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 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 Sharron 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 Should Move Forward with a Memorandum of Understanding for Pretend City Children’s Museum at the Great Park

Irvine Should Move Forward with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for Pretend City Children’s Museum at the Cultural Terrace of the Great Park.

I am disappointed that at last Tuesday’s City Council meeting, only Councilmember Christina Shea joined with me in agreeing to an MOU with our great Irvine-based Pretend City Children’s Museum regarding a lease of property at the Cultural Terrace of the Great Park.  Mayor Don Wagner and Councilmember Lynn Schott voted against.  Councilmember Jeff Lalloway was absent.

Because of the City Council’s decision, Pretend City Children’s Museum is in danger of losing a seed money grant from the County for $5 million that depends on the MOU.

Pretend City Children’s Museum, which opened in Irvine in 2009, is an interactive children’s museum that builds better brains through whole body learning experiences, educational programs, and creative exhibits.  Designed as a small city, with a grocery store, construction site, art studio, house, café, bank, emergency services, health center and farm, Pretend City will be a familiar environment in which children infant through eight-years-old will have joyful opportunities to build problem solving and critical thinking skills, develop creativity and begin a life-long love of learning. It is dedicated to ensuring that each child is ready for school success by providing the ideal real-world learning experiences needed by children to develop their essential foundational learning skills.  This month, the Institute of Museum and Library Services announced that Pretend City is a finalist for the 2017 National Medal for Museum and Library Service.

Susan Bolton, the Executive Director of the Pretend Museum, has explained that the museum “seeks to move to the Great Park to expand its mission in serving the county’s children in providing early childhood education, developmental screenings, hands on play environment for children of ALL abilities and school readiness.”

The arguments against the MOU were that it would give Pretend City Children’s Museum an advantage over other possible occupants of the Cultural Terrace, and that the Cultural Terrace project should not be approved piecemeal. However, we already know the value and quality of Pretend City, which has operated in the city for many years, and the MOU would not commit the city to any final decision regarding the Cultural Terrace.

Moreover, we should be not be pitting the fine organizations that are seeking space in the Cultural Terrace against each other.  As Don Croucher – the leading advocate for a California Fire Museum at the Great Park – has pointed out, he and other supporters of the Fire Museum “are very much in favor of Pretend City getting their MOU so they do not lose the grant that is offered to them. We understand the need for them to move forward. It is NOT putting them ahead of any others at the Cultural Terrace, but rather a hand up to get the $5 million grant. We, in no way, want to hinder this important step for Pretend City.  We will support them in every step of the way to make sure they get this MOU ASAP.”

Irvine is a great city for families with young children, but we can and should make it even better.  We need more childcare and more pre-school programs for children under six-years-old, and I and my Commissioners are working to make this happen. We should also do everything we can to support the terrific work being done by the Pretend Museum for young children right here in Irvine.

As Councilmember Christina Shea has said, “If Pretend City loses their grant and we in turn lose a fantastic partner that supports our children and families, the community will lose and this isn’t what Irvine is about.”

I hope that we can move forward with the MOU soon and that the grant is not lost.

I recommend that those who are interested in this issue contact other members of the Irvine City Council.

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.”

Autonomous Vehicle Technology in Irvine: Moving Irvine Toward Greener, Smarter Transportation Solutions

Mercedes-Benz Future Bus mit CityPilot; teilautomatisiert fahrender Stadtbus mit Ampelerkennung; Hindernis- und Fußgängererkennung; 10 Kameras; automatisierte Haltestellenfahrten; Radarsysteme für Nah- und Fernbereich Basisfahrzeug: Mercedes-Benz Citaro; OM 936 mit 220 kW/299 PS; 7,7 L Hubraum, Länge/Breite/Höhe: 12.135/2.550/3.120 mm ; Mercedes-Benz Future Bus with CityPilot; semi-automated city bus with traffic light recognition; recognition of obstacles and pedestrians; automated bus stop approaches basic vehicle: Mercedes-Benz Citaro; OM 936 rated at 220 kW/299 hp; displacement 7.7 l; length/width/height: 12135/2550/3120 mm;

Note:  I recently had the opportunity to present a talk to the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) about bringing research and jobs to Irvine involving the development of autonomous vehicle technology.  Among those present were representatives of major innovative corporations.  I would like to say thank you to Irvine Planning Commissioner Dustin Nirschl for his invaluable help in writing this talk and in bringing AV technology to Irvine. 

Here is the text of that talk.

Irvine boasts a long-standing, commitment to planning that has resulted in it’s being viewed as one of the more desirable locations in the nation.  The city has been planned under a village community model to ensure that residents enjoy safe, accessible, family-oriented living, with short commutes to local entertainment, dining, shopping, and nearby schools.  To complement these village communities, Irvine has consistently worked to develop a robust network of bicycle paths.

Recently, Irvine’s population has surged, and two high-density hubs are nearly built out.  Residents still travel to close-proximity, village destinations, but now also frequent the Spectrum and Irvine Business Complex hubs.  These high-density hubs draw additional vehicle trips on Irvine roadways because: (1) the hub is too far to make walking/bicycling practical, (2) bicycle/pedestrian paths fail to completely connect community to key locations, or (3) a form of preferred alternative transportation such as shuttle or trolley is unavailable to the commuter. Congestion is compounded because Irvine’s daily population nearly doubles due to the influx of business professionals circulating to the Spectrum and IBC hubs. These issues signal that Irvine has reached a point of maturation where more sophisticated and smarter transportation planning with increased transportation choices for Irvine’s residents and commuters is required.

