative calling for locating a state veterans cemetery at the originally designated ARDA site adjacent to the Great Park.

Adopting the initiative as an ordinance will finally settle this long-divisive issue in the way that the people of this City have now twice demanded — first, by their overwhelming rejection in 2018 of Measure B and the land exchange, and most recently, by gathering nearly 20,000 signatures expressing the residents’ desire to locate the veterans cemetery on the ARDA.

Adopting the citizen’s initiative as an ordinance would also allow construction of the much-needed Orange County State Veterans Cemetery to begin as early as possible without any further political delays.

I have been fighting for a veterans cemetery on the hallowed grounds of the former El Toro Marine Air Station for many years, beginning in 2013, long before I was elected to the City Council.  As I wrote to the Irvine City Council in early 2014:

Melissa Fox in May 2014 urging the Irvine City Council to fulfill its promise to create an Orange County Veterans Cemetery without delay.

“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 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. 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 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. As an Irvine resident and a member of the Irvine Community Services Commission – and as the daughter of an Orange County Korean War combat veteran – I urge you to create an Orange County Veterans Cemetery and, also, to locate this cemetery in a portion of the Great Park that was once the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.”

Control Tower of MCAS El Toro, still visible on the ARDA site.

On March 11, 2014, I cheered with others in the audience when the City Council unanimously voted to designate the Amended and Restated Development Agreement [ARDA] site in the Orange County Great Park in Irvine as the future site of a veterans cemetery. But when I became an Irvine City Councilmember in 2016, I learned that there had been no progress on a veterans cemetery in the intervening two years. The reason for this lack of progress, I was informed, was the high cost of the decontamination and demolition necessary on the ARDA site.

Marine Corps A4 Skyhawks in flight over El Toro, 1961

Because construction of a veterans cemetery at the ARDA site did not appear to be financially viable for the City of Irvine, I supported the Strawberry Fields site (and the land exchange with FivePoint) as a less expensive, more practical, and faster alternative to the ARDA site. This land exchange proposal became Measure B, which was placed on the ballot for the voters in June 2018. The land exchange was supported by the Orange County Veteran’s Memorial Park Foundation and many national and local veterans organizations, as well as both the Democratic and Republican Parties of Orange County. 

The voters, however, decisively rejected Measure B and the land exchange, with 63 percent opposed. I understood from the defeat of Measure B that Irvine residents did not trust the City Council to put the people’s interests ahead of the interests of Irvine’s powerful developers, and, specifically, did not want to risk the possibility that the land exchange with FivePoint that would lead to massive development and more traffic congestion.

MCAS El Toro patch, designed by Walt Disney.

Following the voters’ rejection of Measure B, it again seemed that the construction of a veterans cemetery at the Great Park had stalled. However, several members of the California State Legislature continued to look for a way to create an Orange County Veterans Cemetery on the grounds of the former El Toro Marine Base.

Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, who taken the lead in earlier legislation regarding an Orange County Veterans Cemetery, introduced Assembly Bill 368, which requires the California Department of Veterans Affairs toJoining Democrat Sharon Quirk-Silva (AD 65) in support of this bill was a bipartisan group of Orange County legislators, including Republican Assemblymembers Tyler Diep (AD 72), William Brough (AD 73) and Philip Chen (AD 55), as well as Democrats Senator Thomas J. Umberg (SD 34) and Assemblymember Tom Daily (AD 69).  These legislators wrote to the Irvine City Council stating, “Today, we are ready to work with State and Federal officials to secure funding for the Southern California Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery.  We ask that you stand by your previous commitment to provide a resting place for California veterans at the ARDA site.”

Most important to me, this legislation committed the State of California, rather than the residents of Irvine, to provide the funding for the veterans cemetery. Initially, the legislation specified state financial support only for the ARDA site. After pressure from FivePoint and Mayor Christina Shea, the bill was amended to apply to either the ARDA site or a new site now proposed by Mayor Christina Shea and developer FivePoint. This newly proposed site was called the “Golf Course” site because it was comprised, in part, of land in the Great Park that had originally been designated to become a city-run golf course. However, the new site also included land that had previously been designated as part of the Orange County Great Park’s long-awaited “Cultural Terrace,” meant to include museums, botanical gardens, and other very popular cultural amenities that the people of Orange County had been waiting for a very long time. 

