Irvine Community Land Trust to Distribute Free Face Masks

As Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust, I’m pleased to announce that the Land Trust will be among the non-profit organizations that will be distributing the face masks that FivePoint Communities has donated to the City of Irvine.

I want to thank FivePoint for its generous contribution.

I also want to thank Farrah Khan, my colleague on the Irvine City Council and a Community Land Trust Board Member, for arranging and coordinating the delivery of these face masks from FivePoint to the Land Trust so that we can distribute them free of charge.

We hope these free face masks will help you to continue staying safe during these unprecedented times.

We ask that you do your part as well, and wear your mask when in public, especially when shopping.  It’s the law in Irvine, and common sense and good neighborliness everywhere.

Specific details regarding mask distribution are being arranged and will be posted soon.

I am honored to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust  guiding its mission of providing secure, high-quality affordable housing for the benefit of income-eligible families.  

We’re all in this together!

Irvine Should Help Renters Impacted by COVID-19: Ban Evictions and Rental Increases, Prohibit Unconscionable Lease Termination Fees, and Create an Emergency Rental Assistance Program

The deadly COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 100,000 Americans, including nearly 5,000 deaths out of more than 125,000 cases in California and nearly 200 deaths out of more than 7,000 cases in Orange County.

In addition, the economic shock of the pandemic has been devastating, causing billions of dollars in business losses and an unemployment rate of 16.3% nationally and nearly 25% in California.

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As a result, our pre-existing California housing crisis has been exacerbated, with increases in our already much too high levels of homelessness and housing insecurity.

Faced with these tremendous COVID-19-related challenges regarding incomes, jobs, and housing, many of the residents of our City -– more than half of whom are renters — are pleading with the Irvine City Council to protect them. So far, we are failing them.

I have repeatedly asked my colleagues on the Irvine City Council to take action to help renters, but my requests for real help for our renters have been rejected. In March, not one other member of the City Council supported my motion to order an enforceable moratorium on evictions and rent increases.

More recently, my attempt to have the City Council order an enforceable moratorium on evictions and rent increases was rejected on a 3-2 vote, with each of my Republican colleagues voting No.

Mayor Christina Shea and her Republican majority on the City Council have claimed that our renter residents do not need these protections. But we know from thousands of emails, social media posts, and demonstrations in the streets, that our renter residents are pleading with us for help in this crisis.

We should stop ignoring their voices and enact meaningful protections for renters immediately.

First, we need to (1) approve the basic protections that I called for in March and to order an enforceable moratorium on evictions and rent increases. Our renters are entitled to peace of mind about not being forced out of their homes because of the COVID19 crisis.

We also need to (2) prohibit unconscionable, and likely unlawful, lease termination fees.  Many people in Irvine, including students, have lost their jobs, and therefore their incomes, as a result of the COVID19 crisis. Yet I have been told by residents that lease termination fees charged by the Irvine Company have exceeded $15,000.

In addition, we should (3) create an Emergency Rental Assistance Program.  Even with a moratorium on evictions, paying back rent for many of our residents is a very high mountain to climb.  We should direct our City staff to develop an Emergency Rental Assistance Program. These programs have been enacted in other cities, including our neighboring city of Anaheim, to help residents through this unprecedented public health and economic crisis.

As city officials, we have the power and ability to help protect our residents, including renters, both student and non-student. I believe we also have the moral obligation to do so. We should do it now without any further delay.

Honor Our Fallen Heroes on Memorial Day

Orange County has a long and proud military tradition.  From 1942 to 1999, Irvine was home to Marine Air Station El Toro, the largest Marine Corps Air Station on the West Coast. During World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War, thousands of United States Marines, as well as airmen, sailors and soldiers, departed for war from MCAS El Toro.  Many never returned.

As the daughter of a combat veteran, as the cousin of a Marine who was killed in action, and as an Irvine City Council Member, I am proud of Irvine’s commitment to honoring our veterans, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.

For many, many years, my family and I have attended Irvine’s two beautiful Memorial Day ceremonies — a community-led candle-lighting ceremony at the Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial and the official City of Irvine Memorial Day Ceremony at Col. Bill Barber Marine Corps. Memorial Park next to the Civic Center.

