I want to thank Irvine Community News & Views publisher Frank Lunding for encouraging me to devote my CityWatch page to publication of the letter I wrote to Governor Brown, urging State funding for the Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park. I am pleased to do so. — LA
May 25, 2017
Governor Jerry Brown,
I am writing to you as a former Mayor and longtime Councilmember here in the City of Irvine. It has been my honor to work with current Councilmembers Jeff Lalloway and Lynn Schott, and former Mayor and Councilmember Beth Krom as Irvine’s principal political leaders who, for more than three years, have been working with Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva to translate the vision of a State Veterans Cemetery into an operational reality.
At this critical juncture, I am writing to thank you for your recent site visit to Irvine, and for your past support for establishment of the Southern California Veterans Cemetery in the Orange County Great Park, right here in Irvine. Joined by an anxious but hopeful Irvine community, I now ask for your further support for the Veterans Cemetery in the State FY 2017/2018 Budget — so that, together, we can soon complete this important project.
As you recall, three years ago, in a remarkable display of leadership and bi-partisan consensus-building, Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva successfully shepherded AB 1453 through the Legislature, winning unanimous approval for the measure which then, with the Governor’s signature, became law on September 27, 2014. Earlier in 2014, the Irvine City Council voted unanimously to convey the specifically referenced “ARDA” site within the Great Park in order to create the Veterans Cemetery. Reflecting this specific, generous gift of land, Section 1 of AB 1453 provides that the California Department of Veterans Affairs “shall design, develop, construct, and equip a state-owned and state-operated Southern California Veterans Cemetery, which shall be located at the site of the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, on 125 acres known as the Amended and Restated Development Agreement Site in the Great Park in the City of Irvine.”
AB 1453, as adopted, was not a mere suggestion or ethereal expression of hope. It was, and is, the law — a mandate to begin a process eventually culminating in the state-established, state-owned, state-operated and state-maintained Veterans Cemetery at the specified “ARDA” site, located in the Great Park. AB 1453 included an appropriation of $500,000 for CalVet to commence planning, design, and the timely submission (July 1, 2016) of a grant application to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Having successfully completed these tasks, the project received federal approval, and the Southern California Veterans Cemetery is now on the “Priority List” to receive federal support toward the estimated $77.4 million cost for further design, site preparation, and construction of Phase I of the Veterans Cemetery on the 125-acre ARDA site in the Great Park.
To accelerate project funding and construction, on April 4, 2017, the Irvine City Council made a further commitment, voting to commit up to $38 million— roughly half the cost of the Veterans Cemetery project — from our own Great Park development fund. Frankly, our expressed expectation is that the State (and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) will provide the balance of the estimated funds needed to complete this project over the next two-and-one-half years, as planned.
We know that the FivePoint Communities development company continues to oppose the Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park, and has been actively lobbying at the State Capitol. FivePoint officials have been promoting a so-called “land-swap.” This land-swap, without any current City authorization or State enabling legislation, would move the Veterans Cemetery from its designated 125-acre site in the Great Park — generally applauded for years as the “perfect site” for the Veterans Cemetery — to an entirely different location. Under the land-swap proposal, the Veterans Cemetery would be moved to FivePoint property near the Irvine Train Station and the I-5 and I-405, far removed from the originally designated site within the Great Park. This is a bad idea for a number of reasons. Relying on a poorly defined land-swap scheme to undo what has already been done — and then to begin the entire process all over again, creating some kind of privately owned and operated Veterans Cemetery that has no present authorization in State law or local law — introduces a myriad of uncertainties, complications and delays. At the same time, resident resentment over the apparent abandonment of commitments made by the City of Irvine in 2014, and written into State law (AB 1453) that same year, would plunge our City into turmoil for years to come. There is already widespread talk among civic activists of resort to available options: litigation, initiatives, referenda, and even recalls.
Residents throughout Irvine have come to understand how FivePoint and its investors would benefit enormously from their proposed land-swap. But these same residents ask: Where is the benefit to the public, including California veterans and their families, and the residents of Irvine?
The proposed land-swap is a dangerous distraction that threatens to take us off the path of progress that has enabled us all to come this far — locally, at the State level, and at the Federal level as well. We have earned all the necessary approvals and are ready to begin on-site demolition construction of our Great Park Veterans Cemetery. State funding at this time will enable us to commence demolition and preliminary site preparation so that, by Veterans Day, 2019, the first of many thousands of veterans and their families can be laid to rest in the Southern California Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park — just as we promised and just as we wrote into law, together. Thank you for your continuing support and consideration.