Irvine Moves Vets Cemetery From Main Former Marine Base to Strawberry Fields Near Freeways

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.

Continue reading at Voice of OC…

Irvine City Council votes to build veterans cemetery near El Toro Y

By Irvine City News staff
​The Irvine City Council, in a special meeting that took place on the 73rd anniversary of D-Day, today approved by a 3-2 vote the “strawberry fields” near the 5 and 405 freeways as the site of the future Southern California Veterans Cemetery.

Mayor Don Wagner and council members Melissa Fox and Christina Shea voted to move the proposed cemetery from a site north of the Great Park to the alternate site near the intersection of the 5 and 405 freeways, south of the park. Mayor Pro Tem Lynn Schott and Councilmember Jeff Lalloway opposed the action.

As the city clerk announced the 3-2 vote in favor of the “strawberry field” site, veterans leader Bill Cook and a large contingent of veterans stood, cheered and applauded.

Upon learning of the decision, FivePoint CEO and Chairman Emile Haddad issued this statement: “The Irvine council’s decision is a win-win-win for the city at large, our 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.” Haddad added, “FivePoint stands ready to help the city and state expedite the building of the cemetery. We are excited and proud to help deliver on the promise made to the veterans.”

In front of a standing-room-only crowd that included veterans and community and city leaders, statements from elected officials not at the meeting were read that unanimously endorsed the land exchange and the approval of the alternate site for the veterans cemetery. Statements were entered into the record from Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel, Congressman Lou Correa, State Senator Josh Newman and Assemblyman Steven Choi, all in favor of the freeway-adjacent alternate site near the El Toro Y, known as the “strawberry fields.”

Of the 55 individuals who offered public comments at the three-and-a-half hour meeting–the third in two months on the topic–32 were in favor of the “strawberry fields” site, while 21 favored the ARDA site. Two were neutral.

Prior to the public comments, as well as after, the five council members heatedly debated the issue.

After sharing that the state’s funding came in $10 million less than anticipated, Mayor Don Wagner said, “Neither the state government nor the federal government is willing to be an equal partner.” The federal government had suggested it would consider adding $10 million to the project, but, Wagner said, “That amount has not been committed to us…We are quite low on the federal priority list and waiting for that funding could further delay (the project).”

Councilmember Jeff Lalloway, who admitted to not reading a document submitted yesterday by land developer FivePoint that included details about its commitment to the alternate site, called the alternate site proposal a “backroom deal.” He said he would ask for a delay and postponement of the vote. “I’ll be making a motion to put this off for another meeting,” he said, citing traffic as a major concern.

“That dramatic misrepresentation of what is going on here is pretty sad,” said Councilmember Christina Shea in response to Lalloway’s comments. “There is nothing about this proposal tonight that will stop any process going forward through the proper channels.” Shea added, “The state knows the money’s not there. Sharon Quirk Silva knows the money’s not there.” Shea said she didn’t want to see the city have to foot the bill.

Continue reading at Irvine City News…

AUDIO: Former Irvine Senator Dick Ackerman Discusses Proposed Veterans Cemetery

Former Irvine Senator Dick Ackerman calls Irvine residents and encourages the city council to locate a FREE Veteran’s Cemetery near the Great Park instead of taxpayers paying $80 million for an inferior site. Larry Agran supports the expensive site, after already spending $250 million on the Great Park with just a balloon to show for it.

Even with Irvine’s diverse mix of cultures, some residents feel they don’t ‘fit’

By Anh Do

The Woodbury Town Center in Irvine looks like so many other sparkling new shopping villages in suburban California with its Trader Joe’s, HomeGoods, Home Depot framed by swaying palm trees and Spanish tile.

As customers make their way through the outdoor mall, the words they leave in their wake are less uniform: Arabic, Tagalog, Hindi, Cantonese, Korean.

In a region known for its cultural mix, Irvine stands apart. It is more Asian than white, affluent and booming — its population now surpassing 250,000 as it continues to be an economic powerhouse of Orange County.

