Don’t Be Deceived By The “Save The Veterans Cemetery” Petition!

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Do not be deceived by a petition that pretends to “Save the Veterans Cemetery.”

The truth is that the Veterans Cemetery in Irvine is now moving forward at full steam and we will soon have a groundbreaking ceremony.

For me, coming to support the land exchange was a process that involved carefully studying all the facts. I needed to be convinced that it would be the quickest way to create the veterans cemetery.

As I investigated the land exchange proposal, I came to see that it was not only the quickest and least expensive path to a veterans cemetery, it was really the only path because of the great cost of decontamination and demolition that would be required on the original site.

The land exchange facilitating the creation of the veterans cemetery is supported by every local veterans’ organization, as well as a formidable and bipartisan array of Orange County elected officials, including Congressman Lou Correa (Democrat), State Senator Josh Newman (Democrat), Assemblymember Steven Choi (Republican), and Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silver (Democrat) – the author of the original Southern California Veterans Cemetery legislation, who attended the City Council meeting and urged the Council to approve the land exchange as the best way to establish a veterans cemetery in Orange County.

In sharp contrast, opposition to the land exchange is based entirely on hostility to the developer and not at all on what is best for veterans or the residents of Irvine. Their petition intentionally misstates the facts and would prevent the veterans cemetery from being built.

My blog posts – linked below – reflect my careful study of the issues and are supported by links to underlying facts and documents.

Please read and share them so that others won’t be deceived:

Irvine Takes Historic Step Forward for a Veterans Cemetery at the Former El Toro Marine Base

Tell the Irvine City Council to Keep Your Promises to Our Veterans

If you have already signed the petition based on its false claims of saving the veterans cemetery, you can revoke your signature.  Contact me and I will help you.

As the daughter of an Orange County Korean War combat veteran, and the cousin of a Marine who was killed in action, I strongly support this land exchange that will greatly facilitate making an Orange County veterans cemetery a reality. I am tremendously proud to have participated in making sure that Orange County’s veterans – who have sacrificed so much for us – will at last have a final resting place close to their families and loved ones.

I am happy to answer any questions you may have.

Thank you.

Melissa

Irvine Takes Historic Step Forward for Southern California Veterans Cemetery at Former El Toro Marine Base

Wearing yellow Veterans Cemetery groundbreaking caps, dozens of veterans and supporters of the land exchange with FivePoint Communities — in which the City of Irvine will exchange 125 acres north of the Great Park, currently occupied by more than 70 contaminated buildings remaining from the Marine base, with FivePoint’s property just north of the Bake Parkway interchange, currently used as strawberry fields — attended the Irvine City Council meeting on Tuesday, September 26.

For me, coming to support the land exchange was a process that involved carefully studying all the facts.  I needed to be convinced that it would be the quickest way to create the veterans cemetery.  As I investigated the land exchange proposal, I came to see that it was not only the quickest and least expensive path to a veterans cemetery, it was really the only path because of the great cost of decontamination and demolition that would be required on the original ARDA site. I also came to see that opposition to the land exchange was based entirely on hostility to the developer FivePoint, and not at all on what would be best for veterans.

The need for an Orange County Veterans Cemetery 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.

The land exchange came about as a means to overcome the enormous cost of building the cemetery at the originally designed site north of the Great Park.

Although the City of Irvine had offered land, no money was provided to demolish and decontaminate the existing buildings and built the cemetery.

This problem became more acute when 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; that the project was eligible for only $10 million from the federal government; and that the projected the cost of building phase 1 of veterans cemetery was a startling $77,372,000.

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

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

FivePoint Communities,  the developer of the Great Park and the Great Park Neighborhoods, then 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 originally designated cemetery land.  No costly decontamination or demolition would be necessary to begin construction.

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 site.

Like the original site, the strawberry fields site once formed part of the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro.

A recent impartial outside appraisal of the two properties valued the strawberry fields site at $68,000,000, while valuing the original site at only $4,000,000.

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 Sharon Quirk-Silver (Democrat) — the author of the original Southern California Veterans Cemetery legislation, who also attended the City Council meeting and urged the Council to approve the land exchange as the best way to establish a Southern California Veterans Cemetery in Orange County.

After several hours of public comments, followed by debate by the Irvine City Council, the vote was 3-2 in favor of the land exchange.  Mayor Donald Wagner, Councilmember Christina Shea, and I voted in favor. Councilmembers Jeffrey Lalloway and Lynn Schott voted against.

