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.

Great Park Update: We’re Creating a Truly Great Park!

As anyone who has followed the history of the Orange County Great Park knows, its development has not always been smooth or something to be proud of.

In fact, for far too many years, the Great Park was a symbol of gross mismanagement and government gone very wrong, with allegations of corruption and massive waste, and with little to nothing to show for the expenditure of hundreds of millions of public dollars except a balloon, a carousel, and great expanses of dirt, dust, and debris.

However, since I have joined the Irvine City Council — and been appointed Vice Chair of the Orange County Great Park by my colleagues — we have succeeded in making a tremendous, positive turn-around in the Great Park’s development.  Real, substantial, and exciting progress has been made.

As the Orange County Register recently wrote, ” If you haven’t visited the Orange County Great Park – where you see that big orange balloon from Interstate 5 – in the past few years, you may be surprised by the amount of construction going on and how quickly things are getting built there.”

We are now fulfilling the promise of a truly Great Park that all of us can feel proud of and enjoy!

Here are some of things we’ve already accomplished:

  • Groundbreaking for new Anaheim Ducks’ 270,000 square-foot community ice skating and practice facility in the Great Park (largest public ice skating facility in the West).
  • Opened new 5,000-seat Championship Soccer Stadium and numerous other sports fields and facilities in the first phase of 194-acre Great Park Sports Park, the largest of its kind in Orange County — larger than Disneyland and Disney California Adventure combined.
  • Great Park Sports Complex presented with the Orange County Business Council’s Turning Red Tape into Red Carpet Award for Public-Private Partnership.
  • Great Park Championship Stadium became home of Orange County Soccer Club, Orange County’s only professional soccer team and official affiliate partner of the Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) of Major League Soccer (MLS). Orange County SC is a part of the United Soccer League (USL), the fastest growing Division II professional soccer league in the world comprised of 34 teams across the United States.
  • Begun construction of a 2.5 mile nature corridor at the eastern end of the park. It is intended to be a pathway for bobcats, coyotes, California gnatcatchers and other wildlife species to move safely between the Santa Ana Mountains and the coast. The corridor, accessible only to wildlife, is expected to open mid-2019.
  • 101 acres of Great Park Sports complex completed, including six new soccer/lacrosse fields; a natural turf flex field that can accommodate four additional soccer fields, four basketball courts available for drop-in use, and more.

At our last Irvine City Council meeting, the Great Park’s Interim Director, Pete Carmichael, presented us with the latest Great Park Progress Report, which  I want to share with you.

Construction Updates:

  • Sports Park Phases 3 and 4: expected turnover September, 2018.
  • Bee and Bosque Trail Areas: awaiting turnover by partner FivePoint.
  • Ice Complex: opening expected by end of 2018.
  • Western Sector Street Improvements: construction in progress; phase 1 completion expected Fall 2018.

Forward Planning Updates:

  • Cultural Terrace: FivePoint contracting for Phase 2 consultants.
  • Cultural Terrace: Preliminary tenant outreach.
  • Cultural Terrace: parking plan developed to include parking stalls, entrance plaza and landscaping.
  • Water Park: CEQA studies in progress.
  • Water Park: land appraisal underway.
  • Water Park: new lease terms coming to City Council next month (August).

Further Updates and News:

  • Championship Soccer Stadium has held 17 tournaments; played 112 games; hosted 75 teams; and has had attendance of 95,625.
  • Soccer Fields have held 18 tournaments; 11,750 practices; 4,818 games; hosted 6,330 teams, and has had attendance of 411,330.
  • Upcoming Soccer Events: GSAC Conference Championships; NAIA National Championships.
  • Tennis Center has held 884 tournaments; 722 league matches, and given 1,745 lessons.
  • Movies on the Lawn Series: more than 9,000 visitors.
  • OC Steam Fest: 5,000 visitors.
  • UCI Anti-Cancer Walk: 3,500 visitors.

Up Next:

  • Opening of Baseball and Softball facilities.

Of course, there is still more to do.  As I have said, while I am proud of all that we’ve recently accomplished at the Great Park, the time has come to focus on creating what should be the real jewel of the Great Park: The Cultural Terrace.  I have long been a strong advocate for botanical gardens and museums in the Great Park’s Cultural Terrace.

You can positively impact the next phase of development by the Great Park Cultural Terrace by becoming involved in the grass-roots organizations that are working toward a Great Park botanical garden and a natural history museum:

Great Park Garden Coalition
Website: http://redryder200.com/GreatGardensCoalition/
Facebook: Click here.

California Cultural Resources Preservation Alliance (CCRPA)
Website: http://www.ccrpa.com/
Facebook: Click here.

You can also help by signing this petition to urge the creation of a natural history museum in the Great Park.

In addition, I remain strongly committed to the creation of veterans cemetery in Irvine.  Councilmember Christina Shea and I have proposed to build a veterans cemetery in the Great Park on land now designated for a golf course

This proposal would be both cost-saving and time-saving, and locates the veterans cemetery squarely within the Great Park and the former Marine Air Base, yet not next to neighborhoods and schools.

The proposal does not involve a land exchange, and the location of the cemetery would not open other areas to potential commercial development, add additional homes, or cause any increase in traffic.

Click HERE to read the proposal.

As you can see, we’ve accomplished a lot.  I am very proud of our residents, our city staff, and our community partners for all we’ve done so far, and I look forward to continuing to fulfill the promise of a truly Great Great Park!

Be sure to check out the Great Park Calendar of Events so you can keep up-to-date on what’s coming up next!

 

 

Irvine City Councilmembers Christina Shea and Melissa Fox Seek Relocation of the Veterans Cemetery to Area Currently Planned for a Golf Course in the Great Park

The following is a press release that was sent out on July 13, 2018.

July 13, 2018

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Daniel Robertson 949-874-3442

IRVINE CITY COUNCILMEMBERS CHRISTINA SHEA AND MELISSA FOX SEEK POTENTIAL RELOCATION OF VETERANS CEMETERY TO AREA CURRENTLY PLANNED FOR A GOLF COURSE IN THE GREAT PARK.

IRVINE, CA – Based on the voters rejection of Measure B, Irvine City Councilmembers Christina Shea and Melissa Fox have sent a memo to Acting City Manager Grace Leung directing the City’s planning staff to consider the potential relocation of the Orange County Veterans Cemetery to the area currently planned for a golf course in the Great Park.

The memo is as follows:

As we continue to seek a site for the Veterans Cemetery, it has occurred to us and others, as mentioned July 10th at our council meeting, that the area within the Great Park planned for a golf course offers several benefits as a potential location. The golf course site has ample space, at about 195 acres; it is within the Great Park and in the heart of the former MCAS El Toro, honoring those who served there; it is not located adjacent to neighborhoods or schools, and it could provide multiple points of access for future visitation and processions. If up to 125 acres were to be dedicated to the Veterans Cemetery, 70 plus acres would still be available for a smaller golf-related use, other recreational uses and a potential for the expansion of the Organic Circle Farm, helping with annual revenues for the Great Park.

The golf course site wouldn’t require the 40 million dollars demolition and remediation costs that the ARDA site requires. The golf course site has also gone thru the CEQA process. Additionally, by creating a veteran’s cemetery in the heart of the Great Park, not outside the Great Park where the ARDA site is located, our Veterans would realize a true resting place inside the Great Park, where so many citizens have requested the cemetery to be developed. In lieu of a full length golf course, there may be financial savings that can be used for cemetery construction.

For the reasons outlined above, we believe this is worthy of our planning staff to add this second site to their present review and due diligence study for the City’s review process of the ARDA site. This will allow staff to review this concept along with any other alternatives we may deem of value for our Veterans Cemetery.”

Councilmember Christina Shea stated that “We are listening to our voters and we want to find what works best to create a veterans cemetery and to bring peace and civility back to our city.  We are determined to find a positive solution to provide a veterans cemetery in our city and ensure that our residents’ voices are heard.”