The master-planned city has become synonymous with a certain kind of lifestyle, a magnet for high-achieving families of all races and backgrounds looking for the best public schools for their children and safe, immaculate neighborhoods for themselves.

But even in this haven that residents call “a mini-United Nations,” diversity sometimes brings strain.

For recent immigrants, it can be hard to fit into the Irvine ideal. Some feel self-conscious about their heavy accents, while others talk about encounters with the occasional longtime resident who resents the influx of Asians and other immigrants.

For white residents of Irvine, the boom has brought much to like — rising home values, stellar test scores and an explosion of ethnic restaurants, cultural celebrations and retail spaces that have brought international sophistication to a place once known as cookie-cutter suburbia.

Continue reading at the Los Angeles Times…

PHOTO CREDIT: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Amphitheater, lake, trails, gardens among residents’ top choices at Irvine’s Great Park

By Tomoya Shimura

An amphitheater, a lake, trails and a botanical garden are among the most popular features residents would like to see built at the developing Orange County Great Park, according to the latest surveys.

The City Council, acting as the Great Park board, on Tuesday, May 23, will discuss results from Irvine’s efforts in the past several months to get resident input on the future of the 1,300-acre former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro site. When fully developed, the city’s park could match the size of Balboa Park in San Diego.

The city asked Irvine and county residents mainly about the future Cultural Terrace, a 248-acre area where the city is considering an amphitheater, a lake, a library, museums and most recently a water park.

One takeaway from the $240,755 public outreach was that respondents showed strong support of the proposed amenities at the Cultural Terrace, according to a staff report prepared for Tuesday’s meeting.

Among them, an amphitheater was the most popular, with 74 percent of Orange County residents responding they are at least somewhat interested, according to telephone surveys conducted by Encinitas-based True North Research, which was hired by the city. The company surveyed 1,268 households across Orange County.

A lake and museums came in second at 73 percent, followed by a contemporary library (61 percent) and a water park (58 percent).

The City Council in March approved the building of a temporary 12,000-seat amphitheater adjacent to the Great Park to keep the summer outdoor concert tradition in Irvine after the closure of Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre. The city can’t develop the Cultural Terrace site because Tierra Verde Industries operates a recycling facility there and has a lease until 2018.

Continue reading at the Orange County Register…

PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Rightmire / Orange County Register

OC Veterans Cemetery: Strawberry Fields Forever?

By Spencer Custodio

Governor Jerry Brown indicated it could be strawberry fields forever for Orange County veterans at a Friday press conference in Irvine, where he expressed fondness for a cemetery site near the 5 and 405 freeway interchange.

The freeway land, which is sandwiched between car dealerships located off the Northbound I-5 on large fields currently growing strawberries, could be the new home to the veterans’ cemetery if the Irvine City Council accepts a land swap proposal from developer Fivepoint.

Initially in Friday’s press conference, Brown wouldn’t say which site he preferred, instead leaving that to the city council. “Let the locals pick and we’ll back them up. So there it is.”

However, later in the press conference Brown indicated a fondness for the Fivepoint-owned freeway site.

“Obviously, I like (the) strawberry patch — ‘Strawberry Fields.’ Remember that song?” Brown told reporters.

Earlier this year, Irvine City Councilwoman Christina Shea introduced the idea of a land swap, with support from the developer, essentially trading a 125-acre site in the Great Park residential tract, already endorsed by the city council and the state legislature as a veterans’ cemetery, for the freeway property.

Council members back in 2014 authorized a 125-acre parcel in the Great Park residential tract and it was later also endorsed by state legislation sponsored by then Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk Silva (D-Fullerton).

That project seemed stalled until Irvine City Councilman Jeff Lalloway spearheaded a move to provide nearly $40 million toward final funding for the Great Park site – at the same meeting as Shea’s proposal was unveiled.

During a contentious and lengthy public hearing, veterans’ testimony seemed split between the freeway land and the Great Park site.

