Irvine or Anaheim?
In the latest twist to the cemetery saga, all five Irvine councilmembers agreed that the Southern California Veteran’s Memorial Park should be located in the city. However, the council was divided on how to move forward on the emotional issue.
In the end, Mayor Donald Wagner, along with Councilmembers Christina Shea and Melissa Fox, voted in favor of city planners and members of the city’s planning, finance and transportation commissions studying the cost and impact of a 125-acre cemetery on the ARDA site near Irvine Boulevard. Mayor Wagner later sent a letter to the California Department of Veterans Affairs confirming the decision.
“In response to Irvine voters’ recent decision rejecting the location of a veterans cemetery at the Strawberry Fields site, the City Council has directed the immediate start of a citywide effort to evaluate the ARDA site or find an alternate site in or near the Great Park for creation of the cemetery,” Wagner wrote. “The Council’s decision was in keeping with Irvine’s commitment to foresight and diligent planning.”
Irvine has long been recognized as one of the most carefully planned and managed cities in America and as a result it has been lauded for its solvency, safety and beauty as a global model for master-planned communities. At the city council session, Wagner said his motion calling for a series of feasibility studies on the cemetery plan at the ARDA site reflects the “prudent planning” that has been a hallmark of Irvine’s planning process since the city’s incorporation nearly 50 years ago.
The council’s 3-2 vote followed more than three hours of debate about the future of the cemetery in the city. More than 60 speakers, many of them veterans, urged the council to push forward with plans to locate a cemetery in Irvine to honor military servicemen and women. A month ago, Irvine voters essentially nixed a plan to put the cemetery on agricultural site known as the Strawberry Fields, just south of the Great Park when they defeated Measure B, a zoning referendum.
Councilmember Jeffrey Lalloway proposed moving the cemetery project to the ARDA site, which was first approved by the council in 2014. The site was ultimately abandoned because of the $78 million price tag to clean up the parcel and construct the first phase of the cemetery. Lalloway also proposed immediately allocating $40 million in city taxpayer money for the clean-up effort. But his motion, supported by Councilmember Lynn Schott, failed to win a necessary third vote for passage.
Echoing the council majority’s opinion, Wagner said he was a strong proponent of building the cemetery in Irvine. “But we have to do it right,” he said. “It’s all about the planning process and this motion puts that process in play.”
Since the June 5 vote, the Orange County Board of Supervisors have offered up an alternative site outside Irvine on county-owned space in Anaheim for a veterans cemetery.
Several veterans attended the June 26 Board of Supervisors session in Santa Ana and spoke in support of studying the county land, including long-time leaders of the effort to find a site for a veterans cemetery in Orange County.
“We need a cemetery,” said Nick Beradino, the president of VALOR, an advocacy group fighting for a veterans cemetery. “When our country asked us to stand up and fight, we fought. We never asked questions, we went. Now, when we came over here today, we could barely walk, most of us are disabled.”
“We ask you to now be our heroes,” Beradino asked the supervisors.” We cannot do it without you.”
Procedurally, there was no vote on the issue. Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who brought the matter to the board’s agenda, directed the staff to perform the study, after each supervisor spoke in support of the process, and thanked the veterans for attending.
“I am a direct beneficiary of your sacrifices,” said Supervisor Andrew Do, whose family emigrated from Vietnam. “I’ve had the privilege of living my entire life free,” Do said in thanking the veterans, most of who had served in Vietnam. “It’s long overdue. We need a veterans cemetery.”
On July 17, the Anaheim City Council voted 7-0 to support the county and other stakeholders in evaluating the feasibility of developing a veterans cemetery in that city. “We’d be honored, and we’d be welcoming,” Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait said about honoring veterans with a cemetery, while also making clear that the council’s unanimous vote wasn’t meant to slow down or interfere with efforts in Irvine.
“The important thing is that Orange County gets a veterans cemetery…soon,” Tait said.
“This is one way our council can come together and galvanize the community,” Councilmember Kris Murray added. “This is not about competing. If Irvine does not reach a consensus, this gives an alternative which is viable.”