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 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.

What I’m Listening for in the Mayor’s 2019 State of the City Address

Irvine Mayor Don Wagner will give his “State of the City” address at the Irvine City Council meeting on Tuesday, February 26, 2019.

The Mayor will have many positive things to talk about, including the tremendous progress that we’ve made on fulfilling the promise of the Great Park — a new 80,000 square-foot ice arena, a 1200-seat Great Park Championship Baseball Stadium and new additional baseball and softball fields, a 5,000-seat Championship Soccer Stadium, a 2.5 mile nature corridor, plus an agreement with Wild Rivers to build a new water park and an exclusive negotiating agreement with Pretend City Children’s Museum to relocate in the Great Park

He will remind us that Irvine remains America’s safest city and was recently declared one of the safest cities in the world.

He will also note that Irvine was rated the number one city in the nation in fiscal strength.

He can also speak positively about the advances that our City Council has made in providing for greater openness and transparency in our budget process, pointing to our new two-year budget cycle, our new five-year planning program and our new Irvine Sunshine Ordinance that expands public notice of agenda items to four times longer than California law requires.

These are indeed wonderful accomplishments that the Mayor, the entire City Council, and all residents of Irvine should be proud of.

But much more remains to be done and problems remain to be solved.

Here is what I would like to hear the Mayor address:

Climate and the Environment

Irvine must become ever more environmentally responsible and should be a national leader in meeting the existential ecological demands of the future.

As Chair of the Irvine Green Ribbon Environmental Committee, I have helped guide Irvine toward greener policies related to energy, recycling and waste management, mobility, open space and water issues.

But more must be done.

I would like to hear the Mayor commit to establishing a Climate Action Plan for Irvine, with the goal of eliminating half of all greenhouse gas emissions in the city and aiming for all electricity used in the city to be from renewable sources by 2035.

Climate Action Plans make it easy for the public to see what cities plan to do to meet state targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Sprinkling such actions throughout the General Plan is not as transparent and is not in the best interest of the public.

Other cities, including San Diego, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Seattle, Baltimore, Phoenix and Houston already have Climate Action Plans.  As the self-proclaimed City of Innovation, Irvine should be a leader in this national effort.

An Irvine Climate Action Plan would benefit both the environment and the regional economy, creating new jobs in the renewable energy industry, improve public health and air quality, conserve water, more efficiently use existing resources, increase clean energy production, improve the quality of life, and save taxpayer money.

Most importantly, a Climate Action Plan would fulfill our obligation to ensure that Irvine remains a beautiful green city for future generations.

Traffic Congestion and Traffic Safety

We have made significant progress in alleviating Irvine’s traffic congestion.  We expanded the iShuttle to provide more transportation.  We’ve enabled left-hand turns in some intersections to allow traffic to move faster and more efficiently.  We’ve widened roads and made other improvements.

But we need to do more.

I would like to hear the Mayor announce a plan to create a greener, smarter, and more efficient transportation future by further expanding our iShuttle.  For example, a route that would take people from UCI to the Spectrum would be good for both Irvine traffic reduction, Irvine’s air quality, as well as for UCI students and Spectrum businesses.

Our roads are not only too often congested, they are also becoming too dangerous, as people fail to obey stop signs and follow the rules of the road.

I have been working with residents and the Irvine Police Department on improving the safety of our pedestrians and bicyclists, especially our children, and I held a Town Hall Meeting on Traffic Safety with the Chief of Police, but more must be done.

I would like to hear the Mayor propose a major comprehensive traffic safety project, focusing on ensuring motorists come to a full stop at stop signs.  This project would involve education, increased enforcement and deploying more advanced stop sign technology.

Many cities have lighted stop signs.  Irvine should have them as well.  Our Irvine Police should also receive a clear mandate from the Mayor and the City Council to take whatever enforcement actions are necessary to make our streets safer for our residents.

The Great Park

Irvine has made tremendous progress on fulfilling the promise of the Great Park and all of us should be proud of what we’ve accomplished.

I am looking forward to the Grand Opening of the new 270,000-square-foot Great Park Ice Area — the largest ice-skating facility in California and one of the largest in the United States.

I am also looking forward to the announcement of further progress on the return of Wild Rivers Water Park.

I also continue to support 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.  My proposal (along with Christina Shea) to locate the veterans cemetery on land that had been intended as a golf course has been through the Commission process and will soon come before the City Council.

