Council Rejects Shea-FivePoint “Land Swap” Deal
Two years ago, in a rare display of unanimity, the Irvine City Council voted to officially approve then-Councilmember Larry Agran’s proposal that the City offer the State 125 acres at the Great Park for creation of a Southern California Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery. Although she had initially opposed the Veterans Cemetery at the Great Park, Shea joined in the 5-0 vote.
That was July 22, 2014. Flash forward to the April 12, 2016 City Council meeting. After working secretly for months with developer FivePoint Communities, Christina Shea brought forward a vaguely-worded “land swap” deal. In effect, the swap would derail State and Federal plans for the Veterans Cemetery at the Great Park, and give the 125 acres to FivePoint Communities in exchange for possibly locating the Veterans Cemetery outside the Great Park, on FivePoint property near the Irvine Train Station in Spectrum.
Presumably, the land swap deal would include highly profitable entitlement approval, granting FivePoint Communities the right to build thousands of additional housing units at the Great Park — beyond the 10,000 units already approved by the Council.
The Shea-FivePoint proposal drew a big crowd and spirited testimony, which included a presentation by Emile Haddad, CEO for FivePoint Communities. Calling their proposal a “win-win-win,“ Haddad, like Shea, gave the impression that the land swap idea originated with the veterans themselves, a point that was later disputed — and refuted — by Councilmember Beth Krom.
Also testifying for the land swap was Assemblyman Don Wagner, followed by a number of residents, including Gang Chen, a candidate for Mayor of Irvine and vocal opponent of the Veterans Cemetery at the Great Park.
Opposing the land swap, former City Councilmember Larry Agran pointed out just how difficult it had been to secure State and local approval for the Veterans Cemetery at the Great Park. Agran added that the City and the State were two years, and $500,000, into the process of submitting a strong application for Federal support for the Veterans Cemetery at the Great Park site. “So,” Agran asked, “why would we undermine this strategy with talk of some kind of land swap — surrendering the 125 acres dedicated to the Veterans Cemetery, only to take the Cemetery out of the Great Park and put it elsewhere?”
Agran answered his own question: “Apparently, this so-called swap would be accompanied by the City Council’s granting of yet more entitlement to FivePoint Communities to put yet thousands more houses at the Great Park and tens of thousands of added cars and trucks on our already overburdened City streets.” Then, warned Agran, “I can promise you that if this happens, the 80 percent public support that the Veterans Cemetery now enjoys in Irvine will instantly evaporate. “
Following nearly two hours of public testimony, Councilmember Shea offered a motion to approve the Shea-FivePoint land swap proposal in concept, and create a Council committee to work out its details. To the surprise of many, most notably Shea, the motion failed for lack of a second. And the Council discussion soon focused on a motion by Councilmember Beth Krom, seconded by Councilmember Jeff Lalloway, to “reaffirm and enhance support for the Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery within the Great Park.”
Krom and Lalloway, joined by Councilmember Lynn Schott, each made the point that to even consider abandoning the 125 acres already set aside at the Great Park for the Veterans Cemetery would jeopardize the entire Cemetery project and “send us to the back of the line” in the effort to win quick support and approval from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Krom’s reaffirmation motion carried on a 3 to 1 vote. Mayor Steven Choi voted NO, objecting to the $100,000 appropriation included in the motion. Apparently piqued by rejection of her land swap motion, Councilmember Shea left the Council dais before the vote on the Krom-Lalloway motion to reaffirm support and “stay the course” with the Veterans Cemetery at the Great Park.