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 Field 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.

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. “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 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 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:

Please send emails to the Mayor and City Council and 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.

Please attend the City Council meeting on Tuesday, September 26, 2017, and publicly tell the Council to keep its promise to our veterans.

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!

 

 

 

Support the 5th Marines Vietnam War Memorial

“A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.” — President John F. Kennedy

It was my great honor to contribute to the 5th Marines Vietnam Memorial.

Vietnam War veteran Bill Sandlin, USMC, ret., presents 5th Marines Challenge Coin to Irvine Councilmember Melissa Fox.

The 5th Marines Vietnam Memorial is dedicated to planning, building, installing, and dedicating a monument at Camp Pendleton that will remember and honor the combat veterans of the 1st Battalion of the 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division (1/5/1), who served during the Vietnam War, and, in particular, the 2,706 U.S.Marines and Sailors of the 5th Marines who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Because of the generous donations of so many people, the manufacturing of the 6 black paneled granite has begun, and we are on track for the Dedication Ceremony on Memorial Day 2018. But we still have funds to raise to make the Memorial a reality.

The 5th Marine Regiment has a rich and distinguished history. Its reputation as the Marine Corps’ most decorated infantry regiment has been seared in the crucible of many wars and crises since its establishment in 1917, from the Battle of  Belleau Wood in World War I, the Battle of Guadalcanal in World War II,  the Battle of Inchon in Korea, the Battle of Fallujah in Iraq, and the Battle of Helmand Province in Afghanistan.  Today, the 5th Marines are involved in the battle against ISIS.

I have a personal connection to the 5th Marines. Several of my relatives served in the 5th Marines, including my cousin, PFC Irwin Handler, who was killed in action in Korea during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.

Every American owes a debt to the 5th Marines, for their courage and service to this nation.

This Memorial is about the sacrifice made by the 5th Marines who courageously fought in Vietnam because our nation asked. It honors their courage, commitment to duty, and commitment to country, and it says that we will never forget them.

You can watch a video of the proposed Memorial here,

You can make a contribution here.

If you have the means, please join me in contributing to this very worthy cause of honoring the 2,706 U.S.Marines and Sailors of the 5th Marines who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam War.

My Busy — and Rewarding — Weekend!

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The weekend of February 25-26 began early on Saturday morning, meeting up with Orange County Fire Authority Chief Greg McKeown and dozens of volunteers from OC Fire, OC Fire Explorers, the Irvine Police Department, Irvine Police Explorers, CERT, and the Red Cross to inspect and install smoke detectors for residents at The Groves, a resident-owned senior community in the Irvine. A total of 738 smoke alarms were installed in 349 homes free of charge by 87 volunteers!

Then I headed out to Harvard Community Athletic Park for the Opening Ceremony and a pancake breakfast fundraiser for Irvine PONY Baseball, which included a beautiful salute to the American flag led by Irvine Boy Scout Troop 645.

Next on my Saturday agenda was a visit to Mike Ward Community Park in Woodbridge to participate in the “OC Charity Dog Walk – Who Walks Who?,” sponsored by Irvine Rotary and the Rotaract UC Irvine. The event included dog photo booths, veterinarians, dog toys, an auction and dog contests — all to raise money for great causes. $6,500 was raised for local charities!

Councilmember Melissa Fox joins with Gold Star Mothers and other City Councilmembers at Northwood Gratitutde and Honor Memorial Expansion Ceremony

Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox joins with Gold Star Mothers and other City Councilmembers at Northwood Gratitutde and Honor Memorial Expansion Ceremony.

Then I stopped at the Islamic Center of Irvine to drop off a donation of lightly used shoes for Soles4Souls, a charity that aims to disrupt the cycle of poverty, create sustainable jobs, and provide relief through the distribution of shoes and clothing around the world.

On Sunday, I joined with Mayor Wagner, Mayor Pro Tem Lynn Schott and Councilmember Christina Shea, as well as Gold Star parents and other City officials, to take part in the groundbreaking ceremony of the expansion of the Irvine Nothwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial.
Located in Northwood Community Park, the Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial is the nation’s first memorial dedicated exclusively to listing the names of all the fallen American service members in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Last year, the Irvine Community Services Commission, of which I was then a member, recommended that the City add two new pillars to the site, extend the area of the plaza, install two new benches, and add a pedestal with the history of the Memorial. The City Council then unanimously approved the Commission’s recommendations.

“As a resident of Irvine and the daughter of a Korean War combat veteran, I am proud that Irvine continues to honor and express our gratitude to America’s fallen heroes,” I said. You can watch and hear all of my remarks here.

My favorite part of being an Irvine City Councilmember is representing our great City at community events.