The vote was met with cheers from most of the crowd, and especially from members of the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation, which has been advocating for a veterans cemetery in Orange County for many years.

“This is an historic day,” said Bill Cook, a Vietnam War veteran and a leader of the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation. ” We see now that we are going to move forward. It is going to be a very monumental site.”

Irvine will immediately donate the land to California so the state can start building the cemetery, which will be the only permitted use. Groundbreaking for the veterans cemetery is expected soon.

As the daughter of an Orange County Korean War combat veteran, and the cousin of a Marine who was killed in action, I strongly support this land exchange that will greatly facilitate making an Orange County veterans cemetery a reality.

I am tremendously proud to have participated in making sure that Orange County’s veterans — who have sacrificed so much for us — will at last have a final resting place close to their families and loved ones.

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 Sharon 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 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 Sharon 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)

 

 

Call for Action: Support Our Veterans at the July 22 Irvine City Council Meeting and Urge the Irvine City Council to Designate a Portion of the Great Park for the Orange County Veterans Cemetery

melissafoxblog, Melissa Fox, melissajoifox, Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox, Melissa Fox for Irvine City Council,votemelissafox, votemelissafox.com

If you agree that our Orange County veterans deserve a final resting place close to their families and loved ones, and that a portion of the Great Park in Irvine, which was once Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, 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, please attend the Irvine City Council meeting on Tuesday, July 22, beginning at 5:00 PM, make your voices heard!

This may be our last, best chance to create a veterans cemetery in a portion of the Great Park that was formerly the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro.

Orange County has a long and proud military tradition. 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. We are the state’s largest county with no dedicated burial ground for its combat veterans and other servicemen and women.

Last January, California Assembly Member Sharon Quirk-Silver introduced a bill (AB 1453) to right this wrong and create a state-owned and state-operated veterans’ cemetery in Orange County.

For several years, a group of Orange County veterans has urged that a veterans cemetery be located in the Great Park, on land which from 1942 to 1999 served as Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, and where an estimated 2 million men and women served this nation in peace and war.

When Assembly Member Quirk-Silva’s Orange County veterans cemetery bill was introduced, the Great Park in Irvine seemed to them – and to many others –  to be the perfect and most appropriate location.

The question was, would the City of Irvine – which owns and controls this land – make it available for a veterans cemetery?  This is still the question now.

melissafoxblog, Melissa Fox, melissajoifox, Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox, Melissa Fox for Irvine City Council,votemelissafox, votemelissafox.com

Melissa Fox in March 2014 addressing the Irvine City Council in support of locating an Orange County veterans cemetery in the Great Park (the former MCAS El Toro).

When the matter of the location of the veterans cemetery first come before the Irvine City Council in March, I wrote that “as the daughter of an Orange County Korean War combat veteran, I strongly support this bill [to create an Orange County veterans cemetery]. 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 also wrote that “as an Irvine resident, 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.”

In addition, I personally addressed the Irvine City Council and urged them to support AB 1453. I was also tremendously proud that my father 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 Great Park.

The Irvine City Council then narrowly voted 3-2 to support AB 1453 and call for the establishment of the Southern California Veterans Cemetery in Orange County, to express the City’s strong interest in providing at least 100 acres of land at the Orange County Great Park (formerly MCAS El Toro), and to form an ad hoc committee to see if a suitable location is feasible in and around the Great Park.

However, instead of creating a committee composed of council members and a few interested parties, at Council Member Jeff Lalloway’s insistence the committee was composed of numerous politicians, including Irvine Mayor Choi, who had opposed establishing a veterans cemetery at the Great Park because it might make it more difficult for a developer, FivePoint Communities, to sell homes in the area.  Council Member Larry Agran, who had proposed that Irvine make at least 100 acres of the Great Park available for an Orange County veterans cemetery, was left off the committee.

By April, it appeared that the committee created by the Irvine City Council was not actually interested in finding a location for a veterans cemetery in the Great Park. The veterans of the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park group, along with many leaders of Orange County veterans’ groups, issued a “Call to Action” to attend the Irvine City Council meeting.

melissafoxblog, Melissa Fox, melissajoifox, Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox, Melissa Fox for Irvine City Council,votemelissafox, votemelissafox.com

Melissa Fox in April 2014 addressing the Irvine City Council in support of locating an Orange County veterans cemetery in the Great Park (the former MCAS El Toro).