What I would like to hear the Mayor speak about tonight is a vision and a plan for completing the next crucial phase of the park – the Cultural Terrace.

The City Council entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement to bring Pretend City Children’s Museum to the Cultural Terrace.  When the relocation of Pretend City to the Great Park Cultural Terrace initially came before the City Council in 2017, I strongly supported it and was disappointed when we did not have the votes to act at that time.  I am extremely pleased that we have moved forward this year.

But much more needs to be done to truly create the Cultural Terrace as the jewel of the Great Park.

I believe the Great Park’s Cultural Terrace would be the ideal location for a natural history museum, showcasing the natural history of our area.

Importantly, the history of the Juaneno/Acjachemen and Gabrielino/Tongva — our County’s indigenous people — needs to be told!

In fact, while Orange County is the only county in Southern California that does not have a natural history museum, Orange County is already home to a fabulous collection of fossils and artifacts in the Dr. John D. Cooper Archaeological and Paleontological Center, now located in several warehouses in Santa Ana.  This rich history of fossils and artifacts, perhaps one of the most important fossil-bearing areas in North America, if not the world, needs to be curated and displayed.

Our county’s rich store of fossils and artifacts ought to be open to all in a magnificent museum – a new Orange County Natural History Museum in the Great Park!

I have also made clear my support for the California Fire Museum and Safety Learning Center, and for preserving the heritage of our California firefighters in a permanent facility in the Great Park.

I have also long been a strong advocate for botanical gardens in the Great Park’s Cultural Terrace.  In fact, every survey we’ve done has shown that gardens are among amenities that people most want in the Great Park.

I agree with the Great Park Garden Coalition that “We need places where children can experience nature and explore, where all can find refuge from the ever-increasing urban density and traffic, where people of all ages and abilities can experience beautiful outdoor spaces. All great urban parks have great garden spaces: Golden Gate Park, Central Park, Balboa Park.”

The Great Park in Irvine should, too.

Homelessness and Attainable Housing

As we all know, Irvine is among the most expensive real estate markets in the nation; for this reason, there is a tremendous need for, and tremendous obstacles to, affordable housing.

Finding solutions to the housing crisis and alleviating homelessness has been a priority for me, both as a member of the Irvine City Council and as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust.

Irvine has been a model in this area and the Land Trust concept, now being adopted by Orange County and many other cities, is something that Irvine has pioneered.  No other city has a Land Trust like we have, and other cities are working to copy ours.

I’m proud of what the Irvine Land Trust has accomplished in the past year.

In 2018, we opened Parc Derian, which brings 80 new units of housing for working families, veterans, and special-needs residents of Irvine.  We also began work on Salerno, a new 80-unit rental community. Like Parc Derian, Salerno will provide permanent affordable housing for working families, veterans, and special-needs residents of Irvine.

Significantly, we have begun to develop our first homes for ownership with help from a new partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Orange County. This new Irvine community, called Chelsea on Native Spring, located north of Irvine Boulevard, will include 68 affordable home for sale to income-eligible veterans, working families, and young professionals.

In all, that’s 466 households, and more than a thousand people, who can comfortably live, work and raise families in Irvine directly because of the work of the Irvine Community Land Trust.

In addition to my work on the Irvine Land Trust, I have traveled to Pittsburgh and San Antonio to see what other cities have done to successfully combat homelessness, and I have traveled to Sacramento to encourage the legislature to revise regulations and the tax code to make it easier to build affordable housing.

I would like to hear the Mayor reaffirm Irvine’s commitment to support the Irvine Community Land Trust as successful model for other cities to emulate in providing housing for diverse income levels.

I would also like to hear the Mayor present his vision for alleviating the homelessness crisis, and especially what role he envisions Irvine should play in providing shelter and services, especially in light of the case in federal court.

How will he work with the federal court and Board of Supervisors to tackle this crisis on a truly regional basis, and how will he get the Board of Supervisors to spend the money and resources that they have been given specifically to deal with homelessness on an actual solution?

Working Together in an Inclusive Democracy  

Our City Council is no longer gridlocked in the partisan bickering that prevented progress for so many years; we have seen that we need to work together to improve the lives of all of Irvine’s residents.