Councilmember Melissa Fox stated that “The voters have spoken. We are listening. We need to find a location for the veterans cemetery that responds to the voters’ concerns. I have been a strong and consistent supporter of a veterans cemetery within the hallowed grounds of the former Marine Air Station El Toro, where so many brave men and women flew to Vietnam and other war zones, some never to come back. The Great Park is an altogether fitting and proper location for this veterans cemetery, where it would also be a lasting memorial to the Great Park’s military heritage.”

###

Note:

Anyone who wishes to express support for this proposal — to consider the potential relocation of the Orange County Veterans Cemetery to the area currently planned for a golf course in the Great Park — can contact the Irvine City Council here.

The Veterans Cemetery: What Should Irvine Do Now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

Message from General Robin Umberg: Vote Yes on Measure B!

Here is a message I recently received from my friend Brig. Gen. (ret) Robin Umberg urging us to vote Yes on Measure B.

I want to share it with you:

“Dear Melissa,

As a soldier for 36 years and an Army Brigadier General (ret), I know that the women and men I have served with are the bravest and most devoted people I have ever met. They were all willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for our country and deserve to be honored and remembered within a sacred military cemetery.

Passing Measure B is the only way that veterans will get the cemetery in Orange County that they deserve. That’s why I’m writing to you today — to make sure that you and your friends are prepared to vote Yes on Measure B.

Here are the facts: It has been endorsed by the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and both Republican and Democratic Parties of Orange County. Think about that. A Yes on Measure B will cost citizens less, achieve the mission of constructing the cemetery in the quickest time frame, and this change of site will not increase Orange County’s traffic. It will ensure the establishment of a gorgeous cemetery that will be visible from two highways.

We are closer than we have ever been to providing this much-needed space for remembering our veterans. We can’t let them down now — please vote Yes on Measure B by J‌une 5‌th.

Thank you for honoring our veterans.

Brigadier General (ret) Robin Umberg.”

[Please note: The use of military rank or photos does not imply endorsement by the Department or Defense or the Army.]

For more information about the veterans cemetery, please see:

Setting the Record Straight on the OC Veterans Cemetery

Putting Politics Aside to Honor Veterans with a Final Resting Place

Stop Playing Political Games with Veterans Cemetery

Stop the Politics and Build the Veterans Cemetery Now

Distinguished Environmental Group Laguna Greenbelt Endorses YES on Measure B for Veterans Cemetery!

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

The Strawberry Fields Site is the Best Location for the Veterans Cemetery. Now Let’s Get it Done!

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

OC Register Slams Agran, Lalloway, and “Despicable,” “Misleading” Veterans Cemetery Petition

Help Us Defeat the Paid Mercenaries who have Invaded Irvine and their Fraudulent “Save the Veterans Cemetery” Petition!

As the daughter of an Orange County Korean War combat veteran, I am 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.

Please help by voting YES on Measure B.

Thank you.

Melissa

 

 

Celebrate Armed Forces Day — Vote YES on Measure B!

Armed-Forces-Day-683x1024

Today, May 19, 2018, is Armed Forces Day.  First observed in May 1950, the day was created to honor Americans serving in the five U.S. military branches – the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Coast Guard – following the consolidation of the military services in the U.S. Department of Defense.  To all active duty, reserve and veteran members of the U.S. armed forces – thank you for your service to our nation!

099550e8635598e306c4b09874a0272fOrange County has a long and proud military tradition. Currently, more than two million veterans live in California – more than in any other state.  Orange County has over 130,000 veterans — one of the highest populations in the United States – including more than 7,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Yet Orange County veterans do not have their own dedicated military cemetery.  Those in Orange County who want to visit a veteran’s grave in a military cemetery must travel several hours to Riverside, San Diego, or Los Angeles counties.

Please join me in showing your support for Orange County’s military veterans by voting YES on Measure B to facilitate the creation of a veterans cemetery on the grounds of the former El Toro Marine Base.

Orange County veterans – who have sacrificed so much for us – deserve a final resting place close to their families and loved ones.

For more information about the veterans cemetery, please see:

Putting Politics Aside to Honor Veterans with a Final Resting Place

Stop Playing Political Games with Veterans Cemetery

Stop the Politics and Build the Veterans Cemetery Now

Distinguished Environmental Group Laguna Greenbelt Endorses YES on Measure B for Veterans Cemetery!

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

The Strawberry Fields Site is the Best Location for the Veterans Cemetery. Now Let’s Get it Done!

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

OC Register Slams Agran, Lalloway, and “Despicable,” “Misleading” Veterans Cemetery Petition

Help Us Defeat the Paid Mercenaries who have Invaded Irvine and their Fraudulent “Save the Veterans Cemetery” Petition!

As the daughter of an Orange County Korean War combat veteran, I am 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.

Please help by voting YES on Measure B.

Thank you.

Melissa

Distinguished Environmental Group Laguna Greenbelt Endorses YES on Measure B for Veterans Cemetery!

The leaders of the distinguished environmental group Laguna Greenbelt recently issued a strong statement urging voters to support Yes on Irvine’s Measure B in order to facilitate the creation of a veterans cemetery on the site known as the strawberry fields.

Laguna Greenbelt is a grassroots organization that has worked ceaselessly to protect wildlife habitat in Orange County since 1968. Over the last fifty years, it has led efforts to preserve a coastal wilderness area that is now 22,000 beautiful acres. Today Laguna Greenbelt continues to defend this iconic landscape for the sake of its wild inhabitants and the people who love it.

The Measure B Strawberry Fields Veterans Cemetery site is bisected by the lower part of the “Central Reach” of the Nature Greenbelt, which is crucial to preserving our environmental heritage.

One of Laguna Greenbelt’s major projects has been the creation of an essential nature corridor across Irvine to connect the coastal wildlife habitat west of the I-5, to the much larger open space of the Santa Ana Mountains, including the Cleveland National Forest.

Last March, I had the opportunity to join Laguna Greenbelt President Elisabeth Brown, Ph.D, along with Irvine Mayor Donald P. Wagner and Councilwoman Christina Shea at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Orange County Great Park Wildlife Corridor.

As envisioned by Laguna Greenbelt, this nature corridor will link our coastal wilderness with the Santa Ana Mountains/Cleveland National Forest and will ensure the health and future of wildlife and their habitat in our region’s 22,000 acres of coastal parks.

As the leaders of Laguna Greenbelt noted, “A cemetery built on the strawberry-growing site [i.e., the Yes on Measure B site] would be bisected by the wildlife corridor, greatly increasing the amount of green space available to the animals. The lush greenery of the cemetery would help support wildlife to feed and mingle before moving on.  In contrast, the original cemetery site on Irvine Blvd is not near the wildlife corridor, and would have no benefits for wildlife movement or encouraging genetic mixing. Animals moving downslope from the mountains that found their way to the cemetery across busy Irvine Blvd would be blocked from moving safely inland or seaward. Surrounded by urban development and Irvine Blvd on all sides, the cemetery would be just another isolated fragment of open space”

For this reason, they “urge Irvine voters to approve the land swap in June, and vote yes on Measure B.”

Here is their statement:

“Last September, the City of Irvine agreed to a land swap with developer Five Point Communities. This moved the cemetery site to land near the Spectrum V development and the I-5/I-405 interchange. The gently sloping new site is currently being used as agricultural land to grow strawberries. In exchange, the city deeded over the parcel along Irvine Blvd, where the cemetery was originally planned. After the land swap was completed, the City deeded the new site to the State of California, which is responsible for building the cemetery.

There is now controversy over whether the land swap is in the best interest of the City of Irvine. Political squabbles aside, Laguna Greenbelt, Inc., would like the public to consider the land swap’s merits through the lens of land use principles, open space preservation, and wildlife movement.

Representatives of Laguna Greenbelt, FivePoint, and the City of Irvine at the groudbreaking for the Great Park Nature Corridor in March 2018.

Our grassroots organization has been working with the City of Irvine since before 2000, and since 2012 also with the developer Five Point Communities, to design and complete an essential wildlife corridor across Irvine to connect coastal wildlife habitat west of the I-5, to the much larger open space of the Santa Ana Mountains (including Cleveland National Forest). This wildlife corridor, that we have come to call the Coast to Cleveland Wildlife Corridor, is currently taking shape on the only possible route that will ensure that the coastal wild lands, including Shady and Bommer Canyons, and several other parks and preserves, will not wither and die over time (ecologically speaking), throwing away hundreds of millions of dollars that the community has invested over the many decades it took to set aside and manage our parks and preserves.