As a 21st century city, Irvine must shape its transportation initiatives and policy to accommodate its residents both for today and for the future.  One especially encouraging option for the future is the use of autonomous vehicles (AVs).  AV technology promises efficiency, and sustainability, as well as economic opportunity, improved freedom, and safety for residents.

Irvine is committed to both listening and leading. We recognize that implementing AV technology can only be done with the City fully behind the project.  We will need to continually educate residents, and to continue to refine the processes we intend to pursue to integrate AV into the community.  For this reason, we are working to re-purpose an abandoned air strip for the establishment of a Center for Excellence conducting AV and other research.  The Center for Excellence will house key players like Tesla and other innovative technology companies.  City partnerships with these innovative companies can enable necessary testing, while simultaneously demystifying many of the unknowns surrounding AV transportation.  Moreover, it will help develop additional partnerships and find ways to overcome infrastructure obstacles and regulatory issues raised by AV transportation to implement AV transportation in the City.

The City also plans to work closely with the University of California Irvine to find ways to bring the UCI Applied Innovation Department, an innovative technology incubator, into the City’s AV effort. This unique department connects the University’s intellectual property and entrepreneurism studies to real world applications.  In addition, the City will look to work with UCI Law School’s innovative Technology & Entrepreneurship Competition, which challenges interdisciplinary teams of graduate students from across the University to structure and negotiate a joint development agreement for a new and exciting technology.  We believe the Center for Excellence can integrate UCI faculty and students into an unrivaled force for research and real-world technological progress.

In addition, we are channeling Irvine City staff toward opportunities involving zero emissions and green city initiatives.  Recently, the VW settlement made available funding for City proposals committed to ZEV infrastructure, public outreach, redevelopment, and green city initiatives.  Obtaining extrinsic funding can help boost public participation and political momentum, while minimizing financial risk.  These initiatives are established to incentivize political mobility, and to lighten transition burdens.

Policymakers in California and across the country understand that local economies, the environment, and resident health all benefit across individual and collective layers of the community by embracing smart, green innovation, especially in transportation.

As an Irvine City Councilmember, I am grateful for the opportunity to better enable and further this quest.  In January, I successfully committed Irvine’s city staff to the exploration and implementation of advanced transportation methods and infrastructure.

I believe that our city, our businesses, and our people can become more connected.  AV transportation modes can connect village communities and travelers by acting as a first/last mile solution to business, entertainment, and transportation hubs.

We look forward to a greener, smarter future, but understand we have work to do right now to make that future possible.

Irvine Councilmember Melissa Fox Advises City Manager to Submit U.S. Department of Transportation Proposal for Autonomous Vehicle Testing

autocar
 Irvine, CA — At the request of Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox, the City of Irvine has submitted a proposal to the U.S. Department of Transportation, expressing the City of Irvine’s interest to become a testing site or “proving ground” for autonomous vehicle technology.

“Autonomous vehicle technology has the potential to have a very positive impact on congested traffic throughout Irvine. Self-driving vehicles can be a life-saving and economy-boosting technology, with the potential to transform how we live, work and travel.  I want Irvine to be in the forefront of this exciting innovation and continue to be a leader in cutting-edge research. The Great Park would be an ideal location for testing this technology.” Fox said.

Fox added: “I look forward to working with my colleagues on the City Council to integrate cutting-edge transportation innovations into the City of Irvine. Our City is a leader in business (number 1 in job-to-population ratio in the nation), public safety, and in educational support of the young people who will be leaders in technological breakthroughs. It is my hope that we will be able to use these new technologies to resolve Irvine’s traffic problems – making Irvine a better place to live, work and raise a family.”

Irvine’s New Incredible Edible Farm to Help Feed Orange County’s Hungry

incredible.edible.farm.01

The Incredible Edible Farm — a new 4.5 acre urban farm at the Orange County Great Park that will grow produce for the hungry to be harvested by volunteers from Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County — is great for Irvine, great for the Great Park, and great for our community!

The Incredible Edible Farm is the transformation of the City of Irvine’s Incredible Edible Park, which was created in 1999 and located on an easement under Southern California Edison power lines off Harvard Avenue in Irvine, into something even better.

The new Incredible Edible Farm is expected to produce 144 tons (288,000 lbs.) of food per year – more than double the yield of the old Incredible Edible Park – enough food for an additional 156,000 meals for Orange County’s needy families.

Broccoli, cauliflower, onions, kale, and a variety of other vegetables will be grown at the Incredible Edible Farm and harvested by volunteers from Second Harvest Food Bank who donate thousands of hours of their time each year to provide food for the hungry throughout Orange County.

The Incredible Edible Farm is located just behind the Great Park’s Sunday Farmers Market.

If you are interested in volunteering at the Incredible Edible Farm, please call Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County at 949-653-2900.  Volunteers of all ages are needed to plant, maintain and harvest crops for the hungry.