WW2 Era Marine aviators at MCAS El Toro.

Crucially, this new and hastily unveiled “Golf Course” site has never been studied or evaluated – by either the City or the State — for use as a veterans cemetery. As a result, the claims of FivePoint and Mayor Shea that the Golf Course site is a significantly less costly alternative to the ARDA are wholly conjectural. The truth is, since we have not actually studied the question, we have no idea whether locating the veterans cemetery on the Golf Course site rather than the ARDA would save a penny for the taxpayers.

We do know, however, that FivePoint very much wants to develop the ARDA site. Of course, this development of the ARDA site by FivePoint can not happen if the ARDA becomes a veterans cemetery.

We also know that Mayor Shea very much wants FivePoint to be able to develop the ARDA. In fact, when discussing this new alternative site with a group of Great Park residents, Mayor Shea stated that her plan was to give FivePoint a 99-year lease for development on the ARDA. Mayor Shea further said that Golf Course site was really a “diversion” or “short-time solution” to buy time and ensure that the ARDA did not become a veterans cemetery. She made it clear that to her, whether a veterans cemetery was actually built on the Golf Course site – or anywhere in Irvine — was secondary to making sure that the ARDA site remained available for development by FivePoint. In other words, Mayor Shea and FivePoint still intended to do precisely what the voters in defeating Measure B had specifically rejected.

Marine Corps Air Station El Toro Air Show Poster, 1991

For these reasons, when it again came before the City Council in April 2019, I supported designation of the ARDA as the site for a veterans cemetery, for the State of California to “acquire, study, design, develop, construct, and equip a state-owned and state-operated Southern California Veterans Cemetery” on the grounds of the former El Toro Marine Base. Nevertheless, the Irvine City Council rejected the ARDA and designated the Golf Course site for a veterans cemetery by a vote of 4 to 1, with only myself opposed.

The citizens’ initiative drive followed. Advocates for the ARDA site were able to collect nearly 20,000 signatures of Irvine residents to force the City Council to locate the veterans cemetery at the ARDA or place the issue on the ballot in November 2020.

I have never approached this issue from a partisan perspective, or with concern for anything but properly honoring O.C. veterans like my father. My sole concern now — as it has been from the beginning of this effort — is doing whatever I can to ensure that an Orange County Veterans Cemetery becomes a reality.

My criteria for deciding where to locate the veterans cemetery has also remained consistent: I support the site that I believe is most viable, most likely to be completed, and at the least cost to Irvine taxpayers. That site is the ARDA.

Our veterans deserve a final resting place close to their families and loved ones. Veterans like my father have waited long enough for Irvine to do the right thing.

Let’s build an Orange County Veterans Cemetery at the ARDA without further unnecessary delay.

Let’s listen to the people.

Orange County Veterans Deserve a Final Resting Place. The ARDA is the Only Site that has a Real Chance of Receiving the Necessary Funding. Let’s Get it Done!

I have been fighting for a veterans cemetery on the hallowed grounds of the former El Toro Marine Air Station for many years, beginning in 2013.

As I wrote to the Irvine City Council in early 2014:

“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 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.”

“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 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.”

“As an Irvine resident and a member of the Irvine Community Services Commission – and as the daughter of an Orange County Korean War combat veteran – I urge you to create an Orange County Veterans Cemetery and, also, to locate this cemetery in a portion of the Great Park that was once the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.”

On March 11, 2014, I cheered when the City Council unanimously voted to designate the Amended and Restated Development Agreement [ARDA] site in the Orange County Great Park in Irvine as the future site of a verterans cemetery.

But when I became an Irvine City Councilmember in 2016, I learned that there had been no progress on a veterans cemetery in the intervening two years because, I was informed, of the high cost of the decontamination and demolition necessary on the originally designated ARDA site.

Because the ARDA site did not appear to be financially viable, I, along with the Orange County Veteran’s Memorial Park Foundation and many national and local veterans organizations, supported the Strawberry Fields site as a less expensive, more practical, and faster alternative.

When the voters rejected the Strawberry Fields site as causing too much traffic and being too close to the freeway, I then proposed, along with Irvine City Councilmember Christina Shea, using a portion of the Orange County Great Park (and the former MCAS El Toro) that is currently planned for a golf course to be used instead for a veterans cemetery.