I again addressed the Irvine City Council, again urging them to provide Orange County veterans with a final resting place close to their families and loved ones, and to designate a portion of the Great Park in Irvine, which was once the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, as 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.

In May, on learning that ad hoc committee set up by the Irvine City Council to establish an Orange County Veterans Cemetery had not even had its first meeting because some politicians who were added as committee members could not find the time in their schedules, I wrote that the Irvine City Council should fulfill its promise to create an Orange County veterans cemetery without any further delay.

I noted that there is now profound concern in the veteran community that the unnecessarily large committee formed by the Irvine City Council, based on Council Member Jeffrey Lalloway’s insistence on including numerous politicians, is a sham, set only up for show and delay, not to take action.

Speaking again to the City Council, I said that “the addition of so many players seemed to me a way to hamstring the committee, to actually prevent it from reaching its stated goal, which was to find a suitable location for a veterans cemetery in Irvine. This concern is exacerbated by the rancor I’ve witnessed here this evening at the mere mention of a request for a progress report. I hope that my fears are not realized and that this isn’t a way to ground the ball and run out the clock. When I last addressed the Council, I was here with my father, and when the veterans were asked to stand, he could barely stand because he had just had chemotherapy. His passion was to come here and talk to you. He isn’t physically able to do that for himself, so I am his voice . . . Please don’t ground the ball. Don’t let time run out.”

My comments, as well as the comments and questions raised by numerous veterans, about the seriousness of Irvine’s commitment to an Orange County veterans cemetery, were met with stone cold silence from the Irvine City Council.

We have now arrived at another crossroads.

AB 1453, melissafoxblog, Melissa Fox, melissajoifox, Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox, Melissa Fox for Irvine City Council,votemelissafox, votemelissafox.comAB1453 has sailed through the Assembly and is now going through the final phases of the legislative process. Senator Lou Correa’s Senate Veterans Affairs Committee passed the bill on June 24th and sent it to Senate Appropriations Committee with the recommendation to approve it. To date, there have been zero “no” votes on this bill.

Now, the only thing missing to make an Orange County veterans cemetery a reality is a decision by the Irvine City Council to make a portion of the Great Park  – the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro  – available as its location.

This Tuesday, July 22, Irvine City Council Member Larry Agran intends to propose a resolution designating a specific 125-acre parcel at the Great Park the Orange County veterans cemetery.  He has also prepared a Memorandum in support of this proposal and map of the proposed veterans cemetery site within the Great Park.

Once this resolution is adopted by the Irvine City Council, AB 1453 will likely pass through the Senate Appropriations Committee on August 4th with an appropriation of funds. Then, it’s on to the Governor’s desk for signature. The Orange County Veterans Cemetery — appropriately located in a portion of the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro — would be a done deal.

But we have serious concerns that the same group of developer-beholden politicians who have thus far delayed and stymied the process will prevent the Great Park location from being selected — unless large numbers people show up on July 22 and tell the Irvine City Council that they must support the resolution to designating the 125-acre site in the Great Park as the Orange County veterans cemetery.

Here is what a leader of Orange County Veterans Memorial Park group has to say:

OCVMP, Orange County Veterans Memorial Park, melissafoxblog, Melissa Fox, melissajoifox, Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox, Melissa Fox for Irvine City Council,votemelissafox, votemelissafox.com“We need your help! Next Tuesday  – July 22  – the next Irvine City Council meeting will be held. The OCVMP committee is asking for all veterans and all of our supporters to attend this most important meeting as the issue of the Veterans Cemetery at the Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro promises to be the hot topic.

We on the committee have reason to believe that our concerns as a group may be tied up in a mishmash of parliamentary procedures and legal manipulation by some members on the Ad Hoc Committee who have expressed no interest in seeing their charge through to completion. . . Unfortunately, [some] members of the Ad Hoc Committee seem to be doing their utmost to drag the process out until a target date of August 1 has come and passed. OCVMP Committee Chair Bill Cook had put a motion on the floor to present both viable site options to the Irvine City Council. Bill’s motion was ruled out of order as it was Ad Hoc Chairman Jeff Lalloway’s opinion that we had moved on to discussing the agenda items for the next Ad Hoc meeting. This undue action took the audience by surprise and resulted in a great deal of disappointment and distrust in the Ad Hoc Committee’s leadership (bear in mind that the Ad Hoc Committee Chairman is Irvine City Councilman Jeff Lalloway, the Vice-Chairman is Irvine City Mayor Steven Choi, and a third member is a representative from the Five Points Communities). It is our hope and our goal that we can expedite the process and get the issue to the next level in the approval and funding process. Please join us in this worthwhile endeavor. There has been too much work done and too much time spent to let the whole concept get hijacked by those who were predisposed to prevent a cemetery from being built at the outset. We are YOUR veterans, and we need your support.”