Yet at Friday’s press conference, virtually all veterans speaking to reporters supported the freeway site.

Officials, like Brown and Quirk Silva, say the debate has ultimately helped move the concept.

“Now that we have two (sites), it’s absolutely certain that Orange County will get the veterans’ cemetery that it deserves and the veterans deserve,” Brown said.

Brown wouldn’t say whether the state would commit nearly $40 million to the original site if the Irvine City Council chose to stick with it.

“Obviously, one always has to be careful with the spending of money. What do you get, what don’t you get. It will be looked at. But mostly the Irvine City Council has to make a decision and we can talk about it.”

Reached later for comment, Lalloway dismissed Brown’s Strawberry Fields comment and reiterated that during a private tour of both sites, Brown indicated he would support whatever deal locals struck.

“He believes in local control,” Lalloway said.

Irvine Mayor Donald Wagner said the city council should settle on a site by the end of June.

“At that point, we’re’ going to make — I’m hoping — a final decision,” Wagner said at the press conference.

Brown also reacted to questions about his sister’s ties to the developer.

Kathleen Brown, a former California Treasurer and current partner in the Manatt, Phelps & Phillips law firm, also sits on the board of directors of developer FivePoint.

Continue reading at the Voice of O.C.

PHOTO CREDIT: Jeff Antenore/Voice of OC

Young the Giant will open the new FivePoint Amphitheatre in Irvine

By Kelli Skye Fadroski

Just six months after the demolition of the beloved Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre in November, concert promoter Live Nation, in partnership with developer FivePoint Communities, have announced that a temporary amphitheatre will officially open on Saturday, Aug. 26.

Irvine-based rock band Young the Giant and Cold War Kids, who also have O.C. roots, along with New York indie band Joywave will be the first to grace the freshly constructed stage, officially dubbed FivePoint Amphitheatre.

“It feels like a full journey,” Young the Giant frontman Sameer Gadhia said. The band, which includes guitarists Jacob Tilley and Eric Cannata, bassist Payam Doostzadeh and drummer Francois Comtois, served as the support act for No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani at the final two shows at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre on Oct. 29 and 30.

“I was just back in Irvine last week sort of reminiscing actually about some of the places we used to play back at home, like Heritage Park Community Center,” he continued. “I think we played, like, a gazebo outside there. We played every random place that you can play in Irvine, so it’s great that we’re finally making a splash by doing this big opening for this new amphitheater. We are all very excited … and so are our families.”

Tickets for the show will go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday, May 5, at In honor of the first show, the first 500 tickets sold will be $20 with the rest ranging from $29.50-$39.50.

On March 14, the Irvine City Council unanimously approved the construction of the temporary 12,000-capacity outdoor amphitheater, which will be located on FivePoint’s property adjacent to the Orange County Great Park. Thousands of music fans lobbied for a new venue by signing the #SaveLiveMusicIrvine petitions and dozens showed up to council meetings to make their voices heard.

“That was a real testament for music lovers and people who love going to live shows,” Bret Gallagher, president of Live Nation Southern California, said of the council approving the new venture. “That was a proud moment and a great moment for live music.”

Though the 2017 concert season at the amphitheater will be an abbreviated one, with dates scheduled on through October, Gallagher said there will be a few surprises and more artists announced in the coming weeks and months and that Live Nation is already looking ahead to 2018.

OC REGISTER: FivePoint Cemetery Plan a Fitting Tribute

By the Orange County Register Editorial Board

Earlier this month, when the Irvine City Council decided to split the proverbial baby and move forward on both sites for the proposed veterans cemetery, skeptics complained that developer FivePoint Communities hadn’t offered any specifics for its plan. We will have to wait no longer.

On Thursday, the developer sent a formal proposal for the potential land exchange to the city manager and the five council members. In it, Emile Haddad, chairman and CEO of FivePoint, lays out a vision that he believes will present the city with cost savings and expedite the construction of the cemetery.

