Irvine’s Veteran Cemetery Report Released Amid Controversy

June 9, 2021 Updated: June 10, 2021

A report for a state Veteran’s Memorial Park and Cemetery in Irvine, California, was recently released amid controversy over where the grounds should be built.

The California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet) on June 4 released a report that analyzes two sites within the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, where the cemetery could be built.

One option is the El Toro Marine base, called Amended and Restated Development Agreement (ARDA), which sits on 125 acres. It would cost more than $110 million to build the grounds there. The second possibility is a 100-acre lot the city previously designated to build a golf course on. Construction at that site would cost nearly $75 million.

The construction, operation, and maintenance of the Veteran’s Memorial Park and Cemetery would be state-funded, while site selection is Irvine City Council’s responsibility.

The proponents of the ARDA site claim the location is ideal because of its rich military history; troops were once deployed from the base. It still has its control tower and aircraft hangars, which some veterans have said could be repurposed as lasting tributes to the thousands of men and women who served there.

The site would feature a botanical garden, a perimeter park, memorial gardens, the “World’s Largest U.S. Flag” painted on the old runway, an assembly area, the historic El Toro control tower, and a promenade of heroes.

The site has been under consideration and planning since 2014, and in 2018 Irvine residents voted to support having the cemetery built there.

With no action from the council taken to commence construction at the site, in March 2020, ARDA supporters gathered more than 19,000 signatures for a ballot initiative to rezone the site as a veteran’s memorial park and cemetery district.

The city council certified and adopted the initiative ordinance on May 12, 2020.

With the release of CalVet’s analysis, the council will now be presented with the results and decide which location to proceed with.

“I hope council will simply reaffirm all previous expressions of resident and voter approval of the ARDA site,” Councilman Larry Agran told The Epoch Times.

He added that if the council chooses the golf course site, it will be a “long, hard path, and a very unpopular one, [of] undoing … [what] people have decided over a period of seven years.”

Agran said his resolution on the matter would be an “implementation, demolition, site clearance, site cleanup, preservation of historic facilities out there—the control tower, the original hangars, and runway. All of that can start within 60 days of approval of my resolution.”

He said that by CalVet’s estimates, construction would take 30 months at the ARDA site.

“It would be a wonderful amenity, not just for the Great Park, but for the benefit of nearby residents as well, to transform the ARDA site into something beautiful and usable by the rest of the community,” Agran said.

Proponents of the golf course site say it’s a more cost-effective route.

Former Irvine Mayor Christina Shea previously told The Epoch Times on May 28 that not only is the golf course site more cost-effective, but more remote.

“Instead of having a golf course, let’s put the cemetery there,” Shea told The Epoch Times on May 28.

“It’s away from residents, because [residents] don’t want it so close, is half the cost to build, and it’s clean land. I put that forward and then [the ARDA group] came and they have been fighting and fighting it because they will not get away from the ARDA site.”

“Anybody that goes out there and looks at both sites” would know that the golf course site “is the cleanest, the fastest to be developed, and the most cost-effective,” she said.

During the city council’s most recent meeting, many public commenters voiced their support for both sides.

“It is city law now that the only site on which the State Veterans Cemetery can be built is the ARDA site,” Harvey Liss, executive director of Build the Great Park Veterans Cemetery Committee, said during a June 8 council meeting.

“I think it’s unprecedented in the city’s history that the council refuses to enforce its own law, and moreover, defy the will of the people—19,790 residents signed the initiative petition.”

Another public commenter said the ARDA site “has the heritage and the memories of tens of thousands of servicemen and women that passed through it.”

“A beautiful memorial park will enhance the neighborhood and actually will increase the values of the homes surrounding the park.”

A public commenter in favor of the golf course site said, “We want to be frugal with our money, and we have to be frugal as representatives of not only the Irvine budget, but the state of California’s budget.”

Another said that for those who live near the ARDA site, which is near a public school, the proposition “is quite concerning.”

“I don’t want to see the cemetery being forced into the … site, across the street from the school. When it doesn’t make any logistical and now financial sense.”