In mid-March, as a community, we celebrated the groundbreaking of the last stretch of the wildlife corridor between the Santa Ana Mountains and the coastal open space. In short, it’s a dating corridor for wildlife, at a time when they are increasingly isolated from one another by multi-lane roadways and urban development.

The event was important; the corridor is about 6 miles long, and the stretch under construction will be almost half of that, as it crosses Irvine between Irvine Blvd and the I-5. The so-called Great Park stretch will be entirely on the former Base, but not near the park. Instead, it will be adjacent to future urban development around the park on the East side, and, depending on the June fifth vote, it might meet the Veterans Cemetery.

When considering land uses that will be neighbors of habitat and wildlife corridors, it’s clear that some are better than others. Animals exploring for food, cover, and water are spooked and avoid moving towards noisy areas with human activity, lights, cars, unfamiliar smells, and domestic pets. Land uses that are quiet at night and minimize human activity near a wildlife corridor are favorable for animals moving through the area, allowing them to continue on their journeys.

In general, a cemetery is one of the best complementary land uses for natural areas and wildlife; a dark and quiet place at night, when many animals are active. However, in real estate, it’s all about the location, and one of the sites proposed for the Veterans Cemetery is much better than the other for animals traveling along the corridor.

A cemetery built on the strawberry-growing site would be bisected by the wildlife corridor, greatly increasing the amount of green space available to the animals. The lush greenery of the cemetery would help support wildlife to feed and mingle before moving on.

In contrast, the original cemetery site on Irvine Blvd is not near the wildlife corridor, and would have no benefits for wildlife movement or encouraging genetic mixing. Animals moving downslope from the mountains that found their way to the cemetery across busy Irvine Blvd would be blocked from moving safely inland or seaward. Surrounded by urban development and Irvine Blvd on all sides, the cemetery would be just another isolated fragment of open space.

The health and future of wildlife and their habitat in 22,000 acres of coastal parks rides on the success of the wildlife corridor. The land swap supports the bottom line, too: In sheer dollars, so much has been invested in our public lands, don’t we want to protect our investment? We urge Irvine voters to approve the land swap in June, and vote yes on Measure B.”

Learn more about the Coast to Cleveland Corridor here.

You can watch a video on the Great Park Nature Corridor here.

Elisabeth M. Brown, PhD is a biologist and the president of Laguna Greenbelt, Inc. She has resided in Orange County for 51 years. Elisabeth’s involvement in managing local wildlands has included founding roles in the Nature Reserve of OC and the Coastal Greenbelt Authority.

Gabriela Worrel is the outreach coordinator at Laguna Greenbelt, Inc and a freelance writer. She is a Southern California native currently living in Los Angeles, and holds degrees in biology (Westmont College) and urban planning (UC Irvine).

To learn more about why it is so important to Vote YES on Measure B, please see:

Vote YES on Measure B on June 5 for an OC Veterans Cemetery!

Putting Politics Aside to Honor Veterans with a Final Resting Place

Stop Playing Political Games with Veterans Cemetery

Stop the Politics and Build the Veterans Cemetery Now

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

The Strawberry Fields Site is the Best Location for the Veterans Cemetery. Now Let’s Get it Done!

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

OC Register Slams Agran, Lalloway, and “Despicable,” “Misleading” Veterans Cemetery Petition

Help Us Defeat the Paid Mercenaries who have Invaded Irvine and their Fraudulent “Save the Veterans Cemetery” Petition!

As the daughter of an Orange County Korean War combat veteran, I am 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.

Please help by voting YES on Measure B!

Vote YES on Measure B on June 5 for an OC Veterans Cemetery!

YES on Measure B is endorsed by an amazing bi-partisan coalition of political leaders and organizations, veterans organizations, environmentalists, labor union leaders, and editorial pages, including:

  • The Orange County Democratic Party
  • The Orange County Republican Party
  • The Orange County Register
  • Congressman Lou Correa 
  • Congresswoman Mimi Walters 
  • Congressman Alan Lowenthal
  • Congressman Dana Rohrabacher 
  • Governor Jerry Brown 
  • California Board of Equalization Member Fiona Ma
  • State Senator Josh Newman 
  • State Senator Janet Nguyen 
  • Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva 
  • Assemblymember Steven Choi 
  • Assemblymember Matt Harper 
  • Assemblymember Tom Umberg (ret.)
  • Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer 
  • Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel 
  • Irvine Mayor Donald Wagner 
  • Irvine Mayor Pro Tem Christina Shea 
  • Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox 
  • Irvine United School District Board Member Paul W. Bokota
  • Irvine United School District Board Member Lauren Brooks
  • Irvine United School District Board Member Ira Glasky
  • Irvine Community Services Commissioner Lauren Johnson-Norris
  • Irvine Planning Commissioner Anthony Kuo
  • Irvine Finance Commissioner Roger Sievers
  • The American Legion
  • The American Legion Riders
  • The American Legion Auxiliary
  • The Veterans of Foreign Wars
  • The Marine Corps League
  • The American G.I. Forum
  • The Vietnam Veterans of America
  • The 40 & 8
  • The Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation
  • Veterans Alliance of Orange County
  • The League of United Latin American Citizens
  • Nick Berardino, President, Heroes Hall Veterans Foundation
  • Jennifer Muir Beuthin, General Manager, Orange County Employees Association
  • Bobby McDonald, President/Executive Director, Black Chamber of Orange County
  • Brig. General (ret.) Robin Umberg, Undersecretary, California Dept of Veteran Affairs
  • Irvine Chamber of Commerce
  • Orange County Business Council
  • Los Amigos of Orange County
  • Irvine City News
  • Laguna Greenbelt, Inc.
  • UCI Law Professor Katie Porter
  • UCI Ecology Professor Kathleen K. Treseder

My family has a long history of service. My father sacrificed his hearing flying combat missions over North Korea as a bombardier and crew chief.  We lost his cousin in combat at Inchon.  All of my uncles served in the Marine Corps.  My grandfathers and my father-in-law served in WWII in the Navy.  There are many more.  I respect and honor our military tradition and I serve the residents of Irvine.

I was one of the earliest and strongest advocates for a Veterans Cemetery located at the old El Toro Marine Air Station.  I attended and spoke at every Irvine City Council meeting where the Veterans Cemetery was discussed.

My strong commitment to an Orange County Veterans Cemetery located on the grounds of the old El Toro Marine base in Irvine has never wavered.

My goal always was, and remains, to establish this cemetery as expeditiously as possible.

The choice is now yours.

A “YES” vote on Measure B means there will be a veterans cemetery. 

By voting YES on Measure B on June 5th, we can break ground on the Orange County veterans cemetery immediately — a location that has already been approved by local, state, and federal governments.

A “no” vote means the promise will be broken.

The necessary decontamination of the original site is far too expensive (more than $77 million) for the state or city to undertake.

Moreover, if Measure B fails, the original site will not remain as a contaminated junk yard, but instead will no doubt be sold or leased to a developer willing to invest in the extreme costs of a massive cleanup.

Both sites will then end up being used for more commercial buildings and residential development.

I campaigned on the promises to ensure a veterans cemetery on the old El Toro Marine Base and to safeguard taxpayers’ dollars, as well as to reign in runaway development. The land exchange — Measure B — allows me to keep each of these promises.

The June 5 vote is NOT an “either/or” vote on the location of a veterans cemetery, but rather a “yes/no” vote on whether there will ever be a veterans cemetery at the former El Toro Marine Base.

This is not  – and should not be  – a partisan or divisive issue.  It is a commonsense matter that we can all get behind to respect and honor our veterans.

I campaigned on the promises to ensure a veterans cemetery on the old El Toro Marine Base, reduce traffic congestion, and safeguard taxpayers’ dollars,  The land exchange — Measure B — allows me to keep each of these promises.

Let’s do what’s best for veterans and for the residents of Irvine.

Vote YES on Measure B on June 5!

