Gov. Jerry Brown tours veterans cemetery sites
Mayor Don Wagner and Councilmember Melissa Fox have called for a special meeting to vote on the cemetery location after learning that the state has allocated $10 million less than expected for the construction of the veterans cemetery in Irvine. The city council will vote on the site for the new cemetery on June 6 at 4 p.m.
California Gov. Jerry Brown was in Irvine recently to tour the two possible sites for a veterans cemetery. The final decision on which site will be the final resting place for as many as 210,000 military vets will come in late June of this year, said Irvine Mayor Donald Wagner after a private tour with Gov. Brown and a contingent of elected officials. They included Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, Congresswoman Mimi Walters, Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, State Senator John Moorlach, Assemblyman and former Mayor Steven Choi, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Irvine city leaders.
The Irvine City Council has agreed that military veterans will get a cemetery, but they are divided over where it should be located. The council will vote on the issue at its June 27 city council meeting.
While some favor the ARDA site, 125-acres that currently still contain segments of runways and vacated hangars at the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, another group wants to let the private developer FivePoint build it at an alternate site, closer to the intersection of the 5 and 405 freeways where the land is filled only with strawberries.
In a post-tour press conference at the Great Park’s Palm Court Arts Complex, Gov. Brown didn’t say which of the two sites he was in favor of. However, he did say: “It’s absolutely certain that Orange County will get the veterans cemetery that it deserves and the veterans deserve…Let the locals pick and we will back them up.”
Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, who authored legislation (AB 1453) in 2014, has helped to secure the Great Park site that put everybody on a path toward state and federal approval of plans that will lead to the construction and operation of Orange County’s very own veterans cemetery project.
“The law I wrote for that purpose brought funding to pay for preparation of a site agreed on by veterans, state and federal officials, local leaders, and the developer of a portion of the El Toro base,” said Quirk-Silva. “Now, there is still more work to be done to see this through, and I will continue to push the state to do its part on the project.”
She also said the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for this nation deserve proper recognition without further delay and the taxpayers of Orange County need to know they will not be asked to foot the bill.
“I urge all parties to proceed with these two goals in mind,” said Quirk-Silva.
Irvine Councilwoman Christina Shea, who is in favor of the freeway-adjacent site, said the tour provided first-hand perspectives to the stakeholders involved in the decision making process and clearly demonstrated the financial savings to the taxpayers that the Strawberry Field site would afford.
FivePoint owns the freeway-adjacent agricultural land known as the “Strawberry Field” and, after being approached by Councilwoman Shea and the veterans, has agreed to exchange it for the ARDA site. Construction of the cemetery could begin immediately upon approval of the freeway-close site.
The ARDA site requires significant demolition. “The question is how quickly the [state] government wants to move the process,” said Irvine Mayor, Donald Wagner. Wagner said the total cost of project at the ARDA site would be about $80 million. If the ARDA site is selected on June 27, it could get an additional $10 million in federal funds but still it would require nearly $30 million from the state.
Gov. Brown released the May Revised Budget yesterday and the $124 billion general fund budget is slightly above last year’s $122.3 billion budget. Although it projects a $3.3 billion shortfall for 2017-18, that’s less than the $5.8 billion figure in the original January spending plan. Despite letters to the city from Quirk-Silva and Irvine Councilman Jeffrey Lalloway in March promising state money for the Cemetery, yesterday’s revised budget had no appropriation for this project.
“I am very pleased with the project,” said James Torres, U.S. Navy Reserve of Santa Ana. “But I won’t be completely happy until we break ground on the cemetery.”