Sometimes it is serious and solemn, like the Northwood Memorial expansion ceremony.

Sometimes it is just great fun and completely delightful, like the OC Charity Dog Walk and the PONY Base Opening Day ceremony.

But it is always rewarding, and it’s always an honor and a privilege to represent the City of Irvine and to meet with our residents and participate in the great things they’re doing.

Join Me on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, for the Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial Expansion Groundbreaking Ceremony

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Please join me this Sunday afternoon, February 26, 2017, for the Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial – Expansion Groundbreaking ceremony.

Irvine’s Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial, located in Northwood Community Park, is the nation’s first memorial dedicated exclusively to listing the names of all the fallen American service members in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The names of every service member who has died in Afghanistan and Iraq are engraved in granite in a permanent memorial, to assure that future generations of Americans will remember and honor them with gratitude as we do today. The panels carry the names of all those who died in Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation New Dawn.

cf0z1wwukaaxklyThe Memorial is the result of both community activism and local government commitment. In 2003, shortly after the invasion of Iraq, an Irvine resident named Dr. Asher Milgrom created the first display in the park. The original make-shift memorial consisted of thirty wooden posts bearing the names and photos of the fallen. Starting in 2006, a non-partisan group of Irvine residents advocated for the establishment of a permanent memorial. In late 2009, the Irvine City Council unanimously approved a plan to create a permanent memorial, which was dedicated on November 14, 2010.

I am proud to say that last year, the Irvine Community Services Commission, of which I was then a member, recommended that the City add two new pillars to the site. extend the area of the plaza, install two new benches, and add a pedestal with history of the Memorial. The City Council then unanimously approved the Commission’s recommendations.

Irvine has a long and proud military tradition. From 1942 to 1999, Irvine was home to Marine Air Station El Toro, the largest Marine Corps Air Station on the West Coast. During World War II, the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War, thousands of United States Marines, as well as airmen, sailors, and soldiers, departed for war from MCAS El Toro.  Irvine’s own sons and daughters have also served our nation in times of war. Too many did not return.

As the daughter of a combat veteran and as an Irvine City Councilmember, I am proud that Irvine honors our fallen heroes.

I hope to see you there.

What: Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial – Expansion Groundbreaking

Where: Northwood Community Park, 4531 Bryan Avenue, Irvine, CA 92620

When: Sunday, February 26, 2017, 4:30 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

For more information, call 949-724-6728.

2/11 Marines Trunk or Treat Volunteers Needed!

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Irvine is proud of its military heritage, especially its close connection to the United States Marine Corps.  From 1943 to 1999, Irvine was the home of Marine Air Station El Toro (now the Great Park), which was once the largest Marine air station on the West Coast.  Thousands of Marines served here, and thousands more flew from here to battles in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

We just received this message from the Irvine 2/11 Marine Adoption Committee that we want to pass along:

imagesEvery year the Irvine 2/11 Marine Adoption Committee supports the Marines and their families by participating in their Trunk or Treat Event at Camp Pendleton. We want to make it even bigger and better this year but we need your help!

Please click here to sign up to volunteer Wednesday, October 26th 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm.

Park your vehicle at the parade deck on Camp Pendleton and decorate your trunk so the children of YOUR 2/11 Marines can safely trunk or treat from car to car dressed in their Halloween best while you hand them candy and prizes. Candy will be provided! Dress up if you wish!

Last year we had some very creative submissions! Some decorations extended beyond the trunk to the space in front and to the side of the vehicle as well. You are welcome to go as big or small as you’d like, the important thing is that you’re there to share in this special event with YOUR Marines and their family.

The following is a list of entries from last year to get your creative juices flowing: The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, spooky theme with spider webs, graveyard, winter wonderland, pound puppies, under the sea and Star Wars just to name a few.

Access to Camp Pendleton now requires a military ID or Event Day Pass. To receive this pass you must complete all areas of the sign up form. This information will not be stored or shared with anyone other than the Camp Pendleton Base Pass Office.

We will contact you via email a week before the event with your pass, directions and contact information.

Thank you for supporting YOUR 2/11 Marines!

Date: 10/26/2016 (Wed.)

Time: 3:00 pm – 6:00 pm PDT

Location: Camp Pendleton

Note:

The Irvine 2/11 Marine Adoption Committee, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, provides charitable and educational activities and support for the benefit and welfare of the United States Marines and their families assigned to Camp Pendleton, California, with special emphasis on the Marines and families of the 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines (“2/11 Marines”).

The Committee accomplishes its goal by soliciting private and public donations of cash, food, beverages, and new and used material goods to help underwrite the cost of sponsoring 2/11 Marines and their families.

