Honoring Veterans in Irvine
That 125-acre site (known as the “ARDA Transfer Site”) carries a total price tag for tax payers of $77 million, according to an in-depth analysis by the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet) released last year. More than $30 million of that will be needed to demolish and remove the 77 aircraft hangars and other buildings on the site, as well as underground utilities, concrete runways and asphalt.
The ARDA site is located off of Irvine Blvd., on land near Portola High School and an approved K-8 school, and adjacent to residences in the Great Park Neighborhoods.
The city council‘s support of the ARDA site is contingent on the state of California agreeing to contribute some $40 million to it, with the federal government expected to contribute another $10 million.
The alternate site is currently used for agricultural purposes. The acreage was part of the former MCAS El Toro base, where it served as a crash landing zone for aircraft and the Marines and other airmen and women who flew them. Because of that, the land is free of buildings and other infrastructure, so the cost and time necessary to prepare the land for cemetery construction is minimal.
After being approached a year ago by veterans and Councilwoman Christina Shea about alternate sites, FivePoint agreed to offer the freeway-adjacent land to the city in exchange for the city-owned land at the original cemetery site, which are nearly identical in acreage. FivePoint has also indicated a commitment to underwriting the phase one construction costs at the alternate site.
With that, and the lack of demolition and remediation needed at the new site, the city of Irvine and residents would save $30 million or more by creating the cemetery at the alternate site. That land is not currently within the boundaries of the Orange County Great Park, but could be added to it with city council action.
The main issues remaining to be studied regarding a potential land swap include determining if moving the cemetery to the alternate site will significantly impact how soon veterans might be buried there.
If the first burials at the alternate site can take place at or about the same time as the ARDA site (or perhaps sooner), is the $30 million in extra costs to demolish 77 buildings and otherwise prepare the first site the best use of city funds and taxpayer dollars?
CalVet has approved the ARDA site, as has the California legislature. New approvals would be necessary for the alternate site, officials say.
Perhaps the key issue remaining to be studied is how the time needed for those approvals compares to the significant time necessary for demolition, site preparation and construction at the ARDA site.
Currently, veterans are honored by burial at the Riverside National Cemetery. Many uniformed military veterans spoke at the city council session, some in their 80s and even 90s. Several spoke movingly about the impact on family and friends who must travel away from their Orange County homes to lay their veteran relatives to rest in Riverside, and visit them there.
The other key consideration, of course, is how much the state of California is willing to commit to the $77 million in total costs for a veterans cemetery at the ARDA site. If the answer is little or no funds, then the alternate site and the FivePoint commitments may remain not only the best option to honor U.S. military veterans with a cemetery in Irvine, but perhaps the only one.
By the numbers
A site-by-site comparison of the two proposed locations for a veterans cemetery at the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro
ARDA Site: City-owned ARDA Transfer Site
Alternate site: FivePoint land offered to the city of Irvine in exchange for land at ARDA site
ARDA site: Southeast of Irvine Boulevard and north of the Orange County Great Park
Alternate site: Adjacent to Interstate 5, between Bake Parkway and Alton Parkway
Size of site
ARDA site: Approximately 125.7 acres
Alternate site: Approximately 124.9 acres
•Future and existing residential neighborhoods
•Schools (Portola High School and approved K-8 school)
•Orange County Great Park
•Bake and Alton Pkwys.
•5 Freeway/El Toro “Y” ramps
•Commercial and industrial Irvine Spectrum buildings
Current status of the land
ARDA site: According to Irvine city staff reports, the first site “contains more than 70 structures, including four hangars that comprise approximately 20,000 square feet each, a former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro control tower and offices, barracks, concrete runways, and asphalt roadways. The Federal Aviation Administration retains ownership of a facility adjacent to the control tower.”
Alternate site: Strawberry fields and agricultural uses. Serrano Creek flows across the site, and has been previously designated as part of the Wildlife Corridor across the Orange County Great Park.
Cost for land acquisition
ARDA site: $0 (deeded to city
Alternate site: $0 (owned by FivePoint, swap of land only, acre for acre, with no additional funds and no additional entitlements)
Costs for demolition and remediation
ARDA site: $30 million
To demolish and remove the existing 77 buildings, surrounding concrete and asphalt, and underground utilities.
Alternate site: $0
Based on agricultural usage/lack of existing structures, and FivePoint’s commitment to fund phase 1 construction, the city, state and federal governments would incur little or no costs to move forward with first phases of a veterans cemetery at the site near the 5 Freeway. The site was intentionally left vacant during the life of the MCAS El Toro base as an emergency zone for aircraft and aviators flying to and from the base. Since the base closure, the land use at the second site has been limited to agricultural.
ARDA site: Currently entitled for Great Park uses. After December 27, 2017, the city may develop two hotels, restaurants and small-scale retail typical of a metropolitan park, and up to 250 residential dwelling units. If the land swap proceeds, FivePoint would transfer its Site Two Entitlements to Site One, which do not include residential housing.
Alternate site: Assigned development intensity of 914,000 square feet of Research & Development uses that includes 9,524 average daily trips (ADT). There are no deed restrictions on land uses.
Time for demolition and construction
ARDA site: 42 months
Estimate of 42 months based on CalVet documents.
CEQA/NEPA state and federal environmental reviews will take approximately 21 months to complete.
Alternate site: None
Demolition and remediation will not be necessary. Construction could begin immediately upon the approval of the design and securing any government approvals needed.
ARDA site: $77 million
CalVet estimates $77 million required for site preparation, demolition, environmental study and remediation, and construction. The estimate doesn’t include toxic soil remediation costs, if necessary.
Figure is based on CalVet estimate of construction costs at first site, without the demolition or remediation. Certain costs included within FivePoint’s commitment to underwrite Phase One.