Note: For more information about the veterans cemetery, please see:

Putting Politics Aside to Honor Veterans with a Final Resting Place

Stop Playing Political Games with Veterans Cemetery

Stop the Politics and Build the Veterans Cemetery Now

Distinguished Environmental Group Laguna Greenbelt Endorses YES on Measure B for Veterans Cemetery!

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

The Strawberry Fields Site is the Best Location for the Veterans Cemetery. Now Let’s Get it Done!

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

OC Register Slams Agran, Lalloway, and “Despicable,” “Misleading” Veterans Cemetery Petition

Help Us Defeat the Paid Mercenaries who have Invaded Irvine and their Fraudulent “Save the Veterans Cemetery” Petition!

As the daughter of an Orange County Korean War combat veteran, I am 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.

Please help by voting YES on Measure B.

Thank you.

Melissa

OC Weekly: Fox Trot

The OC Weekly just published another story about my continuing fight for a veterans cemetery in Irvine.

Here is the story:

FOX TROT

“Nine days after being named Best Politician in OC Weekly’s massive Best of 2017 issue, Irvine City Councilwoman Melissa Fox was hit by a dude. Coincidence? Yes and no. Raul Ricardo Rodriguez-Peltz of Westminster, Colorado, probably has never heard of your favorite infernal rag. However, the 28-year-old’s Oct. 29 booking into Irvine City Jail on misdemeanor assault does stem from the same stand Fox took that earned mad respect from OC Weekly’s Best of 2017 Board of Governors.

Here’s how we began what was published Oct. 20 about the county’s reigning best politico:

‘Having run a warped, money-hungry Irvine political machine that trampled the concept of public transparency and wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, Larry Agran wanted to maintain control over the city’s Democrats even after his forced retirement in the 2014 election. But this year, a fellow party member, first-term City Councilwoman Melissa Fox, let the 72-year-old former mayor know she isn’t one of his stooges, bucking him on his preferred location for a future veterans’ cemetery at the Orange County Great Park site.’

Fox was part of a City Council majority that approved placing the state-run memorial park in what are now strawberry fields but used to be part of the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. In exchange, the current land owner gets property within the nearby Great Park that is currently contaminated [note: the property that the develop gets from the City, like the property that the City gets from the developer, is not within the borders of the Great Park; both properties are adjacent to the Great Park, and —  most importantly — both properties were part of the former El Toro Marine Base, which was closed in 1999].

Many in the audience cheered the council’s 3-2 vote for the land swap, prompting Vietnam War veteran and Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation leader Bill Cook to remark, “This is an historic day.”

But Agran is not one to lose a fight without going down in another fight. He and the infernal rag in his back pocket—not us, silly; the Irvine Community News and Views—continued to lobby for “The Great Pork” to host the vet cemetery, and a local “Save the Veterans Cemetery” campaign was soon launched. Backers had until our day of publication (Nov. 9) to submit around 12,000 valid signatures from registered voters in the city to get a referendum on the November 2018 ballot affirming or denying the council’s decision.

And so it was, nine days after we named Fox the best politician in the county, she was at Alton Square shopping center advising constituents against signing the petitions being spread by paid signature gatherers from out-of-town, including—you guessed it—Westminster, Colorado. (Rodriguez-Peltz told police he is a political consultant and paid petitioner.)

Fox says residents complained to her about signature gathers being aggressive, so she snapped photos of them (that you can see on melissafoxblog.com). She told police that led to a confrontation in which Rodriguez-Peltz grabbed a sign she had stating, “Do not sign the misleading veterans cemetery petition. Get the facts”; swung it at her; hit her leg with it; then tore it up and threw it in the trash.

When Fox called the cops, he scrammed but later surrendered. Shaken by the scary encounter, Fox vows to keep warning residents about Save the Veterans Cemetery. We expect no less from OC’s best politician.”

 

 

Open Letter to Larry Agran: “You are Doing a Disservice to the Nation, the State, and the Community. Stop Your Petition Efforts.”

The following letter was written to Larry Agran and his followers about their petition regarding the veterans cemetery by former Irvine Company Executive Mike Padian. Padian worked for the Irvine Company between 1985 and 1996 and has first-hand knowledge of the politics and personalities involved in the current dispute. 

His views are well worth reading for anyone interested in the facts about the veterans cemetery.

Here is the letter in full:

Harvey, Ed, Frank, Larry,

Oh dear, where to begin.

I have read your numerous diatribes; I hope you will give me some courtesy by reading the below.

I am primarily responding to Harvey’s email of 11-2, and an accompanying ‘fact sheet’.  I will attempt to not repeat myself.

1) Yes, the entire ARDA site would be cleaned up with the land-clearing process. However, the ARDA site is significantly more polluted than the Freeway site, and the use of the ARDA site for commercial/industrial purposes would be less costly to develop and have less impact than a residential or a cemetery use.

To determine the potential risk of exposure from a hazardous site requires an analysis of the location, type, and concentration of the hazardous materials, the potential sensitive receptors (people), and the potential pathways between them. The ARDA site contains a ‘witches’ brew’ of above ground, surface, and below ground known and probably unknown chemicals, in known and probably unknown concentrations, quantities and locations. At the time of the Base’s closure, it was one of the larger federal Superfund sites.  As noted in CalVets June 2016 report, FOST 7,  a source of regional groundwater contamination, is located on the ARDA site.  FOST 8 (IRP 3), a former landfill dump site, is also located on the ARDA property. The June 2016 report also states that many of the 77 buildings on the site contain hazardous material such as asbestos and lead-based paint, numerous documented impacts on the site have been discovered, and very probably other impacts will be discovered during development.  Regardless of the ultimate land use, the buildings will have to be appropriately abated and abolished, but the extent of surface and subsurface mitigation is dependent on the ultimate use.

The 2016 report estimated $3.5 million for hazardous wastes, $2.5 million for the site demolition of the first 12.5 acres ($200,000 per acre), $6.2 million for the remaining 112.5 acres ($55,000 per acre, no reason is given for why the 112.5 acres costs less per acre than the initial 12.5 acres), and $18 million for building demolition, for a total of $30 million.  Note that the 2016 report repeatedly recommends additional soils surveys to identify any impacted soil, and to define its appropriate mitigation.  Also note the 2016 estimates do not include any costs for the remediation of contaminated soils, and assumes the State of California will pay for those costs.

Residents are one of the higher potential risk receptors on the site due to their potential rate of exposure, 14-24 hours every day, with an expectation that they could enjoy their outside yards, patios, and parks; their pathways could be reduced with the removal of substantial amounts of soil, and the capping of large areas with hard surfaces.  Cemetery workers would also be a higher risk group, as they would be directly exposed to the contaminated soils during excavation for interments; thus, the reason for the 2016 report’s recommendation to overex the entire site 8′ to 10′.  Commercial/Industrial development will require the least amount of soil remediation, and their employees and clients are the least potentially impacted receptors, because most will be inside an enclosed building for 8 hours a workday, on a site with significant hardscape and parking.

I am currently paying about $40/cy to export non-hazardous material to a local landfill or another construction site a maximum of 30 miles away utilizing a large 7cy bucket excavator and associated dozers, blades, and water trucks, and I am paying about $20/cy to import clean material, both via 14cy double-belly dumps.  If the materials are heavily contaminated the export rates would be significantly higher because they would have to be taken to a licensed hazardous material landfill in north LA County or Banning, using smaller capacity end-dumps.

Worst case, 10′ over 125 acres equals 2,000,000 cy of material. To accomplish the complete export of all 2,000,000cy  would require 575 one-way truck trips per day for a year (250 work days). Total export truck trips would result in 1,150 truck trips per day.  To match the export rate, the import rate would have to be equal to the 1,150 truck trips per day, for a total of 2,300 truck trips per day, or 280 truck trips per hour, or almost 5 trucks per minute for 250 days. The cost to export and import 2,000,000 cy would cost $120 million, and again definitely higher if it had to be exported to a licensed hi-hazard landfill. This is somewhat of a linear equation, that is, if only 1,000,000 cy of material had to be exported and imported, the total cost and total truck trips would be cut in half.  However, it is not a question of if the ARDA site has soil contamination, it is a question of how much. Regardless, I am sure the existing residents would not be agreeable to any large quantity of hazardous material hauling trucks rumbling along Sand Canyon and Portola.