Sadly, this year both ceremonies have been cancelled due to the need to limit non-essential gatherings to combat the spread of COVID-19 in our community.

This year, the official City of Irvine Memorial Day Ceremony will be presented online beginning May 25, 2020, for the community to view at their convenience.  The presentation will include words from our mayor, remarks from officers from the City’s adopted 2/11 Marine Battalion, and musical performances from past ceremonies.  For more information, call 949-724-6606.

The Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial, dedicated in 2010, located at 4531 Bryan Avenue, Irvine CA 92620, is the nation’s first and only memorial dedicated exclusively to listing the names of all the fallen American service members in Afghanistan and Iraq. The names of every service member who has died in Afghanistan and Iraq are engraved in granite in a permanent memorial, to ensure that generations of Americans will remember and honor them with gratitude as we do today. Regarding the Northwood Honor and Gratitude Memorial Ceremony, the following notice has been posted on their Facebook page:  

“To all our SoCal friends, it is with great sadness that we announce the City of Irvine, in keeping with the stay at home order, has CANCELED the Memorial Day Ceremony at the Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial.

The City will be generously donating a beautiful wreath of remembrance.  American flags will be placed around the perimeter of the memorial and candles for lighting for those who would like to visit during the Memorial Day weekend.

There will be staff at the community center if anyone needs help finding the name of a loved one or needs name rubbing materials.

We encourage everyone to please take a few minutes of your time to stop by and pay your respects during the holiday weekend.

To our beloved Gold Star families . . . please know that even though there is no ceremony we will never forget the sacrifices your heroes made for our freedom. Thankfully this beautiful memorial is a daily reminder that our community has not forgotten those who bravely put on our Nation’s cloth and gave the ultimate sacrifice.”

As in past years, I will thinking especially of my cousin, PFC Irwin Handler, USMC, who was killed at the Battle of Chosen Reservoir during the Korean War, and of the son of family friends, Lance Corporal Donald J. Hogan, USMC, Navy Cross, who was killed in Afghanistan.

 

I will also be remembering Irvine’s own fallen heroes:

Petty Officer Regan Young

Second Lieutenant Mark J. Daily

Lance Corporal Sean Horn

Chief Warrant Officer Steven Michael Larrabee

Major Michael David Martino

Specialist Justin W Pollard

Lance Corporal Michael S. Probst

Major Charles R. Soltes Jr.

Lieutenant Commander Keith E. Taylor

Although we are not able to gather together physically this Memorial Day, we will be gathered together in our hearts

As stated so beautifully and appropriately by the Veterans of Foreign Wars:

“Pausing to remember and honor America’s fallen service members is a practice dating back more than 100 years. Since the days of the Civil War, humble Americans have gathered together on Memorial Day to remember and pay tribute to all who have fought and selflessly surrendered the precious gift of life, so that other could live free.

Again we gather this Memorial Day, as a nation solemnly united in remembrance of the fallen defenders of our great nation. Freedom is not free. It has come at great cost, paid for with the lives of our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, friends and comrades.

Every American owes a great debt to the courageous men and women who have selflessly given their all to defend and protect our way of life. And while giving back to the extent they deserve is impossible, celebrating their memory and honoring their most selfless deeds offers a start.

This Memorial Day, pause to reflect on the absolute selflessness of the 1.3 million members of our nation’s military who paid the price needed to ensure our way of life endures, and let us not forget the families whose pain will never go away, but may lessen with our thanks and prayers.”

God Bless our fallen, their families, and our men and women in uniform all over the world.

The Irvine City Council Refuses To Order Moratorium On Evictions. Instead, Council “Encourages” Landlords Not To Evict. Tell Them To Order That Irvine Residents And Businesses Be Protected From Eviction Due to the COVID-19 Crisis.

At tonight’s Irvine City Council meeting, Mayor Christina Shea and three City Councilmembers refused to order a legal moratorium on evictions due to the COVID19 crisis, and instead adopted a non-binding resolution to “strongly encourage . . . residential and commercial landlords, and all utility providers, in the City of lrvine to abide by the provisions of the Governor’s Executive Order, and to specifically refrain from evictions, foreclosures, rent increases, or service and utility disconnections during the period of the COVID-19 emergency.”

