By June 5th, Election Day, Irvine developer FivePoint Communities had spent more than $1 million trying to push through Measure B on the Irvine City ballot.
Measure B — written for FivePoint’s benefit and backed by three members of the City Council — would replace the long-planned Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park with massive office and industrial development, and relocate the Veterans Cemetery to FivePoint’s freeway frontage property alongside the I-5 & I-405 interchange, known as the El Toro “Y”.
Outspent at least 10 to 1 by FivePoint, the grassroots committee to Save the Veterans Cemetery • NO on B rallied the Irvine community to reject the FivePoint plan, with a stunning 63% “NO” vote.
Obviously, an overwhelming majority of Irvine voters want nothing to do with the FivePoint land-swap and huge development scheme. Voters saw Measure B for what it was…a land-grab promoted by the Council’s three-member, pro-FivePoint majority — Mayor Donald Wagner and Councilmembers Christina Shea and Melissa Fox.
What did Irvine voters tell us?
The resounding NO on B vote was more than a rejection of the FivePoint land-swap. It was also a reaffirmation of the productive path that the City was on — since 2014 — to build the long-planned Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park. Aided by maps and side-by-side photos — with online audio and video comparing the Great Park site with the FivePoint Freeway site — voters knew exactly what they were getting with a “Yes” vote and with a NO vote.
What has emerged from the June 5th vote was not just a decision, but a strong two-part consensus regarding the Veterans Cemetery: first, the people of Irvine — probably 90% or more — want the State-funded Southern California Veterans Cemetery to be located in the City of Irvine, not elsewhere; and second, a clear majority of Irvine residents want the Veterans Cemetery to be located at its original site in the Great Park, as planned, designed, and approved by the City, State (CalVet) and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in the period 2014 to 2016.
So, now what?
In a normal political environment, a City Council would be expected to heed the will of the people and embrace the voters’ decision to quickly begin building the Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park. That’s exactly what Councilmember Jeff Lalloway, a steadfast supporter of the Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park, proposes in a motion he placed on the agenda for the July 10th City Council meeting. Click here to read the memo.
But, not so fast! Since June 5th, when the voters said, “NO on B,” Wagner, Shea and Fox have been desperately inventing new arguments — even outright lies — to deny the will of the people. Chief among these is to say we just can’t afford to build the Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park.
Well, here’s the truth of the matter: Hundreds of millions of dollars flow into a special City fund — Fund 180. This fund is specifically set up to build, maintain and operate features of the Great Park. It is not funded by Irvine taxpayers and is not part of the City’s general fund. In fact, more than $200 million in State-paid redevelopment litigation settlement funds will be coming to Fund 180 over just the next 6 years.
According to the State, the CalVet-approved Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park will cost an estimated $78 million to build. But Irvine is not called upon to come up with $78 million to build it. Last year, the State and Federal governments agreed to put up $40 million if the City would pledge $38 million (about half the cost of just one Irvine railroad undercrossing!) But that’s when Fox “flipped” and joined Wagner and Shea to actually reject State and Federal funds and go “all-in” for FivePoint’s land-swap and development scheme, which ultimately became known as the unpopular Measure B.
The truth is this: Building the Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park, as planned, is not only affordable; it’s the right thing and the smart thing to do. Under State law, the beautiful 125-acre Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park would be operated and maintained in perpetuity by the State of California, at no cost whatsoever to the City of Irvine.
Can anyone honestly say there is a more important, more compelling feature in our Great Park that should be prioritized ahead of the Veterans Cemetery? Melissa Fox’s subsidized commercial water park? Christina Shea’s $20 million subsidized commercial golf course? Former Mayor Steven Choi’s $220 million library?
Yes, the Southern California Veterans Cemetery could probably be built elsewhere — even outside the City of Irvine — for less money. But that would defeat the inspired idea of locating the Veterans Cemetery on the hallowed ground of the former El Toro Airbase.
Make no mistake about it: Irvine voters want the Veterans Cemetery built in Irvine, in the Great Park, and they want it built now!
- CityWatch:Taking Matters Into Our Own Hands - January 14, 2020
- CityWatch:Q & A with Ed Pope, Chair of the committee to “Build the Great Park Veterans Cemetery” - October 3, 2019
- CityWatch:Three Big Land-Use Decisions…Three Legacy Projects - July 9, 2019