The historic June 5th, 63% “NO on B” vote wasn’t simply the rejection of an unpopular zone change and land-swap. The landslide vote was indisputable confirmation of a positive, two-part citywide consensus and voter mandate.
First, the people of Irvine — whether they voted YES or NO on Measure B — want to see the State-funded Southern California Veterans Cemetery located in the City of Irvine, not elsewhere in Orange County.
Second, the vast majority of Irvine residents want the Veterans Cemetery to be located — and built now, without any further delay — at its original site in the Great Park, as planned and approved (2014-2017) by the City, State (CalVet) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Mindful of this voter mandate, thousands of Irvine residents find it infuriating to watch Mayor Donald Wagner and Councilmembers Shea and Fox arrogantly ignoring the will of the people — absolutely refusing to move ahead and immediately start building the Great Park Veterans Cemetery.
Wagner, Shea and Fox invoke all kinds of ridiculous excuses and rationalizations. Chief among these is the false and insulting claim that the Veterans Cemetery is somehow unaffordable — that it’s “prohibitively expensive,” according to Melissa Fox and Christina Shea; and that it will even put the City itself on the verge of bankruptcy. Oh, please, stop the nonsense!
Let’s Talk Dollars and Sense
Here are the true facts of the matter: Because of smart financial planning dating back 15 years — when I was Mayor of Irvine and then Chair of the Great Park Corporation — hundreds of millions of dollars continue to flow into a special Great Park Development Fund, known as Fund 180. This fund is a special-purpose account set up to build, maintain and operate major features of the Great Park. Many of these features are already in place — built, paid for, and operational.
Fund 180 is not part of the City’s General Fund. It is a separate, special fund. According to the City financial statements, Fund 180 has a current balance of $48 million; yet, $263 million more will flow into the fund the next 6-7 years at a rate of nearly $40 million per year. This is money owed to the Great Park Development Fund by the State of California as a result of the shrewd “redevelopment tax-increment” funding we negotiated with the State more than 10 years ago.
Now, flash forward to today: According to the State, the CalVet-approved Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park will cost an estimated $78 million to build. (By the way, that’s the price of just one railroad under-crossing in Irvine — and we have three!)
But Irvine is not called upon to come up with the full $78 million to build the Veterans Cemetery. Last year, before Wagner, Shea and Fox abruptly changed course — remember the Fox “flip”? — the State and Federal governments agreed to put up $40 million if the City would follow through on its pledge to put up $38 million.
An Affordable, Wise Investment
Accordingly, our one-time $38 million financial contribution would make the Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park a pre-funded reality within two years. The plain truth is that $38 million is not “prohibitively expensive,” as Fox and Shea claim. In fact, it’s an eminently affordable investment, and a wise one too. Why? Because the Veterans Cemetery, located on 125 acres of our 1,300-acre Great Park, will no doubt be the Park’s most compelling, most appreciated, and most important feature.
Certainly, the Veterans Cemetery is more important than the $25 million golf course that is on Councilmember Shea’s wish list; or Councilmember Melissa Fox’s fixation on putting tens of millions of dollars into a subsidized commercial water park; or former Mayor Steven Choi’s $200 million library, which would cost an estimated $10 million per year to operate and maintain.
Can anyone honestly say that these proposed Great Park projects are a higher priority than a one-time investment of $38 million in an already-designed and approved Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery?
And let’s remember this very important point: Under State law, from Day One, the beautiful Great Park Veterans Cemetery would be operated and maintained in perpetuity by the State of California, at no cost whatsoever to the City of Irvine.
A Lie and an Insult
To say that we can’t afford to build the Veterans Cemetery — in the Great Park, as originally promised and planned — is a lie and an insult to veterans and their families, and to every Irvine resident who wants to see the Veterans Cemetery built now!