“For a moment I was exhilarated…then I was infuriated.” That’s how one angry Irvine resident described Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, which focused on the progress of the Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery at the Great Park. The Veterans Cemetery project was initially approved by the Irvine City Council in 2014.
In a bold move to quickly gain the final State and Federal go-ahead for construction of the Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery on a dedicated 125-acre site within the Great Park, Councilmember Jeff Lalloway proposed that the City Council authorize the expenditure of up to $40 million in available Great Park development funds — enough to fund half of the estimated costs to construct the Memorial Park and Cemetery. Lalloway’s motion set a goal of having the Veterans Cemetery operational on or before Veterans Day, 2019, just 30 months from now.
Under the Lalloway plan, the other half of the funding — up to $40 million — would be expected to come from the State of California. In a letter to the Irvine City Council, Orange County Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, who gained initial State approval of the project in 2014, has pledged to work with her colleagues in the Legislature and with Governor Jerry Brown to secure the necessary State funds.
Tuesday evening’s Council meeting took place in a crowded City Council Chamber. After more than two hours of public testimony and nearly an hour of City Council discussion, the Council voted 3-to-2 for Councilman Lalloway’s motion. Lalloway and Councilmembers Lynn Schott and Melissa Fox voted YES, while Councilmember Christina Shea and Mayor Donald Wagner voted NO. Then, in a bizarre twist, moments after the historic motion was approved, Councilmember Melissa Fox, who had spoken in favor of Lalloway’s motion and had just voted YES, asked for “reconsideration” of the vote
Whether it was spontaneous, or the result of pressure from Mayor Wagner and from lobbyists for developer FivePoint Communities, Fox stated she was “confused” and then asked for help in cobbling together her own motion, which was pretty much a restatement of Lalloway’s motion. However, Fox added a provision directing City staff to explore a “second track” for the Veterans Cemetery. Specifically, she asked that City staff be directed to meet with representatives from development company FivePoint Communities to discuss their controversial “land-swap” proposal.
The “land-swap,” which some have derided as a “land swindle,” involves moving the Veterans Cemetery to an entirely different site near the Irvine Train Station and deeding the 125-acre site in the Great Park to FivePoint for future development.
Lalloway repeatedly attacked the “land-swap” proposal as nothing but a thinly veiled entitlement scheme, which would result in FivePoint getting development rights to build 1,500 or even 2,000 new residential units on the 125-acre property in the Great Park.
Lalloway called Fox’s motion a “poison pill” that sends the wrong message to the State Legislature and Governor. With the City pursuing two Veterans Cemetery sites instead of one, Irvine’s chances of getting State funds for the City’s original 125-acre Great Park site are jeopardized, according to Councilman Lalloway.
Finally, Fox’s motion passed, 3-to-2, with Councilmembers Lalloway and Schott voting NO. Asked after the meeting what he was going to do, Lalloway said he was considering next steps, and he intended to confer with Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva and others.