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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…

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…

O.C. REGISTER: Cemetery Culture Clash in Irvine

Asian neighbors say graves would create bad feng shui, hurt property values

By Sarah de Crescenzo

IRVINE – In less than a decade, runways where fighter jets once lofted Marines into the air could become acres of green grass dotted with white headstones marking the Southern California Veterans Cemetery.

That image, for many veterans and their families, provides comfort.

But for a group of Asian residents that live near Irvine’s Great Park, the image is appalling – any cemetery would violate a strong cultural taboo of living near the dead.

Now, even as the state Department of Veterans Affairs prepares to request federal funds to build the cemetery, residents in the neighborhood – including people who aren’t worried about the bad feng shui – are pushing city officials and others to make sure it’s built somewhere else. Property values, many say, will be damaged.

And a wild card emerged this week. Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who supports the veterans cemetery at the Great Park, said a 288-acre parcel near Anaheim Hills might serve as a cemetery where veterans could be buried.

But for Bill Cook, chairman of the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation and the man who has led the fight to put a cemetery on the former El Toro air base, the issue is just as sacred.

“That site represents. .. where thousands of American teenagers last stood alive on American soil,” said Cook, 68, a Mission Viejo resident and Vietnam War-era veteran who served at El Toro.

Cook and others who back the cemetery at the Great Park point to a future need. About 130,000 veterans live in Orange County, and nearly 1.9 million live in California. Most served in wars of the 20th century, including World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Continue reading at the Orange County Register…