Photo: Tomoya Shimura, Orange County Register.

I voted No because the resolution passed by the Council has absolutely no legal force or effect. 

I am extremely disappointed in the Mayor and my Irvine City Council colleagues, who have failed to use the authority granted to us by the Governor to fully protect our residents and businesses by legally ensuring that they will able to remain their in homes and shops during this crisis — as has been done in many other California cities, including San Jose, Los Angeles, Long Beach, El Monte, Fresno, San Francisco,  Camarillo, Ojai, Oxnard, Thousand Oaks, Moorpark, and Santa Monica.

The Council also claimed that it had no authority to halt evictions due to foreclosure, although the Governor’s Executive Order explicitly states that local governments like the City of Irvine are empowered to halt evictions where “The basis for the eviction is nonpayment or rent, or a foreclosure” due economic loss because of COVID19.

Our residents and businesses deserve a legally binding order halting evictions due to COVID19.

Corporations are always asking for certainty and clarity in laws and regulations. Don’t the people also deserve certainty and clarity?

If the Mayor and the rest of the City Council choose to attack me personally because I stand for real protections for our residents and local businesses, so be it.

See the Voice of OC story HERE.

However, I have not given up on the people getting the Irvine City Council to do the right thing and use the our authority to order a legally binding moratorium on all COVID-9 related evictions.

Please continue to contact the Mayor and the members of the Irvine City Council and ask them to exercise their full power to protect Irvine residents and businesses from eviction.

If you are personally in danger of eviction, or in the process of eviction, please let them (and me) know.

You can contact all of us on the Irvine City Council at citycouncil@cityofirvine.org

Thank you.

We’re all in this together.

Melissa

 

 

California Apartment Association Calls for Halt on Evictions, Rent Freeze, and Property Tax Relief

Last week I called for the Irvine City Council to use the power specifically granted to us by the Governor to order a temporary 60-day ban on evictions for all residential and business tenants and subtenants, as well as for those people who are unable to pay their mortgage, due to reasons related to COVID-19.

Irvine City Hall (Tomoya Shimura, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Today, I received an email from the California Apartment Association (CAA), the nation’s largest statewide trade group representing owners, investors, managers and suppliers of apartments, which has adopted a program it calls the Safe at Home Guidelines, asking its every California rental housing provider to commit to the following through May 31, 2020:

  • Freeze rents on all residents & pledge to not issue any rent increases.
  • Halt evictions on renters affected by COVID-19, absent extraordinary circumstances.
  • Waive late fees for residents who pay rent after the rent due date because they have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and related government actions.
  • Offer flexible payment plans for residents who cannot pay rent by the due date.
  • Direct renters to available resources to assist with food, health, and financial assistance.
  • Communicate with residents proactively that you are available to assist them and want to work with them to ensure they remain housed.

The CAA further noted that “As our members continue serving residents, they continue to incur expenses such as mortgages, taxes, insurance, maintenance, and payroll. Therefore, we are seeking your support in advocating for property tax and additional mortgage relief beyond those that are backed by federal programs. Temporary relief will benefit California renters, homeowners, and housing providers who are all struggling from the COVID-19 virus.”

I applaud the CAA for stepping up in this crisis. 

I also strongly agree that state and local property tax and mortgage relief measures are necessary to help property owners through this difficult time.

Accordingly, it is even more important that the Irvine City Council, at its meeting on Tues., March 24, order a temporary 60-day ban on evictions for all residential and business tenants and subtenants, as well as for all those people who are unable to pay mortgage, due to reasons related to COVID-19, in addition to property tax relief measures.

If you believe, as I do, that the currently agendized proposal is inadequate in the face of the crisis, and that, instead, the City of Irvine should  use the power specifically granted to it by the Governor to order a temporary 60-day ban on evictions for all residential and business tenants and subtenants, as well as for those people who are unable to pay their mortgage, due to reasons related to COVID-19, please email the Mayor and the Irvine City Council to let them know.

