City of Irvine Rejects State Sponsored Bill for Veterans Cemetery

August 19, 2019 Updated: August 19, 2019

After the Irvine City Council voted 4-1 in July to reject the state-approved site for a veterans’ cemetery in the city, in direct conflict with a bill approved by the state assembly, supporters of the project gave their assurances that a new site would be found.

The bill, AB-368, was on its way to the state senate floor for a vote after being approved by multiple committees and has since been suspended.

AB-368, introduced by Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton), would mandate that the cemetery be built in an area within the Orange County Great Park at the site of the former El Toro Air Base. A 125-acre piece of land known as the Amended and Restated Development Agreement Site (ARDA), is the designated space for the cemetery in the bill.

The city of Irvine has proposed an alternative site, also located within the Orange County Great Park, known as the Golf Course Site, for the cemetery to be built. This change in location is yet another impasse in the over two-decade struggle for California to designate a state veterans’ cemetery for Southern California.

According to the staff report from the report on the 23rd, the estimated cost for the ARDA site stands around $91 million, while the Golf Course site is at roughly $58 million. Fivepoint Holdings, one of the city’s major developers, has expressed opposition to the ARDA site, and along with the Veterans Alliance of Orange County has expressed support for the new site. Fivepoint has committed $28 million for the Golf Course site, while Quirk-Silva has been able to secure $24.5 million in state funding for the ARDA site.

Irvine Mayor Christina Shea, who supports the change of location to the Golf Course told Voice of OC that after reviewing the new location she was in favor of building the cemetery there.

“I looked at the Great Park map and I thought this is the best plan. I called our staff the next day. They said it could actually be doable because it’s already been through an environmental review.”

The Epoch Times spoke with 3rd District Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner, who also served as Mayor of Irvine and in the State Assembly, about this ongoing issue.

“The leadership of City of Irvine recognizes that the ARDA is just not doable. It’s not financially feasible, it’s got lots of drawbacks. The residents around it don’t want it, the school district is unhappy with that particular location. I think the city just recognized that it’s just not a good site. It was always a placeholder. Even when I was up in Sacramento, co-authoring Sharon’s first bill on the subject, we recognized it as a placeholder. It hasn’t gotten any better since then. It’s only gotten worse,” he said.

Wagner stated his understanding of the city’s decision to move to the Golf Course site. He emphasized his support for the author of the measure, Councilman Mike Carroll, and said that the measure was a recognition that the ARDA was not feasible.

“What [Carroll] is doing with that motion, I believe, is recognizing the reality that the ARDA site doesn’t work. Because there is political pressure to put this cemetery in Irvine, Mike was doing the only rational thing, and his council colleagues backed him up to find another location.”

Wagner emphasized his support for the cemetery to a third site in Anaheim Hills as the eventual long-term location.

“I still believe the Anaheim Hills site is superior and ultimately everyone except perhaps some of the bitter dead-ender political types in Irvine are going to come behind the Anaheim Hills site. It’s a good site, the location works for the veterans and their families all over the county, the site itself is gorgeous. The community wants it there and veterans want it there.”

Wagner also said that the City of Anaheim was supportive of the Anaheim Hills site.

The Epoch Times also reached out to the office of Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, who authored the bill in question. Josef Holper, the assemblywoman’s director of communications, addressed the ongoing standoff between the state and the city of Irvine.

When asked about Assemblywomen Quirk-Silva’s initial response to the City of Irvine’s measure, Holper explained that their action was not a rejection of AB-368, but a “counter-proposal.”

“It is to our understanding that AB-368 was not rejected, but that the City of Irvine provided a counter-proposal for the Governor’s office and all interested parties to have discussion. It is our desire to create a field of honor that is reflective of the valor displayed by those who fought for our country,” he said.

Holper also said that Quirk-Silva was open to discussing other sites with the city.

“Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva, Governor Newsom’s office, and all interested members and parties are open to discussion for sites and other concerns.  Ultimately, the goal is for us to create an Orange County Veteran’s Cemetery that will serve those who served our country and their families.”

It is still unclear as to where the eventual site for this long-proposed state veterans’ cemetery will be, as differing parties have expressed multiple sites both in and out of the city limits of Irvine. The negotiations between the differing parties will likely draw out the already decades-long issue, all but ensuring that AB-368 will be shelved for the foreseeable future.