Subsequently, a site was proposed in Anaheim Hills near the 91 Freeway.  While I am not opposed to that site, the fact is that it has not received support from the Assembly, has not received any financial backing from either the county, state, or federal government, and is not located on the historically appropriate grounds of the former MCAS El Toro. It does not appear to be viable.

Now several of our state legislators have recently indicated a strong preference for the ARDA site originally designated by the Irvine City Council.

Assembly Bill 368, authored by Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva (AD 65) and currently before the Assembly Veterans Affairs Committee, states that the California Department of Veterans Affairs “shall acquire, study, design, develop, construct, and equip a state-owned and state-operated Southern California Veterans Cemetery, which shall be located at the site of the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, on 125 acres known as the Amended and Restated Development Agreement [ARDA] Site in the Orange County Great Park in the City of Irvine.”

Significantly, several Orange County members of the legislature, from both sides of the aisle — Democrats Senator Thomas J. Umberg (SD 34) and Assemblymembers Sharon Quirk-Silva (AD 65) and Tom Daily (AD 69) and Republican Assemblymembers Tyler Diep (AD 72), William Brough (AD 73) and Philip Chen (AD 55) — have pledged to allocate the funds necessary for the decontamination of the site and the construction of a veterans cemetery in that location and urged the Irvine City City to re-designate it as the official site.

Their letter states, “Today, we are ready to work with State and Federal officials to secure funding for the Southern California Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery.  We ask that you stand by your previous commitment to provide a resting place for California veterans at the ARDA site.”

In addition, Nick Berardino, President of VALOR (Veterans Alliance of Orange County) and a Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War, who has been advocating for a veterans cemetery for years, has responded to the legislators’ letter by saying “We are excited that the legislature is poised to support the veterans cemetery and impressed that the Orange County delegation is able to secure the funding in this years budget.”

This week, on April 9, 2019, Assembly Bill 368 was unanimously approved (10-0) for passage by the Assembly Veterans Affairs Committee and referred to the Appropriations Committee.

Accordingly, it is now clear that the only site that has a real chance of receiving the necessary funding for an Orange County veterans cemetery is the ARDA site.

For this reason, I am withdrawing my support for the golf course site option and joining with these state legislators in calling for the Irvine City Council to again designate the ARDA as the site for a veterans cemetery and calling on the state and federal government to provide the funding needed to build a veterans cemetery on the ARDA site in the Great Park on the hallowed grounds of the former El Toro Marine Station.

Further, this month, United States Representative Gilbert Cisneros (CA 39), a retired naval officer and a member of the Congressional Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies has urged the federal government to step up and provide financial help for our long-overdue veterans cemetery in Orange County.

He wrote to the Subcommittee: “I urge you to provide increased funding for the Veterans State Cemetery Grant program in order to support a veterans cemetery in Orange County. With 3.19 million residents, Orange County has a disproportionately high population of veterans. However, it does not have a single veterans cemetery. Local veterans have been campaigning for a veterans cemetery for years, but the federal government has failed to rise to the occasion. While local entities are pursuing a state veterans cemetery, federal funding should be made available in order to get this project across the finish line. I urge you to increase the VA’s State Cemetery Grant program funding to ensure this long overdue project does not suffer any further delays.”

Along with the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation, which has led the fight years-long fight for an Orange County veterans cemetery, I say “Hurrah!” to Rep. Cisneros’ letter.

Based on all these factors, as a member of the Irvine City Council and the daughter of a combat veteran, I hereby fully commit to the goal of building a Southern California Veterans Cemetery on the grounds of the former MCAS El Toro at the ARDA site.

I have never approached this issue from a partisan perspective, or with concern for anything but properly honoring O.C. veterans like my father. My sole concern now — as it has been from the beginning of this effort — is doing whatever I can to ensure that an O.C. Veterans Cemetery becomes a reality.

I look forward to working in a positive, bipartisan way with our state and federal representatives, other Irvine City Councilmembers, the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation, veterans organizations, community groups, and private donors, doing whatever it takes and pulling together in the same direction, to finally establish the Orange County veterans cemetery that we have fought for and needed for so long.

Our veterans deserve a final resting place close to their families and loved ones.

Let’s get it done.