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)

 

 

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!

Stay Cool!

Temperatures will reach triple digits this week in some parts of Orange County, increasing the risk of heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke for those who are sensitive to heat.

Stay hydrated, limit outdoor activities, and NEVER leave kids or pets in a parked car!

ALL City of Irvine facilities are designated cooling centers.  Click here for a list of facilities and open hours!

Here are some recommended precautions to prevent heat-related illnesses:

  • Drink plenty of water; don’t wait until you are thirsty.
  • Wear light, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Stay out of the sun if possible, and when in the sun wear a hat, preferably with a wide brim. Use sunscreen.
  • Avoid strenuous activities if you are outside or in buildings that aren’t air-conditioned. If you are working outdoors, take frequent rest and refreshment breaks in a shaded area.
  • Never leave children, older people or pets unattended in closed vehicles.
  • Ensure outdoor pets have access to shade and water.
  • Check on those who are at high risk to make sure they are staying cool – including seniors who live alone, people with heart or lung disease, and young children.
  • Stay cool indoors – if your home is not air-conditioned, visit public facilities such as shopping malls and libraries to stay cool.

Prolonged exposure to excessive temperatures may cause serious medical conditions and can even be fatal. Symptoms of heat exhaustion may include heavy sweating, muscle cramps, weakness, headache, nausea or vomiting, and dizziness. Warning signs of heat stroke may include an extremely high body temperature; unconsciousness; confusion; hot and dry skin (no sweating); a rapid, strong pulse; and a throbbing headache. If symptoms of heat stroke occur, immediately call for medical assistance. Assist those with signs of heat stroke to a shady area and begin cooling their body with water.

Let’s be cool — and make sure we all survive the heat!

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.

Join Me Saturday at the Grand Opening of the Orange County Great Park Sports Park!

Join me for a free Grand Opening and fun-filled day from 2-9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5, as the first phase of the Orange County Great Park’s Sports Park is unveiled.
No RSVP is needed. Click  here for the map for directions into the Great Park.
All fields will be activated at 2 p.m., then join the Mayor and City Council for an official ribbon-cutting at 3:30 p.m. inside the Soccer Stadium at the Great Park, followed by the first soccer match in the new stadium.
There will be exhibitions, and opportunities, on the six soccer fields, 25 tennis courts, and five sand volleyball courts that will be open on that day.
Bring the family to enjoy the new Children’s Play Area. Food trucks will available for guests to purchase food from 2-8 p.m.
A  special free family concert featuring The Blues Brothers with Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi will begin inside the Soccer Stadium at 7:15 p.m.
Wear comfortable shoes to experience the first 53 acres of what will become the 194-acre Sports Park!
Here’s the schedule of events for the Sports Park Grand Opening on Aug. 5:

2:00-5:30 pm: Exhibitions, clinics, competition at tennis courts, soccer fields, & volleyball courts.

2:00-8:00 pm: Food/dessert trucks available on-site.

3:30 pm: Opening ceremonies – FivePoint/City of Irvine – at the Soccer Stadium.

4:00-5:30 pm: O.C. all-star soccer shoot out at the Soccer Stadium.

7:00-9:00 pm: Free community concert featuring The Blues Brothers with Dan Aykroyd & Jim Belushi at the Soccer Stadium.

See you there!

Irvine City Council Approves Agreement with Wild Rivers for New 30-Acre Water Park at Great Park!

Irvine, CA — In April, the Irvine City Council, acting as the Great Park Board of Directors, adopted the motion of Great Park Vice Chair and Irvine Councilmember Melissa Fox to approve construction of a new Wild Rivers Water Park on 30 acres at the Great Park in Irvine.
The old Wild Rivers Water Park closed in 2011 after 25 years in Irvine.

“I’m delighted to have made the motion on the City Council to bring Wild Rivers back to Irvine,” Councilmember Fox said.

“We have missed having a water park in Irvine,” Fox added.

Now the Great Park Board and the Irvine City Council have approved an agreement with the owners of Wild Rivers to to begin site planning and drafting the lease for the new 30-acre water park at the Orange County Great Park.

Wild Rivers CEO Mike Riedel first approached city officials about moving to the Great Park the year Wild Rivers closed. Last year, rather than granting Wild Rivers a no-bid contract, the council first decided to seek more proposals.  In April, the City Council approved a motion by Councilmember Melissa Fox to go forward with the Wild Rivers proposal.

“Wild Rivers has been an icon in the city of Irvine,” Councilmember Melissa Fox explained. “I was a kid sliding down the water slides at the old Wild Rivers, and I was a young mom taking my son there on hot summer days. We know that Wild Rivers provides fun and safe water parks, and they’ve always had a great relationship with the residents and the City of Irvine. We look forward to having them back in Irvine very soon.”

Wild Rivers will build a new water park with waterslides, an uphill water coaster, water play structures for children, a wave pool, a lazy river and Wild Rivers’ popular Congo River Rapids.

Councilmember Fox has also been working with Wild Rivers management to create an “all access” area, so that children and adults with disabilities can also enjoy a day at the water park.

Here is great video report from ABC News: Beloved SoCal Water Park Set to Make a Splash with its Reopening in 2019.

Here is a preliminary rendering of what the new Wild Rivers water park will look like:

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.”