(As an aside, I worked for The Irvine Company between 1985 and 1996.  One of my primary responsibilities was the development of the Irvine Spectrum.  I was the Company’s representative on the El Toro Base’s Cleanup and Reuse Committees.  I also managed the design and construction of infrastructure improvements, including local and regional flood control facilities, around, upstream, downstream and on the Base while it was still in operation.)

The Freeway site, on the other hand, has no buildings, is not the site of any groundwater or landfill contamination sources, and does not contain the ARDA site’s  ‘witches’ brew’.  Instead, the Freeway site has been exposed to only known, controlled amounts of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, which do not require extensive mitigation.

2) The proposed Freeway site was part of the Federally-owned El Toro Base, as an extension of the approach and take-off runways.  The Base, as you know, was used for training aircraft carrier pilots, among others.  One of their procedures was the Field Mirror Landing Practice, where they performed ‘touch and go’ landing/takeoff maneuvers.  Before the area was developed, the jets flew almost wherever they wanted.  Once the Irvine Company started developing the areas around the Base, the Company and the Marines agreed to land and air restrictions and easements.  The Freeway site was part of the runway extension.  It was not fenced off because it was not considered a security risk.  It was however, considered a ‘crash’ zone.

The reason the tall buildings in Irvine Spectrum, the Irvine Hospital, the low-profile buildings in Irvine Spectrums 3 & 5, and the old diagonal limit to the residential Northwood area to the west of Jeffrey are where they are, are due to these easements.  In essence, the Company agreed to not allow any residential in the FLMP flight path outside of the runway extension ‘crash’ zones owned by the government, and to limit commercial/industrial within the FLMP flight path outside of the ‘crash’ zones, in an effort to limit the Marines potential risk based on an assumption that a fueled aircraft crash would wipe out basically an acre.

3) Many people use the term “Great Park” to refer to the entire Base area, while others use it more restrictively to just the formal public recreational park.  In any event, the Great Park, both as a larger area, and as a public facility, has morphed significantly over the decades.  When it was originally acquired by Lennar, the master-plan included a potential location for a cemetery, but not specifically a Veterans Cemetery, and it was never part of the public recreational “Great Park.”

The ARDA is adjacent to, but was never part of a formal public “Great Park”.  No one has ever claimed that the Freeway site is part of the public recreational “Great Park”. The Freeway site is as much of  the overall Great Park development as the adjoining Broadcom property (which was part of the aforementioned FLMP zone).

4) The $30 million was never officially approved.  It was part of a proposed budget, but was withdrawn once the potential total costs, especially the extra costs for the pollution mitigation, of the ARDA were determined.  In addition, the federal government, in their review of the pre-grant application, would contribute only $10 million out of $30 million requested, leaving a significant funding shortfall.

On the other hand, the State has approved $500,000 for design, and $5 million for construction of the Freeway site.  Five Point has pledged an additional $10 million.  CalVet is proceeding with the Freeway site design, and is currently reviewing the qualifications of three design firms.

5) Admittedly, I do not know the President of the Chinese Cultural Association.  However, I know that he does not represent all of the residents in the City, nor all in the Great Park neighborhoods in particular.  One only has to look at the contentious public hearings (some theoretically only for Asian residents) and the statements of various City Council and Mayoral candidates to ascertain the depth of the residents’ concerns.

6) Yes, the ARDA site will have to be decontaminated.  However, because it is such a polluted site, the impact to the taxpaying public – national, state, and local –  would be significantly less if that substantial cost was incurred by a developer.  The general public will be better served by developing the less-polluted, less costly, Freeway site instead.

7) All of the major veteran cemeteries in Southern California – Los Angeles, Riverside, and Miramar – are adjacent to a freeway.  The Freeway site clearly presents visible exposure to more people than a cemetery hidden in the middle of a residential area.

8) Location, location, location.  Adjacency to a freeway significantly increases the value of a piece of property. as compared to parcels that are remote from a freeway.  Another major developer has purposely retained ownership of large swaths of freeway adjacent property because of its long-term value.

9) The City’s own traffic report, as approved by the Transportation Commission, concluded that the land swap has no impact to the City’s traffic.  I could go into why this is, but will summarize by saying the ‘cat was out of the bag’ decades ago when the entitlement for the entire City was approved.

For instance, the primary reason that the Airport area is seeing such an increase in traffic is due to a previous Mayor’s vision (Larry Agran) of converting the area from industrial to a more urban, high density commercial/residential community.  The buildout of the Airport area is not complete.  Unfortunately his dream of creating places for people to live walkably closer to their work for the most part has not materialized. The area is not highly urbanized like Chicago or New York City, there will not be a mass-transit system that will work for a long time, and the only solution, unfortunately, is wider roads to accommodate the continued demand for personal vehicular transportation, and more congested traffic.

10) Construction of a veterans cemetery has not been delayed.  The previous submittals and approvals are being revised for the Freeway site.  And as noted above, CalVet is proceeding with the design.  The Freeway site can be developed much quicker because it does not have to endure the lengthy hazardous material mitigation period.

11) Admittedly, the Freeway site would be a great commercial/industrial site.  However, after weighing all of the factors, the Freeway site would also be a great location for a Veteran’s Cemetery.

12) 21-gun salutes at the Freeway site may have some impact to the existing wildlife, who are used to living in a deteriorating agricultural ditch surrounded by roads and industrial development, but less than 21-gun salutes in a neighborhood full of residents and schools.  Also, the term ‘wildlife corridor” is not limited to birds and mammals; the intent is to provide habitat and connectivity for all types of living organisms, including plants, insects, amphibians, and reptiles.

In addition to the above, you have never mentioned the following facts.

1) The ARDA site has the support of only two local elected officials.  The Freeway site on the other hand has wide bi-partisan support of elected national, state, county, and local officials, including members of Congress, the Governor, members of the State legislature, County officials, the Mayor, and other Council members.

2) The SOVC [Larry Agran’s phoney “Save the Veterans Cemetery” group] is not a grass-roots organization.  There is no great out-pouring of concern from the residents.  Rather it is a trumped up, blatant attempt to thwart the efforts of the developer, by playing up a minority nimby ‘development is out-of-control’ sentiment. One of the primary SOVC proponents is the Irvine World News and Views, a political mailer, run by an owner who is not local. The issues being raised by the SOVC have nothing to do with a veterans cemetery, and they are using the veterans for political reasons.The primary reason there is substantial public Great Park elements at all – including the soccer stadium, concert venue, and streets – is due in large part to the developer’s funding and construction involvement. The SOVC has resorted to using paid predatory out-of-state non-veterans, who you admit have no stake in or knowledge of the issues, to collect signatures based on misleading and false representations.  Calling your signature gatherers ‘mercenaries’ is at least truthful.

3) The SOVC continues to violate state and federal laws by utilizing the logos of and implying it has the support of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.  As far as I know, the SOVC has not responded to the American Legion’s ‘cease and desist’ request.

4) You also insinuate that Council member Fox and veteran Bill Cook will receive some massive return for their participation.  Such an insinuation is shameful and unfounded.

5) Last, labeling the groundbreaking as a sham is also shameful, and disrespectful of the hundreds of veterans, concerned citizens, and elected officials who attended the event.  No one has ever claimed the Freeway site is part of the public recreational Great Park, as opposed to the SOVC who claims the ARDA site is within the recreational public ‘Great Park’.

Bottom line, which is a more fitting site to honor those who sacrificed their time and lives to maintain your privilege to live in a free country – an unfunded, polluted, more expensive, hidden, and unapproved property, or one that is funded, not-polluted, less expensive, visible, and approved.  You are doing such a disservice to the nation, the state, and the local community.  Please stop wasting taxpayer time and money by stopping your petition efforts.

I would be glad to review the real facts, not your alternate ones, at any time.

Respectively,
Mike Padian

 

Watch My Town Hall Meeting!

