By Norberto Santana, Jr.
The effort to site a federal veterans cemetery in Irvine may have hit a snag.
And veteran leaders are livid.
Earlier this year, veterans agreed to swap a 125-acre parcel already dedicated as a veterans cemetery by the Irvine City Council, for a similar-sized lot near the 405 freeway, currently used as strawberry fields.
Or so they thought.
This week, as preparations began for next Tuesday’s Irvine City Council meeting to finalize the transaction, city staff apparently started communicating some heartburn over the details of the deal — which involves developer Five Points, 125 acres of land they own and $10 million to help fund the first phase of development for a veterans cemetery, which will utilize 25 acres.
So what happens to the other 100 acres over the next century while the cemetery is built out?
That, it seems, hasn’t been thought out.
Yet the answers could blow up the whole deal.
Now, as is usual in government circles, some city officials want to have this entire discussion next Tuesday behind closed doors.
That would be wrong.
First off, I’m pretty sure it’s illegal.
California’s open meetings laws only allow closed session discussion of public sector real estate deals when the discussion involves price and terms of the transaction.
That’s already been decided.
What’s up for debate now, it seems, is what happens to the rest of the idle public land as the veterans’ cemetery gets built out.
That’s a legitimate policy question council members should indeed explore and answer…in public.
I’ve heard many different takes on the issue – which doesn’t seem as resolved as many thought.
There also apparently are significant challenges with the negotiations involving Five Points and city officials as well as issues regarding how the $10 million will be paid out.
Irvine has legitimate reasons to be cautious about how the land is transferred.
Note that the city is in the middle of a legal dispute with the County of Orange on a nearby 100-acre parcel – with county officials playing with all sorts of different uses – including a civic center, a water park, a homeless shelter and housing – for the land tract.