This week, Asian Americans Rising, a non-profit group “committed to increasing Asian American representation in politics,” issued a statement thanking Orange County political leaders who “stood with us to denounce xenophobia and racism” when the Asian American community was under attack.
I am deeply honored to be included among these courageous political leaders.
Asian Americans Rising president Katie Nguyen Kalvoda explained:
“Over 2,000 hate incidents were directed at Asian Americans this year as a result of Trump’s hateful words calling the coronavirus the “kung flu” “Chinese virus”. Women, children, grandmothers of all Asian descent were attacked, stabbed, set on fire all across this country. I would have never imagined the day that I would bear witness to that. Me, my kids, our loved ones are viewed as the ‘yellow plague.’ This is why I appreciate so much the folks who have spoken out, denounced racism and shown us love.”
Asian Americans in California have reported thousands of incidents of discrimination and harassment in since the coronavirus outbreak, including assault and civil rights violations.
The Washington Post recently reported that “when Trump get coronavirus, Chinese Americans pay a price.” On Twitter, in the three days after Trump announced that had tested positive for the virus, the civil rights group the Anti-Defamation League found an 85 percent spike in hostility against Asians: “The announcement [of Trump’s diagnosis] sparked thousands of online conversations blaming China for trying to purposefully infect the president.”
I am appalled by these acts of bigotry and by President Trump’s continued stoking of anti-Chinese and anti-Asian hate.
I am also appalled by the silence of Republican leaders in the face of Trump’s anti-Asian rhetoric.
Sadly, even Republican leaders who are themselves Asian, including Assemblyman Steven Choi, have refused to protest Trump’s use of the racist and anti-Asian phrase “Kung Flu” in talking about COVID-19 and have silent about the significant increase in racist attacks targeting Asians and Asian Americans in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
All who have witnessed or experienced anti-Asian attacks are encouraged to file a report HERE.
Reports may be made in English, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Hindi, Japanese, Hmong, Tagalog, Khmer, Thai and Punjabi.
If you have experienced anti-Asian bullying, harassment, hate speech, or violence in Irvine, please also contact the Irvine Police Department at 949-724-7000. In an emergency, call 911. Neither the Irvine Police Department nor the Irvine City Council will tolerate any such anti-Asian attacks or discrimination in Irvine.
Again, I call on all my colleagues in elected office in Orange County, both Democratic and Republican, to join me in loudly and unequivocally condemning these acts of hatred, as well as President Trump’s continued stoking of anti-Chinese and anti-Asian hatred and bigotry by using the terms “Chinese virus” and “Kung Flu” in reference to COVID-19.
Pictured above: Congresswoman Judy Chu, Congresswoman Katie Porter, Councilmember Andrew Rodriguez, Scott Reinhart, Congressman Alan Lowenthal, Congressman Gil Cisneros, Josh Newman, California State Controller Betty T. Yee, Councilmember Diedre Thu-Ha Nguyen, Congressman Harley Rouda, City Councilmember Melissa Fox, Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, Congressman Lou Correa, Congressman Mike Levin, Senator Kamala Harris, and Vice President Joe Biden.
On Tuesday, April 21, we delivered donations of face coverings, food, and water to Irvine’s many farm workers, who continue to work to provide food for us during the COVID-19 crisis.
The Chinese American Mutual Association (CAMA) generously contributed 1,000 face masks. Many others contributed as well, providing local farm workers with eggs, rice, beans, tortillas, Gatorade, and bottled water.
The OC Weekly just published another story about my continuing fight for a veterans cemetery in Irvine.
Here is the story:
“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].
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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:
If you signed the petition because you mistakenly believed that it would support the veterans cemetery, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will see that you get a form to revoke your signature.
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.
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 email@example.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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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!
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)