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 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 (both residential and non-residential) 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 Field 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.

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. “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 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 Sharron Quirk-Silver (Democrat) — the author of the original Southern California Veterans Cemetery legislation.

In addition, the land exchange was 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:

Please send emails to the Mayor and City Council and 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.

Please attend the City Council meeting on Tuesday, September 26, 2017, and publicly tell the Council to keep its promise to our veterans.

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!

 

 

 

Join Me Saturday for Irvine’s Global Village Festival!

My favorite Irvine cultural event of the year is almost here!

This coming Saturday, September 23, 2017, is the Irvine Global Village Festival!

Irvine Community Services Commissioner Melissa Fox at Irvine's Global Village Festival 2013

In Irvine, we are proud of saying that our city is not only among the most diverse cities in the nation, it is also the most fully integrated.

There are no ethnic, linguistic, religious, or cultural enclaves in Irvine: every neighborhood reflects Irvine’s harmonious ethnic, linguistic, religious, and cultural diversity.

How diverse is Irvine?  A non-English language is spoken in a remarkable 58% of Irvine homes, with more than 70 different languages spoken in residences throughout Irvine.  Nearly 40 % of Irvine’s public school students have a primary language other than English.

Irvine is also home to more than 80 different churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship, serving Irvine’s wonderful cultural and religious diversity.

This year marks the 16th anniversary of the Irvine Global Village Festival – Irvine’s largest and most attended community event.

Founded in 1998 by a group of Irvine residents to help promote understanding and build harmony within Irvine’s many diverse cultures, the Global Village Festival is now Irvine’s signature event, featuring more than 100 performances on five stages; international cuisine and food from more than 50 restaurants; an international marketplace filled with unique crafts and textiles; interactive, educational and entertaining cultural displays, demonstrations, and performances; and an international village just for kids.

More than 40 local restaurants and gourmet food trucks serve up samples of regional and international specialties from boba smoothies, miso soup, falafel, Mexican fusion tacos and German pretzels to Japanese dumplings, Hawaiian shaved ice and the all-American bacon-wrapped hot dog. Please be prepared with cash for food and beverage purchases.

At the heart of the Festival is the Community Partners Pavilion, where nonprofit, local community groups and government agencies have an opportunity to showcase their programs and services to the community. Be sure to stop by the OC Voters Trailer and take the Festival Survey.

I’m looking forward to celebrating the many facets of Irvine’s diversity at the Global Village Festival – and I look forward to seeing you there!

Here are some important Festival details:

What: Irvine Global Village Festival

When: Saturday, September 23, 2017, from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Where: Bill Barber Park, 4 Civic Center Plaza, Irvine, CA

Cost: Admission is FREE! Please be prepared with cash for food and beverage purchases.

Parking: There is no on-site parking at the event.  Festival Parking is permitted in the lot at 20 Corporate Park and in the structure at 30 Corporate Park only. The Festival is 0.7 miles from this location.  Take the free shuttles to the Festival that will be in operation 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. or the walk (about 15 minutes) via Murphy to Alton. Disabled Person Parking will be available at the San Juan or Civic Center parking lots adjacent to Bill Barber Park. Please have the appropriate placard visible when entering the parking lot.

Bike to the Festival:  The easiest way to get to the Festival is by bike. The City of Irvine has an extensive system of bike trails to get you to and from the event, and once inside, riders can safely and securely store their bikes at the Festival’s free Bike Valet area, hosted by the Bicycle Club of Irvine and the Orange County Bicycle Coalition. Use Irvine’s Bike Map to plan your trip.

Pets: Dogs are welcome at the Irvine Global Village Festival! However, owners must be responsible for their pets; dogs must be on leash, interact well in a large crowd and remain in the charge of a person competent to restrain them.

See you there!

Irvine’s Kids Need You! City of Irvine Seeks Applicants for Four Positions on Child Care Committee!

The Irvine Community Services Commission is accepting applications to fill two government, civic, or community agencies vacancies, and two child care provider vacancies on the Irvine Child Care Committee.

There is a serious child care crisis in Irvine.  At present, nearly 2,500 Irvine families do not have adequate child care. Irvine will need an additional 4,551 child care spaces by 2035, due to the increase in housing development and the concomitant increase in the number of families with young children moving to Irvine.