I held a public Town Hall Meeting at the Irvine Championship Stadium in the Great Park on Saturday, October 21, where we discussed traffic, childcare, the Southern California Veterans Cemetery, affordable housing, and other issues of interest to Irvine residents.

I was joined by several of my city commissioners, as well as by members of the Irvine Police Department, who were also there to answer questions.

Several dozen Irvine residents spoke and asked questions, and I thank everyone who attended.

Here are some photos from the event:

I really enjoyed the open, public dialogue with Irvine residents, and I intend to make these Town Hall Meetings a regular part of my work as an Irvine City Councilmember.

You can watch the complete October 21 Town Hall Meeting on my YouTube channel (Melissa Fox, Irvine City Council) here:

 

 

 

 

 

OC Register Slams Agran, Lalloway, and “Despicable,” “Misleading” Veterans Cemetery Petition

The Orange County Register published a powerful editorial this week entitled “Stop the Politics and Build the Veterans Cemetery Now.”

It condemns the deceptive “Save the Veterans Cemetery” petition.  It points out that the cemetery does not need saving (since it is already moving forward) and it condemns the aggressive and sometimes violent tactics of its paid out-of-town signature gatherers.

It urges Irvine voters not to be “fooled by the propaganda or petition gathers. They are simply attempting to mislead and deceive the community in an effort undo the approved veterans cemetery and move it.”

Here is the editorial in full:

“Politicians will exploit anything to gain political power. That’s exactly what is happening over the veterans cemetery in Irvine. It’s despicable to use veterans as pawns and our entire community should be outraged and informed.

A misleading petition drive has been launched in the city to “Save the Veterans Cemetery.” But the cemetery doesn’t need saving; it’s just a veiled effort to derail the current cemetery plans. There is already a great space approved, the veteran community supports it and the city had a dedication for the land last Friday.

But this is all about politics and trying to win next year’s city election. Sadly, this is par for the course in Irvine where creating a political wedge issue and riding it to the election seems torn right out of the pages of former Irvine Mayor and Councilman Larry Agran’s playbook. It should come as no surprise that the pro-Agran Irvine Community News and Views publication supports the referendum. Agran even wrote a column in its pages supporting it.

Don’t be fooled by the propaganda or petition gathers. They are simply attempting to mislead and deceive the community in an effort undo the approved veterans cemetery and move it.

To make matters worse, one of the petition gathers seeking to block the approved veterans cemetery allegedly assaulted Councilwoman Melissa Fox over the weekend. Fox has been an incredible advocate for veterans and the cemetery in Irvine. While demonstrating against the misleading signature gathers, one of them, a paid political consultant from Colorado, allegedly took her sign and hit her with it, according to the Register.

It’s disgusting to see how some of the political forces in the community behave. Even more despicable perhaps was the response from Councilman Jeff Lalloway who insinuated that Fox shouldn’t have tried to inform people signing petitions against the cemetery.

Lalloway has been a disappointment on the council, opposing the current plan for the veterans cemetery and bringing utter nastiness to city politics. Don’t be fooled by the bogus antics of some in Irvine trying to undo the veterans cemetery location. The creation of a veterans cemetery shouldn’t be a political football. It should be a proud moment for the city and the county.”

For more information about the Veterans Cemetery, see my blog posts:

Help Us Defeat the Paid Mercenaries who have Invaded Irvine and their Fraudulent “Save the Veterans Cemetery” Petition!

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

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

The Strawberry Fields Site is the Best Location for the Veterans Cemetery. Now Let’s Get it Done!

If you signed the petition because you mistakenly believed that it would support the veterans cemetery, please contact me at melissa@melissafoxlaw.com and I will see that you get a form to revoke your signature.

Thanks!

 

 

 

Help Us Defeat the Paid Mercenaries who have Invaded Irvine and their Fraudulent “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 our veterans cemetery does not need saving — except from these out-of-town mercenaries who want you to sign their fraudulent petition!

They pretend that they support our veterans when the truth is that if their petition succeeds, the veterans cemetery will be (at best) delayed and likely destroyed.

They pretend to have grassroots support, but the truth is that they are paid out-of-town mercenaries, while the current “Strawberry Fields” location of the veterans cemetery is supported by every veterans’ organization and a formidable bipartisan array of local officials from across the political spectrum.

They will lie and tell you that they want the veterans cemetery to be in the Great Park, when the truth is that the original (and highly contaminated) was never in the Great Park.

They will not tell you that the current “Strawberry Fields” location was once part of the former El Toro Marine Base, which was the last American soil that many Marines stood on before they left for World War Two, Korea, and Vietnam, never to return.

They will not tell you that creating the veterans cemetery in their preferred location would cost the taxpayers $80 million in decontamination and demolition before the cemetery could even start to be built.

The truth is that the land exchange that the petition seeks to stop will ensure that the Veterans Cemetery is build faster and with approximately $80 million in savings for state and local taxpayers.

They use stolen valor when they claim to be supported by veterans organizations.  The truth is that the American Legion has ordered them to stop using their organization’s symbol, but they’ve refused:

Now they’ve brought in hundreds of out-of-town paid signature gatherers from Los Angles, San Bernardino and Oakland and put them up in hotels.

And they are violent.

This weekend, other anti-petition volunteers and I were threatened and menaced multiple times by these out-of-town paid signature gatherers.

One of these paid mercenaries threatened me and then grabbed my sign, hit me with it and tore it up.  He ran away when I called the police, but was caught when pointed out by several witnesses.  He later told the police he was a “political consultant” who lived in Colorado.

Another volunteer reports that she was “spat at, called some of most horrible names you could call a woman, physically intimidated and shouted at by paid signature gatherers who came from out-of-town to get $3 per signature to lie about ‘saving the cemetery’. They are angry that we are so effective and let the public know they are lying. Please don’t sign their petitions!”

Here is a rogues gallery of these paid out-of-town signature gatherers:

 

After I was assaulted, I went back home, shaken.   A Vietnam War Marine veteran who was also volunteering said to me “at least they were not shooting at you.”

I got a cup of coffee, took a shower, and went back out.

I will not be silenced.  I will continue to fight for those who fight and have fought for America.

It is an honor to do so.

I hope you will join me.

If you can help us defeat these mercenaries who have invaded Irvine and their malicious petition, please contact me at melissa@melissafoxlaw.com.

If you’ve signed one of these petitions because you mistakenly believed it would “save the veterans cemetery,” you can easily revoke your signature by filling out a simple form.  Please contact me at melissa@melissafoxlaw.com and I will get this form to 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.

Please contact me to help.

Let’s do this together.

Melissa

Melissa Fox Named “Best Politician” by OC Weekly!

I am happy to report that I have been named “Best Politician” by the OC Weekly.

The announcement was made in the OC Weekly’s “Best of 2017” issue.

Here is a link to the OC Weekly “Best of 2017” issue.

You can read the article below:

Don’t Be Deceived by the Fraudulent “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 new site is also located on land that was part of the former Marine Base.

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

The Strawberry Fields Site is the Best Location for the Veterans Cemetery. Now Let’s Get it Done!

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)

 

 

Irvine Councilmember Melissa Fox Receives OC Taxpayer Watchdog Award for Fiscal Responsibility!

Irvine, CA – On June 8, 2017, Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox received the Orange County Taxpayers Watchdog Award from Orange County Auditor-Controller Eric H. Wollwery.

The Orange County Taxpayers Watchdog Award was for “demonstrating dedication to the protection of taxpayer funds and for the advocacy of government transparency and fiscal responsibility.”

Irvine City Councilmember Fox received the Award, along with Irvine Mayor Donald P, Wagner and Councilmember Christina Shea, for her successful efforts to designate agricultural land near the 5 and 405 freeways that was once part of the former Marine Air Station El Toro as a new Orange County Veterans Cemetery and Memorial in a land exchange with FivePoint Communities.

The land exchange with FivePoint Communities will ensure that the Veterans Cemetery is build faster and with approximately $80 million in savings for state and local taxpayers.