The swap would see the cemetery moved to a similar-sized piece of land, currently being used for farming, which is owned by FivePoint and near the El Toro “Y.” Farmland would undoubtedly be easier to remediate than demolishing an abandoned airfield, currently estimated at $77.4 million for the first phase.

Plus, as we’ve previously noted, the current site is controversial because of its proximity to homes, especially to adherents of the ancient Chinese philosophy of feng shui — and people who just don’t like the idea of their property abutting a cemetery. This alternative site has the support of both residents and the veterans group formed to push for a cemetery.

The FivePoint proposal, spread across as much as 125 acres, fittingly straddles Marine Way and contains a host of proposed amenities for honoring our fallen men and women in uniform. The site would include a veterans memorial on the side facing the I-5 freeway. Plus, its proximity to the freeway allows ease of access for visitors and a solemn reminder of the price of freedom to those passing by.

Continue reading at the Orange County Register…

Will county’s planned development south of the Great Park cause regional traffic jams? Cities think so.

By Jordan Graham

Orange County’s plan to develop 108 acres just south of the Great Park into a massive commercial and residential complex has drawn concerns from officials with several local cities and transportation agencies, who believe the project could clog roads and spawn gridlock not only in Irvine but in communities and freeways bordering the project.

The cities of Tustin, Laguna Beach, Lake Forest and Irvine – as well as the Orange County Transportation Authority and CalTrans – lodged traffic-related complaints or comments in their official responses to the county’s plan to construct 1.9 million square feet of office space, 2,103 housing units, 220,000 square feet of commercial space and a 242-room hotel on its Great Park-adjacent land. Those official comments were submitted late last year and reviewed recently by the Register.

When the county released its plan in November, revealing that its development would add as many as 47,000 average daily vehicle trips to the region, Irvine City Councilman Jeff Lalloway threatened that his city might sue the county over the proposal, saying the project was a detriment to his city’s residents and roads.

But according to representatives from nearby cities, those traffic impacts might be felt beyond just Irvine.

OCTA and CalTrans stated in their responses that the additional traffic generated choke the I-5 freeway’s Sand Canyon Avenue on-ramps and off-ramps, jamming nearby intersections and the freeway itself. CalTrans asked the county to coordinate with the agency to find a fix for the perceived problem.

Tustin officials worried that the city’s surface streets might become popular shortcuts for people trying to avoid backups on the interstate. They pointed out that under the county’s plan, physical improvements to I-5 freeway ramps could be completed as late as 2035 – likely long after the development is constructed.

Lake Forest representatives said the project would put some of the city’s intersections in near constant traffic jams.

And Laguna Beach City Manager John Pietig said the development’s new residents and hotel tourists would take a toll on his city’s beaches, parking and roads when they visited the complex’s nearest beach city.

“The (county’s plan) does not describe the overall impacts to recreation, public services and recreational weekend traffic that will occur as a result of adding approximately thousands of residential units to the Great Park with increasingly limited public recreation facilities in the area to serve them,” Pietig wrote. “The County Board of Supervisors may not approve the project until an adequate revised (plan) is prepared and is re-circulated for public review and comment.”

Continue reading at the Orange County Register…

O.C. will get interim amphitheater to replace shuttered Irvine Meadows

By Randy Lewis

Music fans in Orange County won’t have to miss a beat when it comes to live music in the great outdoors.

The Irvine City Council voted unanimously Monday night to approve a plan to build a temporary 12,000-seat amphitheater to pick up where Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre left off in the fall upon ending its 35-year run of major pop, rock and classical concerts.

Promoter Live Nation is partnering with FivePoint Communities Management Inc. to erect the interim facility in time to open for concerts this summer, project officials said Tuesday.

“The Irvine City Council is continuing a tradition that has brought hundreds of thousands of people together for more than three decades in our city,” Irvine Mayor Donald P. Wagner said after the vote, which elicited cheers from a crowd that had gathered for the meeting.

Continue reading at the Los Angeles Times…