This is not  – and should not be  – a partisan issue. I agree completely with blogger Jeff Gallagher that “the only ones who don’t think placing a veterans cemetery at the Great Park is appropriate are those who desperately want the income that would be lost by establishing one [and the politicians who are doing their bidding].”

“We think MCAS El Toro is the most appropriate location to honor our veterans. . . .Surely, the time has come to bring this dream to fruition. Every veterans organization from the Orange County Veterans Advisory Council to The American Legion, to the Veterans of Foreign Wars are actively involved with this project. More than 200 veterans and interested persons showed up to hear Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva’s update on AB1453 and efforts to put this plan together. Importantly, Quirk-Silva said AB1453 is just the beginning. Once the legislative authority has been granted, money still needs to be raised. Hope lies in the Feds who, although they won’t establish a cemetery here, will provide grant money to allow the state to establish and run one. Speaking as a veteran, I don’t really care one way or the other where the money comes from. The important thing is to honor our veterans by giving them a final resting place near their home. By rights, that resting place should be on, what The American Legion 29th District Commander, Bill Cook, called “Sacred Ground.”

The Irvine City Council needs to know that Orange County veterans and their families and supporters are not going to fade away.

Marine Corps veteran Nick Berardino, General Manager of the Orange County Employees’ Association, has has announced that the OCEA will be there with their hot dog cart from about 3:30 PM until the meeting starts around 5:00 PM. The OCEA is providing free hot dogs and condiments to all attendees as long as the hot dogs last.

What: Support an Orange County Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park (the former MCAS El Toro).
Where: The Irvine Civic Center, 1 Civic Center Plaza, Irvine, CA 92606
When: The meeting will start at 5:00 pm. If you want a seat in the Council Chambers you may want to arrive earlier.

Please share this information with your Facebook friends and e-mail contacts.

See you there!

UPDATE 

We just received the following information from American Legion 29th District Chaplain Bill Cook:

• The Irvine City Council meeting starts at 4:00 pm with a closed session;  open session will start at 5:00 pm.  We expect the cemetery vote around 6:00 pm.

• Overflow parking, with shuttle service, will be provided from Creekside High School at Harvard/Barranca.

• Water will be provided in the courtyard to go with the great OCEA hot dogs

• Extra motorcycle parking area will be provided.

• Video connections will be provided in the conference room and lobby for overflow, if the chambers get full.

• Plenty of speaker cards will be available, and all speakers will be accommodated. Wanna speak? Fill out a speaker card!

• Spread the word!

The Irvine City Council Should Fulfill its Promise to Create an Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Without Delay

iwo jima, melissafoxblog, melissajoifox, Melissa Fox, Melissa Fox for Irvine, melissafoxblog.com, Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox

As Arlington National Cemetery commemorates its 150th anniversary, here in Irvine we learn that the committee created last month by the Irvine City Council to establish an Orange County Veterans Cemetery has not even had its first meeting because some politicians who were added as committee members cannot find the time in their schedules.

Arlington National Cemetery,  melissafoxblog, melissajoifox, Melissa Fox, Melissa Fox for Irvine, melissafoxblog.com, Irvine Commissioner Melissa FoxIn fact, there is profound concern that the unnecessarily large committee formed by the Irvine City Council, based on Council Member Jeffrey Lalloway’s insistence on including numerous politicians, is a sham, set only up for show, not to take action.

At a previous meeting, the Council majority of Mayor Steven Choi and Council Members Christina Shea and Jeffrey Lalloway approved Lalloway’s motion to expand the Veterans Cemetery Committee to include numerous Orange County politicians, including Steven Choi, who had already indicated his opposition to the cemetery.  Now it turns out that the committee has not been able to meet – and will not meet until the end of June at the earliest – because Steven Choi has no time in his schedule.  How is it that Mayor Choi has no time at all to meet on this important committee? And if has no time to meet, why did Lalloway insist that Choi he be on the committee – which is charged with implementing a veterans cemetery that Choi opposed?