“I am honored to receive this award,” Councilmember Fox said.  “I ran on a platform of using my skills as a business attorney to safeguard every public dollar.  I also ran on the promise to build the Veterans Cemetery in Irvine at the old El Toro Marine base, and to build it as quickly as possible. I’m extremely happy that this land exchange has allowed me to fulfill both of these campaign promises.”

The Strawberry Fields Site is the Best Location for the Veterans Cemetery. Now Let’s Get it Done!

I believe that locating the Orange County Veterans Cemetery at the Strawberry Fields Site is by far the most advantageous option for the residents of Irvine.  This site, overwhelmingly preferred by the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Committee (OCVMP), saves at a minimum $77.5 million in city, state and national tax dollars, does not require the substantial remediation and decontamination of the original site, and reduces traffic through the City.

My family has a long history of service. My father sacrificed his hearing and many years flying combat missions over North Korea as a bombardier and crew chief.  We lost his cousin at Inchon.  All of my uncles served in the Marine Corps.  My grandfathers and my father-in-law served in WWII in the Navy.  There are many more.  I respect and honor our military tradition and I serve the residents of Irvine.

I was one of the earliest and strongest advocates for a Veterans Cemetery located at the old El Toro Marine Air Station.  I attended and spoke at every Irvine City Council meeting where the Veterans Cemetery was discussed.

I was also tremendously proud that my father, a Korean War combat veteran, 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 former Marine Corps base.  As an Irvine resident and as the daughter of a combat veteran, I believe that 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.

My strong commitment to an Orange County Veterans Cemetery located on the grounds of the old El Toro Marine base in Irvine has never wavered.  My goal remains to establish this cemetery as expeditiously as possible.

Here are the facts:

  • Neither the ARDA Site nor the Strawberry Fields Site are within the boundaries of the Great Park. Both are contiguous to the Great Park: The Wildlife Corridor bisects the Strawberry Field Site and the ARDA Site sits just to the north of the park.
  • For providing the Strawberry Fields Site and a financial commitment to build the entirety of the veterans cemetery through Phase 1, the developer seeks no additional entitlements, only to move what they already have at the Strawberry Fields Site to the ARDA Site, adding no new housingno additional traffic and no additional automobile trips.
  • The $77.5 million estimate to prepare the ARDA site is only an estimate. The ARDA Site contains 77 buildings that would need to be demolished, and a dump site filled with unknown materials dumped over the entire lifespan of the base.
  • The ARDA Site contains FAA facilities that must remain in use and cannot be removed.
  • The Strawberry Fields Site is currently used as agricultural fields. No decontamination or demolition would be necessary before construction could begin.
  • The majority of the funding for the Great Park comes from a settlement with the State of California for the return of $280 million over an unspecified period of time. A portion of those funds are dedicated to affordable housing, leaving $258 million available for the Park. The $38 million proposed by the City would come from these funds, necessarily reducing the funds available for gardens, museums, a library, maintenance and operations.
  • The veteran members of the OCVMP Committee, who have fought for an Orange County Veterans Cemetery on the grounds of the old MCAS El Toro for many years, favor the Strawberry Field Site because it would be more visible from the freeway, has easier access, and the motorcade traffic and daily rifle volleys would not impact surrounding residences and schools.
  • The ARDA was last appraised in 2014 at $9,425,224. In 2015, the developer sold 72 acres adjacent to the Strawberry Fields Site for $128,000,000.

This is not  – and should not be  – a partisan or divisive issue.

Let’s do what’s best for Orange County veterans and for the residents of Irvine.

Let’s get it done.

Update:

The Irvine City Council voted on June 6, 2017, to designate the Strawberry Fields Site as the new location of the Orange County Veterans Cemetery.

The vote was 3-2 with Mayor Donald Wagner, Councilmember Christina Shea and myself voting in favor, and Councilmembers Jeffrey Lalloway and Lynn Schott voting against.

In addition, the State legislature has adopted two budget trailer bills related to the Southern California Veterans Cemetery that Governor Brown has now signed into law.  

These bills provide for:

§ $500,000 for CalVet study (site studies, concept plan and Phase I cost estimates).

§ Authorizes CalVet to acquire, study, design, develop, construct, and equip a state-owned and state-operated Southern California Veterans Cemetery at the Bake Parkway [Strawberry Fields] Site.

§ Authorizes CalVet to submit a pre-application requesting Federal Cemetery Grant funds.

§ $5 million transfer to the Southern California Veterans Cemetery Master Development Fund.

I believe that designating the Strawberry Fields Site will get the Veterans Cemetery built faster and with significantly less cost.  In fact, the Strawberry Fields site will save Irvine taxpayers upwards of $50 million — money that we can use to create more and better amenities at the Great Park, including museums, a library, and a world-class botanical garden.

I want to thank those elected officials who have stood with me throughout this process.

I want to thank Governor Brown for supporting the decision of the Irvine City Council to designate the Strawberry Fields Site as the better location for the Orange County Veterans Cemetery, and for signing the legislation quickly providing for state authorization and state funds for the Strawberry Fields Site.

I want to thank Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva for originating this process in the state legislature and seeing that it received the support of Governor Jerry Brown.  She made it clear that she would be pleased with the Strawberry Fields Site and that she “wholeheartedly back[ed] the decision of the Irvine City Council.”

I want to thank Congressman Lou Correa, who sent a letter to the Irvine City Council expressing his “support for the Orange County Veterans Cemetery to be built on the “Strawberry Field” site at the old MCAS El Toro  . . . This is the site perferred by the Orange County Veterans Memorial Foundation and the consensus of most Veterans, family, and friends.”

I also want to thank State Senator Josh Newman, Chair of the California Senate Veterans Committee and proud U.S. Army veteran, for writing to the City Council stating that in his view “the recently presented alternative site [i.e., the Strawberry Fields Site] represents the best prospect for a feasible location and plan [for the Veterans Cemetery].”

I ran on a platform of using my skills as a business attorney to safeguard every public dollar.  I also ran on the promise to build the Veterans Cemetery in Irvine at the old El Toro Marine base, and to build it as quickly as possible. I’m extremely happy that this land exchange has allowed me to fulfill both of these campaign promises.

Listen to Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox’s Interview on KUCI’s “Ask a Leader”

Irvine, CA — Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox was recently interviewed by Claudia Shambaugh on KUCI’s award-winning program “Ask a Leader.”

The topics covered include the new composition of the Irvine City Council, Irvine’s recent progress on environmental issues, traffic, Melissa Fox’s goals for the Great Park,  and the Orange County Veterans Cemetery.

To listen to the podcast of the interview, click here.

Melissa Fox’s section of the podcast starts at 29:30, right after “Amazing Grace.”

Councilmember Melissa Fox Meets with State Senator Josh Newman, Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, and Governor Brown’s Office to Secure State Support for Veterans Cemetery

Sacramento, CA — Councilmember Melissa Fox recently met with Senator Josh Newman, Assemblywoman Sharon-Quirk-Silva and Governor Jerry Brown’s Office in Sacramento to secure state support for an Orange County Veterans Cemetery located in Irvine.  Senator Josh Newman is chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. He is also a U.S. Army veteran, having served as an artillery officer in South Korea and elsewhere.  Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva authored the legislation (AB1453) that set in motion the State and Federal approval of plans that will lead to the construction of the veteran cemetery.  “We discussed the availability of state funding for the veterans cemetery, and I am certain that Senator Newman and Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva are committed to doing whatever they can to see that the veterans cemetery becomes a reality.”

Councilmember Melissa Fox has stated that she agrees with Senator Newman that “Any successful site for a future veterans cemetery should be consistent with the enabling legislation authored by Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva and passed in 2013; acceptable to the Orange County Veteran’s Memorial Park coalition; and in the best interests of Irvine, both fiscally and as part of the broader planning for the responsible development of the land around the El Toro site” and that “the alternative site solution may fulfill all three of those parameters, and as such would seem to merit a full exploration by the City Council.”

On April 4, the Irvine City Council adopted Councilmember Fox’s motion to both consider putting up $38 million of the City’s own money toward building the cemetery on the current proposed site in the Great Park and also to open discussions with developer FivePoint Communities on a land swap that would build the cemetery on a site next to the 5 Freeway that was also once part of MCAS El Toro.

