With demolition and site clean-up now beginning, the Veterans Memorial Park & Gardens will soon become a reality. This marks a hard-won victory for Irvine Councilmember Larry Agran, veterans and their families, and the wider Irvine community that has endured a decade-long fight that has had more ups and downs than the Great Park Balloon.
Agran’s win has been a long time coming. Back in 2014, he won unanimous Council support for a State-funded Veterans Memorial Park & Cemetery to be built on the so-called “ARDA” site at the northern edge of the Great Park.
Soon after that vote, the project was turned into a political football when mega-developer FivePoint decided they wanted the valuable City-owned ARDA site for their own lucrative office, industrial, and residential development projects.
For the next several years, FivePoint and a host of developer-friendly Councilmembers joined forces to derail the Veterans Memorial Park by floating several alternative plans for the site. But, Irvine residents have made it clear they prefer Agran’s plan — with two separate citizen petitions in support of the Veterans Memorial Park garnering nearly 20,000 Irvine resident signatures each. And, when FivePoint’s development plan for the ARDA site was placed on the ballot, Irvine voters overwhelmingly opposed it, with 63% voting NO!
Nine years after the unanimous Council vote, the project is now back on track. Agran has praised the current City Council and planning staff for “heeding both the expressed will of Irvine voters and the moral imperative to properly honor the service and sacrifice of those who were posted at the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, and indeed all of our veterans and their families.”
During the April 25th Council meeting, the City’s design consultants briefed the Council on the details of the planned 125-acre Veterans Memorial Park & Gardens. (Whether and when a State-funded Veterans Cemetery will be included in the Veterans Memorial Park & Gardens is expected to be decided by the Legislature in the next two years.)
Major features of the Veterans Memorial Park & Gardens will include:
Walk of Honor: The dominant feature of the Memorial Park will be a strip of the original tarmac — 144 feet wide and stretching more than 1,100 feet long — with a central linear water feature. The Walk of Honor will lead from the entry plaza and the restored aircraft control tower to the Great Memorial Meadow.
Great Memorial Meadow: This feature — a 500-foot by 1,000-foot oval grassland — will include eight memorial garden installations around its perimeter, each featuring a different aspect of history and the veteran experience. The Meadow will be surrounded by a wall of trees.
Remembrance Green: This will be a smaller oval grassland, also surrounded by trees, providing a quiet and peaceful spot for rest and reflection.
Arboretum: This portion of the Memorial Park — bordered by Cadence Avenue, Irvine Boulevard, and Pusan Way — will be heavily forested and accessed through a network of trails.
Botanical Gardens: South of the Walk of Honor and Great Memorial Meadow, this amenity will be accessed through the Botanic Terrace just off the entry plaza. The Botanical Gardens will feature areas devoted to different habitats or ecosystems, separated by stands of trees. Details of the Botanical Gardens will be presented at an upcoming Irvine City Council meeting.
Library: A new branch library will be built on a site between the entry plaza and the Arboretum, adjacent to parking facilities at the east end of the Veterans Memorial Park & Gardens.
Perimeter Park: The entire Veterans Memorial Park & Gardens will be ringed by an elevated linear park up to 150 feet wide that features trails, historical markers, and interpretive installations. The Perimeter Park will provide a visually beautiful buffer between the interior of the Veterans Memorial Park & Gardens and the adjacent streets and homes.
A ceremony to mark the beginning of demolition and construction is tentatively set for the end of May.