During the May 24th Great Park Board Meeting, retired U.S. Marine Corps Brigadier General Mike Aguilar — representing the Flying Leathernecks Historical Foundation — presented a detailed plan for the proposed Flying Leathernecks Aviation Museum at the Great Park.
After he completed his presentation, Councilmember Tammy Kim aggressively questioned Gen. Aguilar. She challenged the proposal to restore and repurpose giant hangars as an aviation museum at the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, which is now the Great Park. The proposal would bring back to the base more than 40 military aircraft, some dating back to World War II.
After saying she originally supported plans for the museum, Kim stated: “What I felt like I was approving was something way more high-tech, more of a futuristic Air & Space Center as opposed to a museum with artifacts and what seems to be a quasi Marine recruitment center as well. And so, I’m not really convinced that this is the best space and this is the best use for the Great Park.”
Gen. Aguilar responded to Kim’s criticism by reiterating that the proposal he had presented to the board included hands-on activities centered around science, technology and innovation focused on the future of aviation. Aguilar pointed out that museums help to educate the public on the past and the importance of planning for the future by understanding our history. He said the proposed aviation museum would honor the legacy of Marine Corps aviation through the decades and the important role that the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station played in our nation’s aviation history. It would also honor the critical contribution the military base made to the economic development of Orange County and all of Southern California.
In addition, Aguilar explained that the museum would include an astronaut display, highlighting the many Marines who have made — and continue to make — significant advancements in the space program, starting with John Glenn who was a decorated Marine Corps fighter pilot before he went on to become the first American to orbit the Earth.
Unconvinced, Councilmember Kim moved on to questioning the proposed annual budget for the aviation museum. When Gen. Aguilar explained that the Flying Leathernecks Historical Foundation had completed a detailed budget, showing that the museum’s operating expenses would be covered through an admission fee, Kim challenged him. Though Councilmember Kim admitted she had no idea what it would actually cost to run the facility, she said she couldn’t imagine that the Foundation would be able to pay for it.
In the end, Councilmember Kim voted against the Flying Leathernecks Aviation Museum at the Great Park. Kim has also been a fierce opponent of building a Veterans Memorial Park & Cemetery in Irvine. Instead, Kim wants the City to build a huge botanical garden on the former base.