By Spencer Custodio
It’s unclear when the first funeral procession can enter Orange County’s state veterans cemetery, but a split Irvine City Council has begun a land swap that will move the site from a central part of the former El Toro Marine base to strawberry fields near the interchange of the 5 and 405 freeways.
“This may be a good site, I have no idea … I have 10 pages (of information), no traffic study, no appraisal,” Councilman Jeff Lalloway said in opposing the site switch at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “This is absolutely ludicrous … I’m concerned there’s been a backroom deal.”
Councilwoman Christina Shea countered Lalloway’s claims and defended the pending land swap.
“That dramatic misrepresentation of what’s going on here is pretty sad, but that’s what we deal with regularly on the dais,” Shea said. “We need to move it forward and then it’s going to move through all the proper processes.”
There is no estimate for when the veterans cemetery would open. Strong feelings on both sides, sparked in part by an anonymous attack aimed at backers of the main former El Toro base site, intensified the council debate.
But following the City Council’s decision, FivePoint Chairman and CEO Emile Haddad said in a statement “the Irvine Council’s decision is a win-win-win for the city-at-large, or communities and, most importantly, the veterans who deserve a special place to honor their own, a cemetery that is worthy of the service they have given this country.”
“FivePoint stands ready to help the city and state expedite the building of the cemetery,” he added. “We are excited and proud to help deliver the promise made to the veterans.”
Shea originally bought the land swap proposal to the council last year, but it failed to gain traction. She said Tuesday night that more than a year ago she approached FivePoint Communities and an organization named the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation to begin talking about a potential land trade.
Since then, FivePoint offered to swap its strawberry field land for the original site by the Great Park, which has hangars and a runway on it. FivePoint said it would fund the first phase of cemetery construction on the new site. In return, the developer wants its current entitlements transferred to the 125-acre runway site. Those entitlements include 812,000 square feet of commercial/office space and nearly 9,000 daily commuter trips allowed in and out of the site.