Send emails to: citycouncil@cityofirvine.org

Also, because the March 24, 2020, Irvine City Council meeting will be held online, you may make a comment opposing the proposed resolution (Item 5.2) and supporting an order for a moratorium on evictions. Your comments will be read into the record. 

Submit your comment at: E-Comment Link

Thank you.

We’re all in this together.

Melissa

UPDATE:  The Irvine City Council Refuses To Order Moratorium On Evictions. Instead, Council “Encourages” Landlords Not To Evict. Tell Them To Order That Irvine Residents And Businesses Be Protected From Eviction Due to the COVID-19 Crisis.

 

 

THE IRVINE CITY COUNCIL SHOULD ORDER A 60-DAY BAN ON ALL EVICTIONS DUE TO THE COVID-19 CRISIS

During California’s housing crisis, we now face a pandemic of exponential growth and danger. This public health emergency would be made worse by adding to our homeless and unsheltered population.

Amid layoffs, job losses, business closures, and wage and stock market losses, families are struggling to stay housed and obtain food, medicine, and other staples. Every local Irvine business is experiencing stress from the impacts of this pandemic. Most of those who will become ill from this virus will go through it at home, cared for by family, friends and neighbors.

In response to the need to keep people sheltered and financially secure during this epidemic, the Governor of California issued an Executive Order on March 16, 2020, that specifically authorizes local governments such as the City of Irvine to halt evictions for both renters and homeowners.

Irvine City Hall (Tomoya Shimura, Orange County Register/SCNG)

The Governor stated, “Californians are experiencing substantial loss of hours or wages, or layoffs related to COVID-19, affecting their ability to keep up with their rents, mortgages, and utility bills. People shouldn’t lose or be forced out of their home because of the spread of COVID-19. Over the next few weeks, everyone will have to make sacrifices – but a place to live shouldn’t be one of them. I strongly encourage cities and counties take up this authority to protect Californians.”

At this time of unprecedented stress and vulnerability to our residents and businesses, we cannot add to our homeless and unsheltered population. It is a matter of conscience as well as public health and safety.

We must also help our business community survive.  Therefore, I am calling for a temporary 60-day ban on evictions for all residential and business tenants and subtenants, as well as for mortgagees, who are unable to pay their rent or mortgage due to reasons related to COVID-19 (as spelled out in detail in the Governor’s Executive Order).

Any meaningful relief from eviction during this crisis must include mortgagees as well as renters.  The power of local governments like the City of Irvine to order a moratorium on evictions due to foreclosure is specifically included in the Governor’s Executive Order. The critical importance of this protection during our present crisis has been acknowledged by mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which, along with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Housing Finance Agency, have already suspended foreclosures and evictions of homeowners behind on their mortgages.

Based on the above, I believe that the proposal by Mayor Shea and Councilmember Khan that is now agendized as Item 5.2 for the March 24, 2020, Irvine City Council meeting is inadequate to deal with the current crisis.

According to the memo submitted by Mayor Shea and Councilmember Khan, rather than enacting an order declaring a moratorium on all evictions, it is proposed instead that the Irvine City Council would “memorialize” a commitment between the City and major landlords/developers The Irvine Company and FivePoint Holdings that they are “both committed to honoring the spirit and intent of the Governor’s executive order.” The memo further stated that “If, despite our best intentions, we see a need to enact a local ordinance to limit evictions, we will immediately do so.”

The currently agendized proposal is inadequate for the following reasons:

  • It does not protect homeowners paying a mortgage who are in danger of foreclosure.
  • It does not protect tenants of any landlords other than The Irvine Company and FivePoint.
  • It does not protect subtenants.
  • It does not offer full legal protection, affording no real security or peace of mind.

Therefore, I recommend that the Irvine City Council order a temporary 60-day ban on evictions for all residential and business tenants and subtenants, as well as for all those people who are unable to pay mortgage, due to reasons related to COVID-19.