OCVMP, Orange County Veterans Cemetery,  melissafoxblog, melissajoifox, Melissa Fox, Melissa Fox for Irvine, melissafoxblog.com, Irvine Commissioner Melissa FoxHere is what the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park posted on their Facebook page:

“If last night’s Irvine City Council behavior was any indication of things to come, we have a long row to hoe. Interesting to note that Chairman Bill Cook’s comments relative to the obvious foot-dragging process remained unanswered by the Council members sitting on the ad hoc committee. The delays present a frustrating obstacle to the legislative process.  The ad hoc committee appointed by the City Council has yet to meet, and the dates provided by Mayor Choi in late June as to his availability are well past a critical May 23 date to move AB 1453 to the next level. When one or two members of a committee can hijack the meeting schedule, we have a unique situation extant in that a minority of members controls the entire process.  Furthermore, it appears that the rancor that exists between City Council factions is an additional obstacle to progress on this most important issue. “

At the City Council meeting, one of the veterans observed that “the general consensus is that the delay is a deliberate and bad faith effort” to kill the veterans cemetery. The veteran members of the committee offered to meet “weekends, evenings, mornings before breakfast” to move the project forward and prevent the veterans cemetery from being the victim of death by delay.

Another veteran –  from the Disabled American Veterans – stressed the urgency of the veterans’ request for an Orange County veterans’ final resting place, pointing out the hardships for veterans’ family members, particularly for the elderly widows of World War Two veterans, who must make a long trek to veterans cemeteries in Riverside and San Diego counties.

Orange County Veterans Cemetery, melissafoxblog, melissajoifox, Melissa Fox, Melissa Fox for Irvine, melissafoxblog.com, Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox

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

I also spoke to the Council, stating again that as a resident of Irvine and the daughter of a Korean War combat veteran, I strongly support the veterans cemetery, and that I was concerned, as were others, that when the committee was formed, “the addition of so many players seemed to me a way to hamstring the committee, to actually prevent it from reaching its stated goal, which was to find a suitable location for a veterans cemetery in Irvine. This concern is exacerbated by the rancor I’ve witnessed here this evening at the mere mention of a request for a progress report.  I hope that my fears are not realized and that this isn’t a way to ground the ball and run out the clock.  When I last addressed the Council, I was here with my father, and when the veterans were asked to stand, he could barely stand because he had just had chemotherapy. His passion was to come here and talk to you.  He isn’t physically able to do that for himself, so I am his voice . . . Please don’t ground the ball. Don’t let time run out.”

The veterans’ questions last night, as well as my own, were met with stone cold silence from the Irvine City Council.

I share the veterans’ concern that the unnecessarily large committee formed by the Irvine City Council, based on Jeffrey Lalloway’s insistence on including numerous politicians, including Steven Choi who opposes the veterans cemetery, is a sham, set only up for show, not to take action.

It is important that the committee members and the Irvine City Council know that Orange County veterans are not going to just fade away. Orange County veterans deserve a final resting place close to their families and loved ones.

Call for Action: Support Orange County’s Veterans at the April 22 Irvine City Council Meeting

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I recently spoke to the Irvine City Council in support of Assembly Bill 1453, introduced by Assembly Member Sharon Quirk Silva (65th AD), which would create a state-owned and state-operated veterans’ cemetery in Orange County, the state’s largest county with no dedicated burial ground for its combat veterans and other servicemen and women.

veterans.melissa.citycouncil.01In addition, I wrote to Irvine’s Mayor and City Council members, as well as to Irvine’s two Assembly Members, Allan Mansoor (AD 74) and Donald Wagner (AD 68), Irvine’s California State Senator Mimi Walters (SD 37), Senator Ben Hueso (SD 40), Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and Senator Lou Correa (SD 34), Orange County member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, urging them not only to support the bill to create an Orange County Veterans Cemetery, but also to locate this cemetery in a portion of the Great Park that was once the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

I was tremendously proud that my father, a decorated Korean War combat veteran, joined with many other Orange County veterans and also spoke to the City Council, urging them to support a veterans’ cemetery in a portion of the Great Park.

The Irvine City Council then narrowly voted 3-2 to support AB 1453 and call for the establishment of the Southern California Veterans Cemetery in Orange County, to express the City’s strong interest in providing at least 100 acres of land at the Orange County Great Park (formerly MCAS El Toro), and to form a site selection committee of interested parties to see if a suitable location is feasible in and around the Great Park location.