The Irvine 2/11 Marine Adoption Committee welcomes the Irvine community to support our adopted battalion by participating and donating to a variety of activities. These activities include holiday and pre-deployment events, care packages, toy drives and more.  Contact the 2/11 Marine Adoption Committee at contact@irvine211marines.org.

 

Join Me at the Car Wash in Irvine to Support our 2/11 Marines on Sat., June 18.

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Please join me on Saturday, June 18, 2016, for the Annual Car Wash fundraiser in support of Irvine 2/11 Marine Adoption Committee to directly benefit the 2/11 Marines.

The car wash will take place from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm at Lakeview Senior Center in Mike Ward Community Park in Woodbridge.

Irvine is proud of its military heritage, especially its close connection to the United States Marine Corps.  From 1943 to 1999, Irvine was the home of Marine Air Station El Toro (now the Great Park), which was once the largest Marine air station on the West Coast.  Thousands of Marines served here, and thousands more flew from here to battles in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

Many never returned.

northwoodOn September 15, 2007, the 2nd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division (2/11) from Camp Pendleton, was officially “adopted” by the City of Irvine.  The City of Irvine and the 2/11 Marines made a pledge to encourage mutually beneficial interactions between the community and the battalion.

The 1st Marine Division is the oldest, largest and most decorated division in the United States Marine Corps. The 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines (2/11) is a 155mm howitzer battalion based at Camp Pendleton, California. Its primary mission is to provide artillery support to the 5th Marine Regiment in time of conflict. At any time, the command has roughly 750 Marines and Sailors assigned to it.

The battalion’s exemplary service ranges from France in World War I to the Battles of Guadalcanal and Okinawa in the Pacific in World War II to Inchon and the Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War (where my cousin USMC Pvt. Irwin Kay was killed in action), to Hue and Phu Bai in Vietnam to Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the Gulf War to Operation Enduring Freedom in Kuwait to the more recent and still-ongoing campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Irvine 2/11 Marine Adoption Committee, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, provides charitable and educational activities and support for the benefit and welfare of the United States Marines and their families assigned to Camp Pendleton, California, with special emphasis on the Marines and families of the 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines (“2/11 Marines”). Additionally, the Committee seeks to educate and inform the community regarding the 2/11’s activities and responsibilities.  The Committee accomplishes its goal by soliciting private and public donations of cash, food, beverages, and new and used material goods to help underwrite the cost of sponsoring 2/11 Marines and their families.

The Irvine 2/11 Marine Adoption Committee welcomes the Irvine community to support our adopted battalion by participating and donating to a variety of activities. These activities include holiday and pre-deployment events, care packages, toy drives and more.

Volunteers are needed to participate in the car wash.  To sign up to help, or for more information, click here.

I hope to see you there!

 

Join the Irvine Police Department this Saturday, May 9, for “Push-Ups for Charity” to Benefit U.S. Military Veterans and their Families

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Join the men and women of the Irvine Police Department this Saturday, May 9, 2015, for the 5th Annual Irvine Police Department Push-Ups For Charity event!

Push-Ups for Charity is an annual event that raises awareness of the challenges military service members and veterans face, and raises money to support their unique needs.

IPD Patch New (Layered)Push-Ups for Charity participants can collect donations from friends and family with the promise to perform as many push-ups as possible in 90 seconds.

It doesn’t matter how many pushups you can do, everyone can do their part to support America’s heroes. Big and small, near and far, we need YOU to get involved.

Each pushup completed raises much-needed funds for the Boot Campaign, a national nonprofit that promotes patriotism, raises awareness and provides vital assistance for our nation’s heroes and their families.

push ups for charity.01Come out to support the competition this Saturday at 9;00 am between SWAT teams from police departments around Orange County, members of the Orange County Fire Authority, military veterans, high school students, and many others!

Do you want to compete? You can sign up as an individual or with a team here:

Anyone interested in participating but not competing can join the open session, which eliminates the pressures of competition. This fun event is open to everyone!

This year, we’ll open the event at 7:30 am with the 2nd annual 5K Fun Run/Walk. This is a great $35 alternative for those who want to get involved, but are not interested in the push up challenge!

Click here to register as a Host for $125 (includes training, marketing materials, and 10 official PUC 2015 t-shirts) or a Participant for $25 (includes an official PUC 2015 t-shirt. Choose your size upon checkout.).

What: Push-Ups for Charity (benefits United States military veterans.and their families).

Where: Irvine Civic Center Plaza, Irvine, CA 92606-5207.

When: Saturday, May 9, 2015. 7:30 am for the 5K Fun Run/Walk and 9:00 am for Push-Ups for Charity.

Help the Irvine Police Department make a difference in the lives of America’s veterans!

Get Fit, Have Fun and Make a Difference!