If you believe, as I do, that the currently agendized proposal is inadequate in the face of the crisis, and that, instead, the City of Irvine should  use the power specifically granted to it by the Governor to order a temporary 60-day ban on evictions for all residential and business tenants and subtenants, as well as for those people who are unable to pay their mortgage, due to reasons related to COVID-19, please email the Mayor and the Irvine City Council to let them know.

Send emails to: citycouncil@cityofirvine.org

Also, because the March 24, 2020, Irvine City Council meeting will be held online, you may make a comment opposing the proposed resolution (Item 5.2) and supporting an order for a moratorium on evictions. Your comments will be read into the record. 

Submit your comment at: Ecomment on Agenda Item 5.2

Thank you.

We’re all in this together.

Melissa

UPDATE:

See The Irvine City Council Refuses To Order Moratorium On Evictions. Instead, Council “Encourages” Landlords Not To Evict. Tell Them To Order That Irvine Residents And Businesses Be Protected From Eviction Due to the COVID-19 Crisis.

 

 

Join Me to Honor our Fallen Heroes in Two Ceremonies this Memorial Day Weekend

Please join me on Memorial Day  weekend as we honor the brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation and pays special tribute to our local service members and veterans.

Orange County has a long and proud military tradition.

From 1942 to 1999, Irvine was home to Marine Air Station El Toro, the largest Marine Corps Air Station on the West Coast. During World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War, thousands of United States Marines, as well as airmen, sailors and soldiers, departed for war from MCAS El Toro.

Many never returned.

As the daughter of a combat veteran, as the cousin of a Marine who was killed in action, and as an Irvine City Councilmember, I am proud of Irvine’s commitment to honoring our veterans, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.
Irvine will honor our fallen heroes in two ceremonies this Memorial Day weekend:

Sunday, May 26, 2018 at 4:00 p.m. 

Candle Lighting Ceremony: Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial 

4531 Bryan Avenue, Irvine CA 92620 

The Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial, dedicated in 2010, is the nation’s first and only memorial dedicated exclusively to listing the names of all the fallen American service members in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The names of every service member who has died in Afghanistan and Iraq are engraved in granite in a permanent memorial, to assure that future generations of Americans will remember and honor them with gratitude as we do today.

The ceremony will honor our fallen heroes from all generations, with special tribute to those fallen heroes of the recent and ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The candle lighting ceremony will include presentations from and honor Gold Star families. Please bring lawn chairs or blankets for seating.

Monday, May 27, 2019 at 10:00 a.m. 

Memorial Day Ceremony: Col. Bill Barber Marine Corps Memorial Park 

4 Civic Center Plaza, Irvine CA 92606 

Col. Bill Barber Marine Corps Memorial Park, located next to City Hall, is named in honor of Korean War Medal of Honor recipient and Irvine resident Marine Corps Colonel William E. Barber (1919-2002).

Attendees will have the opportunity to memorialize our troops’ sacrifice by writing a brief Remembrance Card to be posted on a memory board.

As I have done in past years, I will be filling out a memorial card for my cousin, PFC Irwin Handler, USMC, who was killed in Korea, and for the son of family friends, LCPL Donald J. Hogan, USMC, Navy Cross, who was killed in Afghanistan.

Irvine will also specifically honor our own fallen heroes:

Petty Officer Regan Young

Second Lieutenant Mark J. Daily

Lance Corporal Sean Horn

Chief Warrant Officer Steven Michael Larrabee

Major Michael David Martino

Specialist Justin W Pollard

Lance Corporal Michael S. Probst

Major Charles R. Soltes Jr.

Lieutenant Commander Keith E. Taylor

Cards will be also available for well-wishers to send a message of appreciation and support to Irvine’s adopted 211/Marine Battalion.

As stated so beautifully and appropriately by the Veterans of Foreign Wars:

“Pausing to remember and honor America’s fallen service members is a practice dating back more than 100 years. Since the days of the Civil War, humble Americans have gathered together on Memorial Day to remember and pay tribute to all who have fought and selflessly surrendered the precious gift of life, so that other could live free.

Again we gather this Memorial Day, as a nation solemnly united in remembrance of the fallen defenders of our great nation. Freedom is not free. It has come at great cost, paid for with the lives of our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, friends and comrades.