Governor Brown has said that he intends to visit both the original site and the alternate site. “We’ll take both sites very seriously,” Assemblymember Quick-Silva said. “The governor’s interested in seeing both sites.”

Councilmember Fox has been on the forefront of Irvine residents calling for an Orange County veterans cemetery located in Irvine. Even before she was elected to the Irvine City Council, Fox worked closely with the members of the Orange County Memorial Park coalition to create a veterans cemetery on land that was once the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

As early as March 2014, Fox stated that “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. As an Irvine resident and as the daughter of an Orange County Korean War combat veteran, I believe that 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.”

“We are very close to fulfilling our promise to create a veterans cemetery in Irvine on the grounds of the old El Toro Marine base,” Fox said. “We cannot allow the veterans cemetery to be derailed by political vendettas and the personal grudges of politicians who care more about where it is located than whether it is actually built.”

Irvine Needs a Permanent Veterans Advisory Committee Comprised Solely of Veterans

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Irvine is home to thousands of military veterans and members of the active military returning from deployment overseas. These veterans should be represented within Irvine’s city government by a Veterans Advisory Committee expressly dedicated to the unique needs and interests of the men and women who have served and are currently serving in our nation’s armed forces.

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Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox with her father, Korean War US Air Force combat veteran Stan Kay, at Memorial Day ceremony at Col. Bill Barber Marine Corps Memorial Park

One of the key lessons of the fight for the Irvine City Council’s approval of a Veterans Cemetery and Memorial in the Great Park is that Irvine needs a permanent Veterans Committee, composed solely of Irvine veterans, to advocate for veterans and advise the City and the Council on veterans’ issues.

The Ad Hoc (temporary) Veterans Cemetery Committee established by the current Council majority of Mayor Steven Choi and Councilmembers Jeffrey Lalloway and Christina Shea during the fight for approval of the Veterans Cemetery was anything but an advocate for veterans.

It all began in March, when Councilmember Larry Agran, himself a veteran, having served in the U.S. Army Reserve, introduced a resolution supporting AB 1453 (creating a state Veterans Cemetery in Orange County) and, more importantly, expressing the City Council’s strong interest in locating the Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park (formerly the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro).

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Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox urging the City Council to set aside land in the Great Park as a final resting place for Orange County veterans in March 2014.

The resolution passed, over the objection of Mayor Choi, who made clear his opposition to a Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park because a big developer – FivePoint Communities – thought it might affect the prices of the homes it plans to sell in the area.

The Council then set up an Ad Hoc Committee, supposedly to identify a specific site for a Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park.

However, it soon became apparent the real purpose of the Ad Hoc Committee created by the Council majority was to delay and obstruct the search for a site in the Great Park, and at the same time to try to find a site somewhere else – anywhere else – in Orange County, in order to please the developer.

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Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox with veterans’ advocate, USMC veteran and VFW Chaplain Bill Cook

The Council majority appointed Mayor Choi as the Ad Hoc Committee vice chair – despite his publically announced opposition to a Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park because of FivePoint’s objections.

They appointed Councilmember Jeffrey Lalloway as the Committee Chair, who then insisted on placing nearly every one of his local political cronies on the Ad Hoc Committee, not one of whom is a veteran.

The only U.S. military veteran on the Irvine City Council – Councilmember Larry Agran, who was also the author of the resolution and a strong advocate for locating the Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park – was deliberately not placed on the Ad Hoc Committee.

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Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox speaking to the City Council on behalf of a Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park in April 2014

After excluding the only U.S. military veteran on the Council from the Ad Hoc committee, Choi, Lalloway and Shea insisted that a Five Point representative be included on the committee.

Only one Orange County veteran (USMC veteran and VFW Chaplain Bill Cook) and one long time veterans advocate (Isabelle Krasney) were made part of the Ad Hoc committee.

By late April, the Ad Hoc Committee created by the Irvine City Council majority had not met and had not conducted any business.  Veterans groups were becoming increasingly concerned that the Ad Hoc Committee was not interested in finding a location for a Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park, and that the Committee was a sham, set up only for show, not to take action.

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Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox with USMC veteran and veterans’ adocate Bill Sandlin

In response to the Ad Hoc Committee’s inaction, Orange County Veterans Memorial Park group (OCVMP), along with many leaders of Orange County veterans’ groups, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, and the Disabled American Veterans, issued a “Call to Action” to attend the next Irvine City Council meeting, where I, among others, called on the Council to fulfill its promise to create an Orange County Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park without delay.

In mid-May, we learned that the Ad Hoc Committee still had not met because, supposedly, many of the politicians who were added by Jeff Lalloway as Ad Hoc Committee members, including Irvine Mayor Steven Choi, could not find the time for a Committee meeting in their schedules. In addition, the Ad Hoc committee refused to provide a progress report (or, rather, a lack-of-progress report).

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Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox speaks to City Council on behalf of OC veterans, urging the City Council to set aside land in the Great Park as a final resting place for Orange County veterans

I spoke to the City Council, saying that “the addition of so many players [to the ad hoc committee] 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.”

Melissa Fox for Irvine City Council, melissafoxblog, Melissa Fox, melissajoifox, Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox, Melissa Fox for Irvine City Council,votemelissafox, votemelissafox.com, veterans, Orange County veteransMy 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 majority of Choi, Lalloway and Shea.

By late July, AB1453 has sailed through the Assembly and was going through the final phases of the legislative process. Senator Lou Correa’s Senate Veterans Affairs Committee had passed the bill on June 24th and sent it to Senate Appropriations Committee with the recommendation to approve it.  The only thing missing to make an Orange County Veterans Cemetery a reality was a decision by the Irvine City Council to make a portion of the Great Park available as its location.

Yet the developer-beholden Ad Hoc Committee had done nothing since its inception in March except delay, obstruct, and attempt to prevent the cemetery from being located in the Great Park

Here is what the only two real veterans’ advocates on the Committee (Bill Cook and Isabelle Krasney) had to say in a message from the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park group:

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“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).  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.”

The message from the OCVMP led to the Council chamber being packed with veterans and their supporters.  Councilmember Agran then proposed a resolution designating a specific 125-acre parcel of the Great Park for future conveyance to the State of California for “purposes of establishing a Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery”

When speaker after speaker after speaker, including Bill Cook, the only veteran on the Ad Hoc Committee, then spoke in favor of the resolution, the Council majority was forced to concede that they had been licked, that their strategy of using the Ad Hoc Committee as a means of delay and obstruction had failed.  They then voted in favor of the resolution.

What this experience teaches me is that Irvine’s veterans need a strong, permanent voice of their own in city government, not adulterated by developers or by politicians whose interests may well conflict with those of the veterans they supposedly serve.

It’s the right thing to do.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

AB1453 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:

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“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

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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

iwojima.2

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.

Orange County Veterans Deserve a Military Cemetery

Iwo Jima. Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox. melissafoxblog.com.

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.

A bill recently introduced in the California Assembly by Sharon Quirk-Silva (AD 65), Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee, would remedy this problem by creating a state-owned and state-operated veterans cemetery in Orange County.

As the daughter of an Orange County Korean War combat veteran, I strongly support this bill.  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.

Furthermore, 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.

For these reasons, I have written a letter to Irvine Mayor Steven Choi and the Members of the Irvine City Council, 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 to support the bill 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.

If you agree with me, please contact your representatives and the Irvine City Council and let them know that you believe that a cemetery should be established in a portion of the Great Park that was once the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station to serve and honor Orange County veterans.

Here is the letter I sent to Mayor Choi and the Irvine City Council:

March 5, 2014

City of Irvine
1 Civic Center Plaza
Irvine, CA 92625
City Council 1 Civic Center Plaza Irvine, CA 92625

RE: California Assembly Bill 1453

Dear Mayor Choi and Members of the Irvine City Council,

I am writing to urge you to support AB 1453, introduced by Assembly Member Sharon Quirk Silva (65th AD), Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee, 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.

I am also writing to declare my support for locating this new veterans’ cemetery on land that was once the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS El Toro) and is now part of the Great Park in the City of Irvine.

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 support AB 1453 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.

Sincerely,

MELISSA J. FOX, ESQ.