Now we must protect that victory.

Here is a press release issued by Orange County Veterans’ Memorial Park Committee (OCVMP) urging supporters of the veterans’ memorial park to attend the Irvine City Council meeting on Tuesday, April 22, to ensure that Irvine moves forward with its promises without delay. It is a call for action to support Orange County’s veterans:

PRESS RELEASE AND MEDIA ALERT

Contact: Bill Cook, (949) 697-0123

OCVMP flagFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: APRIL 2, 2014

Orange County Veterans Have Their Sights Trained On
A Southern California Veterans Cemetery

Group gaining support from State Legislature and a number of Orange County cities.

Ever since the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro (MCAS El Toro) closed in 1999, a small group of Orange County veterans have dreamed of having veterans’ cemetery and memorial for all soldiers who have fought and died defending the United States located on a portion of the former military base. Over the past several months, the group is finally seeing some signs of progress.

The group of about 25 veterans and other veterans’ issues supporters, now known as the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park committee, reports that the following milestones, according to committee chair Bill Cook of Mission Viejo.

In January, Assembly Member Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-CA65), and Chair of the Assembly Committee on Veterans Affairs, introduced Assembly Bill 1453 that would direct the Department of Veterans Affairs to apply to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs State Cemetery Grant Program for the construction of a Southern California Veterans Cemetery in Orange County.

In addition, AB 1453:

1. Allows all honorably discharged veterans and their spouses/children eligible for interment in the cemetery — a fee would be imposed for each spouse or child interred in the cemetery.

2. Creates the Southern California Veterans Cemetery Master Development Fund — all money received for the design, development, and construction of the cemetery shall be deposited into this fund.

3. Creates the Southern California Veterans Cemetery Perpetual Maintenance Fund — all funds received would be allocated for the cemetery’s maintenance.

4. Authorizes the cemetery administrator to accept donations of personal property to be used for the maintenance/beautification of the cemetery.

Background

According to the National Cemetery Administration, the closest regional option for Orange County veterans is the Riverside Veterans Cemetery, which offers neither a convenient location nor a long-term solution for the estimated 133,000 Orange County veterans and their families.

California is home to more veterans than any other state. Despite the fact that Orange County is also home to Army, Navy, and Marine bases, Orange County has been identified as the state’s largest county without a veteran’s cemetery. There is clear need, evidence, and community desire for establishing a veteran’s cemetery within Orange County.

Growing County Support for a California State Veterans Cemetery in Orange County

Since the time in January when AB 1453 was introduced, other Orange County government leaders have added their support. Local Orange County elected state leaders have added their support for the bill calling for a Southern California State Veterans Cemetery in Orange County including Assembly Members Tom Daly (AD-69), Alan Mansoor (AD-74) and Don Wagner (AD-68) and Senate Members (Lou Correa (SD-34) and Mimi Walters (SD-37)

In March, the City of Irvine took the lead in supporting the development of a Southern California Veterans in Orange County. Long time Council Member Larry Agran, working in close cooperation with Assembly Member Quirk-Silva and OCVMP committee chair Bill Cook, introduced and obtained passage of a resolution to both support AB 1453 and call for the establishment of the Southern California Veterans Cemetery in Orange County, express the City’s strong interest in providing at least 100 acres of land at the Orange County Great Park (formerly MCAS El Toro) and the formation of a site selection committee of interested parties to see if a suitable location is feasible in and around the Great Park location. . . .

Next Action Steps

The topic of the Southern California State Veterans Cemetery in Orange County again will be on the agenda of the Irvine City Council on Tuesday, April 22, 2014. The planned discussion item will be the formation of a Site Selection Committee to review possible locations in and around the Orange County Great Park and the former MCAS El Toro land. The OCVMP committee is urging all interested Orange County veterans to attend this April 22 City Council meeting which normally begins at 5:00 P.M. Veterans are encouraged to wear their patches, ribbons and other appropriate ceremonial attire. The Irvine City Hall is located at 1 Civic Center Plaza, Irvine (corner of Alton Parkway & Harvard).

If you agree that our Orange County veterans deserve a final resting place close to their families and loved ones, and 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, please attend the Irvine City Council meeting on Tuesday, April 22, to show your support.

Thank you.