Every American owes a great debt to the courageous men and women who have selflessly given their all to defend and protect our way of life. And while giving back to the extent they deserve is impossible, celebrating their memory and honoring their most selfless deeds offers a start.

This Memorial Day, pause to reflect on the absolute selflessness of the 1.3 million members of our nation’s military who paid the price needed to ensure our way of life endures, and let us not forget the families whose pain will never go away, but may lessen with our thanks and prayers.”

God Bless our fallen, their families, and our men and women in uniform all over the world.

Great Park Ice Arena Opens for Public Skating! Official Grand Opening Set for March 7!

As Vice Chair of the Great Park, I’m pleased to announce that 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 — opened today, January 2, 2019, for public skating.

Hundreds of people showed up for the opportunity to be the first to skate on the new Irvine ice!

Skaters enjoying the Great Park Ice Arena on January 2, 2019. Photo by Ken Montgomery.

Although only one rink is now open, the Great Park Ice Arena will have three National Hockey League-standard ice rinks and one Olympic size rink, and include seating for more than 2,500 spectators. The Great Park Ice Arena will also have a restaurant and a Ducks team store.

Located near the Great Park’s Palm Court and adjacent to the Festival Site parking area, the Community Ice Arena will be open daily from about 5 a.m. to midnight, with most of the time reversed for public use.

Ice sports and recreation activities available to the public at the Arena will include youth and adult hockey programs, regional and national tournaments, figure skating, and open public skating.

Also, the Anaheim Ducks are expected to practice occasionally at the 13.5-acre site.

The Arena is owned by the Irvine Ice Foundation, a nonprofit organization, which will be made up of locally, based civic leaders, and operates on a 50-year lease with the City of Irvine.

The $100 million plus facility will be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver certified as part of the NHL Green initiative.

All proceeds will go to further the growth of ice sports and activities locally.

Additionally, the new facility will create 15 full-time and 150 part-time positions while serving more than 10,000 local youth each year.

An exciting official Grand Opening is scheduled for March 7, 2019!

See you there!

Take a Sneak Peek at the New Anaheim Ducks’ Community Ice Arena at the Great Park in Irvine! Updated with New Video!

Last December, I was privileged to take part in the groundbreaking for the new 270,000-square-foot Anaheim Ducks’ Community Ice Arena at the Great Park, which will be the largest ice skating facility in California and one of the largest in the United States.

Now, the Great Park Ice Arena is nearly ready to open!

Click here to watch a new video of the progress at the Great Park Community Ice Arena!

Click here to watch a video of the progress at the Great Park Community Ice Arena!

The Ice Arena will have three National Hockey League-standard ice rinks and one Olympic size rink, and include seating for more than 2,500 spectators.

Located near the Great Park’s Palm Court and adjacent to the Festival Site parking area, the Community Ice Arena will be reserved most of the time for public use.

Great Park Community Ice Arena groundbreaking.

Ice sports and recreation activities available to the public at the Arena will include youth and adult hockey programs, regional and national tournaments, figure skating, and open public skating.

Also, the Anaheim Ducks are expected to practice occasionally at the 13.5-acre site.

The Arena is owned by the Irvine Ice Foundation, a nonprofit organization, which will be made up of locally, based civic leaders, and operates on a 50-year lease with the City of Irvine.

The $100 million plus facility will be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver certified as part of the NHL Green initiative.

All proceeds will go to further the growth of ice sports and activities locally.

Additionally, the new facility will create 15 full-time and 150 part-time positions while serving more than 10,000 local youth each year.

A grand opening of the Community Ice Arena is expected in early February 2019.

 

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!

 

 

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

 

 

Watch Melissa Fox’s Great Park Town Hall Meeting — with Mandarin Translation! 市議員 梅利莎福克斯 介绍橙县大公园最新进展

I held a Town Hall Meeting on Saturday, April 21, 2018, in historic Hanger 244 at the Great Park.

The Great Park Town Hall Meeting was co-hosted by WeIrvine and featured translation by Mandarin translation by my friend Zhihai Li,  who is also my appointee to the Irvine Children, Youth and Families Committee.