As a member of the Irvine City Council, I have made it a priority to increase childcare and early childhood education opportunities in Irvine. By volunteering to serve on the Irvine Child Care Committee, you can serve our community and help me and others work to alleviate our childcare crisis.

The Irvine Child Care Committee is a 15-member advisory body to the Irvine Community Services Commission, and works cooperatively with the Irvine Children, Youth, and Families Advisory Committee, Child Care Coordination staff, and Community Development to enhance the quality of childcare and school readiness in the City of Irvine.

Committee meetings  are held on the second Tuesday of January, March, May, September, October and November, from 9:00 am to 10:30 am at Heritage Park Community Center, or other designated Irvine location.

Staff and committee members will interview candidates in October 2017.  Following interviews, recommendations will be presented to the Community Services Commission for appointment effective January 2018.

Applications are available here, or at the Irvine Civic Center (on the 2nd floor in the Community Services Department), and at the Irvine Child Resource Center.

If you would like more information, please contact my Lead Council Executive Assistant, Allison Binder, at abinder@ci.irvine.ca.us.

Thanks!

Save a Life — Be a Water Watcher!

Summer is a time for fun in the water, especially here in Southern California.

But far too often this summer, as a member of the Board of Directors of the Orange County Fire Authority, I have received a notice that there has been another drowning or near drowning at our local swimming pools.

Irvine Community Services Commissioner Lauren Johnson with Water Watcher Tag.

The news was particularly devastating this past Sunday: A 5-year-old girl was drowned in an Irvine swimming pool. She was found at 4:23 p.m. in a community pool at 120 Spring Valley.  Fire Captain Larry Kurtz said there were “lots of other kids in the pool when she was discovered” and that a nurse pulled her from the water and performed CPR.  It was too late.

Please, please, please be vigilant and assign a Water Watcher at all times near water, so these tragedies can be prevented!

Drownings occur without a sound, quickly and silently. Drowning continues to be the leading cause of accidental death among children age five and under. The majority of drowning and near drowning incidents occur in residential swimming pools and in open water sites. Drowning usually occurs quickly and silently.  Drownings and near-drownings can happen in a matter of seconds.

The good news is that drowning is 100% preventable!

To combat this needless tragedy, never swim alone and volunteer to be a Water Watcher.

A Water Watcher is a responsible adult who agrees to watch the children in the water without distractions, and to wear a Water Watcher tag.

The Water Watcher wears a tag stating:

Wearing this tag, I accept responsibility to supervise the children in and around the water, keeping them in sight at all times.  To prevent children from drowning, I’ll avoid distractions such as talking on the phone, reading, or poolside chats.  Before I leave the area, I will give this tag to the next adult water watcher who can swim.”

After a certain amount of time (such as 15-minutes), the Water Watcher card is passed to another adult, who is then responsible for the active supervision.

Water Watcher tags are available at your nearest Orange County Fire Authority Fire Station.

You can also call OCFA at 714-573-6200.

If you’re in Irvine, I will bring Water Watcher tags to you. Send me an email at mefox@cityofirvine.org.

Drowning is preventable.  Let’s prevent it from happening in our communities.

Let’s make Irvine the nation’s Safest City for Swimming!

 

 

Community Services Commissioner Lauren Johnson Asks Irvine Parents about Their Childcare Needs

Guest article by Lauren Johnson, Irvine Community Services Commissioner

Hello Irvine Moms and Dads!

What kind of waiting periods are you facing right now for childcare and preschool in Irvine?

What kinds of improvements do you want to see in the availability of childcare and preschool in Irvine?

As a Community Services Commissioner and Co-Chair of the Irvine Children, Youth and Families Committee, Lauren Johnson Norris has spoken with numerous parents who are experiencing significant waiting lists to access childcare.

Parents are being advised to apply for childcare and get on waiting lists while they are expecting a child and still report waiting several months to a year to secure a spot for their child. Infant care has been identified as the most challenging childcare to secure, especially considering the important low provider-to-child ratio mandated by state law. Some Irvine parents report putting their families on lists and simply never hearing of an opening.

The consequence of the Irvine childcare gap is that families are forced to make unanticipated career and financial decisions. Parents report having to make the sometimes difficult decision to have one parent stay home, even where the families was previously a dual-income family.