I would like to see our city leaders display the truly democratic spirit that united all decent people in our community in condemning religious and racial bigotry, and not the divisiveness that is created when wedge issues, outside our jurisdiction and purview, are brought before the City Council.  Focusing on these wedge issues does not produce positive policies that bring our city together, but instead a theatrical politics of division that can only drive us apart.

I would like to hear the Mayor reach out to those of us on the other side of the aisle, as he has often done, recognizing that it is best for our city and our residents when we work for the common good by looking for common ground.

A Vision for our Great City of Irvine

Our great City of Irvine is truly blessed with wonderful people, a beautiful natural environment, thriving businesses, and remarkable schools.

What Irvine needs is a vision for the future that focuses and energizes our continued quest for being the very best place in the world to live, work and raise a family.

The event begins with a reception at 5:00 p.m., followed by the Mayor’s address at 6:00 p.m.

Both the “State of the City” address and the reception are open to the public. No RSVP is necessary to attend.

The Civic Center is located at 1 Civic Center Drive, Irvine CA 92606-5207.  Call 949-724-6077 for more information.

I hope to see you there!

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.”

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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.

Press Release: Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox Refers Email Threat to Orange County District Attorney

July 9, 2018

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Jason Mills (714) 576-4303

IRVINE CITY COUNCILMEMBER MELISSA FOX REFERS EMAIL THREAT TO ORANGE COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY

IRVINE, CA – Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox referred an email communication from Harvey Liss to the Orange County District Attorney’s office today.

In his email to Councilmember Fox, Liss directed her to vote for a motion regarding the veterans’ cemetery to be presented by Councilmember Jeff Lalloway at the July 10, 2018, City Council meeting or face an end to her participation on the Irvine City Council.

Liss’s email to Councilmember Fox may constitute a violation of several California criminal code sections designed to protect public officials from being extorted for their votes.

Liss is a close ally of Larry Agran and Ed Pope of the “Save the Veterans Cemetery” campaign committee, and an editor of the Irvine Community News & Views, which was one of the major donors to the campaign urging a “No” vote on Measure B, lending over $300,000 to the campaign, without transparency as to where its money came from.

Liss’s communication to Councilmember Fox via her private email account may also violate the City of Irvine’s Ethics and Lobbying Ordinance, since Liss is demanding that Councilmember Fox take a position on a municipal question on which Irvine Community News & Views has spent money far over the threshold reporting amount without reporting or registering as a city lobbyist and without reporting the lobbying activities that he and other agents of Irvine Community News & Views have undertaken.

In response to the email, Councilmember Fox said, “Liss’s threat is a misuse of the political system.  It is to the people of Irvine that I owe my best efforts, my best judgment, my faithfulness, and my sole allegiance.  I will not be bullied, threatened, or extorted into voting against what I believe to be the best interests of the City of Irvine.”

 

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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.

Why Did Measure B Lose? What Should Irvine Do Now? Take the Surveys!

[Take the surveys below at the end of this blog post.]

The voters in Irvine recently rejected Measure B.

The issue now is what, in rejecting Measure B, did the voters really decide.

Sign used by opponents of Measure B, warning that passage of Measure B would mean thousands more cars on every road in Irvine.

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.

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.

Map used by opponents of Measure B, warning that passage of Measure B would lead to massive development and 10,000 more car and truck trips every day.

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 tens of millions of dollars on a veterans cemetery rather than building other popular features of the Great Park

I would like to know what you believe the rejection of Measure B means, especially if you were among the majority in Irvine who voted against it.

Please take the surveys below:

 

The City Council must now decide whether, and how, to proceed with a veterans cemetery.  What do you want the City Council to do:

 

Please share these surveys with your Irvine friends and neighbors. I would like as much resident input as possible.

Thanks!

Melissa

UPDATE:

The surveys are now closed.

While the surveys are not scientific, I believe their results are straight-forward and present an accurate view of why Measure B failed.

The survey results show that the main reason people voted No on Measure B was opposition to development and traffic, rather than a desire to return the veterans cemetery to its original site.

These results should not be unexpected since the No on Measure B campaign focused almost exclusively on the claim that Measure B would lead to more development and traffic (“B = Thousands MORE Cars on THIS Road!”).

Further underscoring the conclusion that Measure B failed because of perceptions about development and traffic rather than preference for the original site, the survey results show that few residents are in favor of spending the $40 – $80 million required to build the veterans cemetery on the original site.