I spoke about the history of the Orange County Great Park — of which I am the Vice Chair — and its future development.

We also spoke about the veterans cemetery and why it is important to Vote Yes on Measure B.

I invite you to watch a video of the Town Hall Meeting.

Thank you to Zhihai Li, WeIrvine, and everyone who attended!

Melissa

Watch the video here.

在这里观看视频

Melissa Fox介绍橙县大公园最新进展

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!

Join Me as Irvine Honors Our Fallen Heroes

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

Please join me on Memorial Day weekend as Irvine honors the brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation and pays special tribute to our local service members and veterans.

Irvine has a long and proud military tradition. From 1942 to 1999, Irvine was home to Marine Air Station El Toro, the largest Marine Corps Air Station on the West Coast. During World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War, thousands of United States Marines, as well as airmen, sailors and soldiers, departed for war from MCAS El Toro.

Many never returned.

Irvine has now dedicated 125 acres of the former El Toro Marine Base to serve as an Orange County Veterans Cemetery, providing a final resting place for those served, close to their families and loved ones.

As the daughter of a combat veteran, as the cousin of a Marine who was killed in action, and as an Irvine City Councilmember, I am proud of Irvine’s firm commitment to our veterans.

Irvine will honor our fallen heroes in two ceremonies this Memorial Day Weekend:

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Candle Lighting Ceremony: Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial 

4531 Bryan Avenue, Irvine CA 92620

4:00 p.m.

The Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial, dedicated in 2010, is the nation’s first and only memorial dedicated exclusively to listing the names of all the fallen American service members in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The names of every service member who has died in Afghanistan and Iraq are engraved in granite in a permanent memorial, to assure that future generations of Americans will remember and honor them with gratitude as we do today.

The ceremony will honor our fallen heroes from all generations, with special tribute to those fallen heroes of the recent and ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The candle lighting ceremony will include presentations from and honor Gold Star families.

Please bring lawn chairs or blankets for seating.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Memorial Day Ceremony: Col. Bill Barber Marine Corps Memorial Park

4 Civic Center Plaza, Irvine CA 92606

10:00 a.m.

Col. Bill Barber Marine Corps Memorial Park, located next to City Hall, is named in honor of Korean War Medal of Honor recipient and Irvine resident Marine Corps Colonel William E. Barber (1919-2002).

Attendees will have the opportunity to memorialize our troops’ sacrifice by writing a brief remembrance to be posted on a memory board.

As I have done in past years, I will be filling out a memorial card for my cousin, PFC Irwin Handler, USMC, who was killed in Korea, and for the son of family friends, LCPL Donald J. Hogan, USMC, Navy Cross, who was killed in Afghanistan.

Cards will also be available for well-wishers to send a message of appreciation and support to Irvine’s adopted 211/Marine Battalion.

Click here to download a pre-made remembrance card.

As stated so beautifully and appropriately by the Veterans of Foreign Wars:

Pausing to remember and honor America’s fallen service members is a practice dating back more than 100 years. Since the days of the Civil War, humble Americans have gathered together on Memorial Day to remember and pay tribute to all who have fought and selflessly surrendered the precious gift of life, so that other could live free.

Again we gather this Memorial Day, as a nation solemnly united in remembrance of the fallen defenders of our great nation. Freedom is not free. It has come at great cost, paid for with the lives of our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, friends and comrades.

Every American owes a great debt to the courageous men and women who have selflessly given their all to defend and protect our way of life. And while giving back to the extent they deserve is impossible, celebrating their memory and honoring their most selfless deeds offers a start.

This Memorial Day, pause to reflect on the absolute selflessness of the 1.3 million members of our nation’s military who paid the price needed to ensure our way of life endures, and let us not forget the families whose pain will never go away, but may lessen with our thanks and prayers.

God Bless our fallen, their families, and our men and women in uniform all over the world.

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

Join Me on Sat., April 21, for an Irvine Town Hall at the Great Park (with Mandarin Translation)

Please join me for an Irvine Town Hall Meeting on Saturday, April 21, starting at 11:00 a.m., at the Great Park.