Statistically, it is increasingly difficult to return to the workforce the longer a worker is away.

In addition, the result is not only lost income while the child is infancy, but potentially for years to come. For a single parent, the situation is even worse — and may be untenable if family care or care outside the city is unavailable.

A critical part of any thriving community is safe, professional, reliable, and affordable preschool and child care. Preschool has been shown to positively affect children’s social skills and prepare them for the rigors of K-12. Children who miss the opportunity for preschool because of inadequate childcare in a community start kindergarten at a disadvantage. Ultimately, the negative effects unavailable or inadequate preschool or childcare extend beyond individual children and families to the community as a whole.

It is time to address the shortage of childcare for families in Irvine. Increased childcare through designated private sites as part of an overall city development plan, access to childcare in houses of worship, and the option of city early childhood education must be part of this plan. Too many families are waiting for these solutions.

What kind of waiting periods are you facing right now for childcare and preschool in Irvine?

What kinds of improvements do you want to see in the availability of childcare and preschool in Irvine?

Send your information to me at laurenjohnson78@gmail.com.

Let’s Make Irvine America’s Safe Swimming Capital!

Three fatal adult drownings in the last three weeks in Orange County brings our fatality drowning total to 17 deaths just six months into the year.  In addition to the adult fatalities – another child just four years or younger drowned in the same three-week time-frame, yet with a non-fatal outcome, bringing that age group’s non-fatal drowning total in Orange County for 2017 to five, according to official County statistics.  Total 2017 drowning incidents (fatal and non-fatal) for Orange County so far are at 29 – with 60% of the 17 fatalities being adults age 50 and older.

“Orange County has a problem,” according to Captain Steve Concialdi, a spokesman with the Orange County Fire Authority. “We’re one of the leading counties in the nation for drowning incidents.”

Drowning is the leading cause of accidental injury and death in children under the age of five and the second leading cause of death in children under the age of 14.

More than 80 percent of these drownings occur in residential backyard pools or spas, but drownings can occur anywhere there is water.

Drowning can happen quickly, without warning, without a splash and without a cry for help.

These deaths are preventable!

“Most drowning deaths are preventable,” said Orange County Fire Authority Captain Public Information Officer Larry Kurtz. “When you look at all of the different drowning calls – from small children to the elderly, the circumstances for each one is a little different. What they all have in common though are a series of small events or omissions that occur that add up to become a crisis or a tragedy.”

“If we can educate people to take out one domino in the series – we can hopefully prevent that tragedy from occurring,” Kurtz said. “Like being a ‘Water Watcher’ or someone teaching their child how to swim. Learning CPR or not combining drugs and alcohol with swimming or water. Drowning crosses age and socioeconomic lines and it does not discriminate.  It is up to people to take responsibility for themselves, family and people they care about to prevent drowning.”

Swimming is fun and healthy, and we’re blessed here in Irvine with terrific weather for swimming much of the year.  Now let’s do everything we can to protect our children and enjoy our swimming pools safely.

Taking a few simple steps will save lives!

Here are the ABCs of Water Safety:

Active adult supervision: make sure to actively watch children in water. Adults should also make sure that someone is watching them or swimming with them. Regardless of your age or swimming ability — don’t swim alone!

Barriers: make sure pools have a tall-enough fence to keep children from wandering in.

Classes: learn to swim, and learn first aid and CPR.

In addition, following these simple rules for pool safety will help prevent drownings:

  • Swim with a buddy in a supervised area. Regardless of your age or swimming ability, never swim alone.
  • Avoid entrapment: suction from pool and spa drains can trap a swimmer under water.
  • Do not use a pool or spa if there are broken or missing drain covers.
  • Do not let children sit or play on pool drains.
  • Keep toys away from the pool, when not in use, to prevent young children from falling in after a toy.
  • Keep a telephone outside the pool area. Post the 9-1-1 emergency number on the telephone.

Everyone should know how to swim! 

The City of Irvine’s Learn-To-Swim Program offers lessons for all ages and swimming abilities. Classes are available for infants through adults.

Click here for details about The City of Irvine’s Learn-To-Swim Program.

Let’s make Irvine America’s Safe Swimming Capitol!

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

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

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

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

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