Pay attention, Irvine! The future of our planned City and our quality of life is at stake, especially in Irvine’s northern villages and neighborhoods.
In its relentless drive to replace the 125-acre Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park with massive office and commercial projects, developer FivePoint Communities and three City Councilmembers are asking us to pretend that the environmental impacts of a Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery are the same as the effects generated by commercial, office, and residential development.
You’ve got to be kidding! Tell that to the residents of the nearby villages of Woodbury, Stonegate, and Portola Hills — as well as the Great Park neighborhoods of Pavilion Park, Beacon Park, and Parasol Park. These are our Irvine neighbors who bought their homes at the edge of the Great Park, expecting the City to follow through on its promise to build a beautiful and peaceful Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park. The entire Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery would then be operated and maintained in perpetuity by the State of California — at no cost to the City.
Of course, a Veterans Cemetery is a low-intensity land-use, with mostly positive environmental effects. The number of average daily automobile trips associated with the Veterans Cemetery would be, perhaps, a few hundred — for a small number of daily workers, as well as occasional memorial services and visitations from family and friends.
Compare this with high-intensity zoning and development rights granted by the City Council to developer FivePoint Communities — over 800,000 square feet of office and commercial development, generating about 10,000 daily auto and truck trips. Most of this traffic will be concentrated in rush hours, causing further traffic jams along Irvine Boulevard and Sand Canyon, with ripple effects throughout the City. More cars and trucks mean a lot more noise, and both localized and generalized air pollution.
All of this adds up to a diminished quality of life, and a drag on residential property values. In a well-planned City, adverse environmental effects should have been disclosed, documented and analyzed carefully as part of the public record.
Unfortunately, that never happened. The new culture at City Hall — led by Mayor Don Wagner and Councilmembers Christina Shea and Melissa Fox — is to do whatever developer FivePoint wants. They want to get their development rights fast, even if it means cutting corners and failing to do what the law requires.
In pursuing its Veterans Cemetery “land-swap” scheme, FivePoint officials asserted that they really didn’t need to do new environmental studies — that the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) from 2012 was good enough. Never mind that the EIR is old and outdated — and that it doesn’t take into account the overdevelopment and overcrowding of the past five years, and the recent discoveries of widespread toxic pollution that complicates any project. It also doesn’t include the State-mandated study of greenhouse gases associated with the kind of intense office and commercial development that FivePoint wants to do on the 125-acre parcel in the Great Park where the Veterans Cemetery was supposed to be built, starting this past summer.
It is as though FivePoint and the City itself are begging for a lawsuit challenging the failure to comply with CEQA — the California Environmental Quality Act. CEQA requires thorough environmental study of major projects, and full disclosure of all anticipated adverse impacts.
Several leading environmental defense lawyers are taking a very close look at the land-swap, with an eye to filing a CEQA claim that could stop FivePoint and the City before they completely undo the Great Park Veterans Cemetery project.
In standing firm against the land-swap, dissenting Councilmembers Jeff Lalloway and Lynn Schott months ago called out developer FivePoint, and their Council colleagues. Schott said, plain and simple: “This is a giveaway of our Great Park. I, for one, will not participate in it.” Meanwhile, Councilmember Lalloway has maintained from the start that the FivePoint drive to replace the Veterans Cemetery with office and commercial development is really all about entitlement and enrichment.
Lalloway hasn’t said it, but I will: FivePoint has prevailed upon three pliable City Councilmembers — at least two of them completely beholden to FivePoint for campaign funding — in order to get hold of our 125-acre Great Park Veterans Cemetery site; zone it to allow intense development; and then quickly make hundreds of millions of dollars, regardless of the harm done to Irvine residents. Sad.