The meeting will be held inside historic Hangar 244 at the Orange County Great Park (near the Palm Court) and is being co-hosted by WeIrvine.

I will be answering questions from the community about the Orange County Great Park — of which I am the Vice Chair — and future development.

Mandarin translation will be available.

普通话翻译可用

There will also be representatives from the Irvine Police Department‘s Mounted Unit available to answer any questions as well.

Light refreshments will be provided and families are welcome.

If you would like more information or to RSVP, please contact Allison Binder by email at abinder@cityofirvine.org or by phone at 949-724-6226.

See the Facebook event page here.

I hope to see you there!

来大公园参加市民大会,听尔湾市议员 Melissa Fox 介绍橙县大公园最新进展

4月21日星期六,尔湾市议员,同时担任大公园副主席的 Melissa Fox 将和大家见面,向大家介绍大公园的最新进展,并和大家一起讨论有关大公园的各种话题。有中文翻译现场为大家口译。

尔湾警局的骑警代表也将出席会议,对大家感兴趣的问题予以解答

普通话翻译可用

 

 

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.”

 

 

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!

 

 

 

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 Melissa Fox’s Interview on KUCI’s ‘Ask a Leader’

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“I’m going to be bringing my 25 years of advocasy to bear for the residents of Irvine in negotiating with our partners in development, our major developers, FivePoint Communities and the Irvine Company.” — Melissa Fox, on KUCI’s “Ask a Leader.”

Here is the interview I did on October 4 with Claudia Shambaugh on the program “Ask a Leader” on KUCI-FM about my campaign for Irvine City Council and the future of the City of Irvine.

We discussed development and over-development, my plan to fix Irvine’s traffic congestion and make our streets safer, protecting Irvine’s villages and local businesses, improving our bikeways and the iShuttle, environmental issues, and more.

My interview begins at 1:30 and ends at 22:50.

I hope you’ll listen and let me know what you think!

 

Listen to Melissa Fox’s Interview on KUCI’s ‘Ask a Leader’

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Here is the interview I did on October 14 with Claudia Shambaugh on the program Ask a Leader on KUCI-FM about my campaign for Irvine City Council and the future of the City of Irvine.

We discussed development and over-development, traffic congestion, infrastructure, protecting Irvine’s villages and local businesses, the Irvine Barclay Theatre, improving our bikeways and the iShuttle,  environmental issues, losing one of farmers’ markets, my Irvine Food Tours, the OCTA’s irresponsible toll road decision, and more.

I hope you’ll listen and let me know what you think!

 

Traffic Congestion Causes Irvine to Drop to 14th Place in America’s Best Places to Live

Irvine’s national standing as one of America’s best places to live has declined sharply in the last few years, from 4th place in 2008, to 6th place in 2012, and now a precipitous drop out of the Top Ten to 14th place in Money Magazine’s recent “Best Places to Live 2014.”

The problem: while Irvine still receives raves for its “more than 54 miles of bike paths and 20,000 acres of parks and preserves” as well as for our master plan, “median home prices top $650,000, and traffic can be a brute during rush hour.”

What this means is that Irvine’s terrible – and increasing – traffic congestion problem is no longer our own little secret.

The rest of the country has noticed, and is re-evaluating the desirability of living in Irvine accordingly.

In the short run, Irvine’s drop to 14th best place to live – slotted between Centennial, Colorado, and Newton, Massachusetts – will primarily impact our civic pride.

But in the middle and longer run, the decline in Irvine’s reputation because of traffic congestion – and the serious underlying problem of over-development without adequate planning – could have far more dire, and costly, consequences.

Our real estate market could be adversely affected, as well as our ability to attract companies and business that are looking for the best quality of life for their executives and employees.

Most important, Irvine’s fall to 14th place in Money Magazine’s “Best Places to Live” is the canary in the coal mine, warning us of worse to come, as the rest of the world notices our rapid over-development without proper planning or infrastructure and our increasingly over-crowded schools.

We should take heed now, while we still can, and return to the principles of planning and measured , smart growth that not very long ago made Irvine Number One.

We want Irvine to be America’s “Best Place to Live” now and in the future, not just in the past.

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!