Bad Feng Shui Doesn’t Sway Irvine Council on Vets Cemetery

The Irvine City Council majority Tuesday night shot down a plan to change the location of a proposed veterans cemetery at Irvine’s Great Park, and in doing so angered Chinese residents who believe the cemetery would create bad feng shui in the neighborhoods that surround it.

The proposal was essentially a land swap between Great Park Neighborhoods developer FivePoint Communities and the city. The city would have given up a 125.7 acre piece of land near Irvine Boulevard in exchange for a 124.9 acre site off Bake Parkway and visible from Interstate 5.

Many Vietnam War veterans consider the park site hollowed ground because it sits on the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station and was the point of departure for soldiers en route to the war.

“Marine Corps Air Station El Toro was the last piece of America they saw as they left this country to fight in battle,” said veteran Alex Diaz.

But the cemetery site is adjacent to homes and near Portola High School, and its location could hurt home sales to a burgeoning number of Chinese buyers who live by the feng shui philosophy, which is centered on the idea of balancing energies.

In addition to veterans, the council chambers was packed with Chinese residents,  many holding paper signs saying “Yes On Land Swap.” Chinese are Irvine’s largest Asian majority, making up about 12 percent of the city’s population.

Most of the veterans in attendance – including members of a city veterans committee that studied the issue — also supported the land swap. They said they didn’t want to the cemetery to become a loathed neighbor of Chinese residents. They also said the alternative site is better because of its prominent visibility.

Emile Haddad, CEO of FivePoint Communities, also supported the land swap, calling it a “win-win-win” because of the apparent agreement from both veterans and Chinese residents.

But a majority of the City Council disagreed with the proposal, which was put forward by Councilwoman Christina Shea. They said it would derail a good plan by making Irvine’s bid for a veterans cemetery less competitive for federal funding.

CalVet, the state department for veteran’s affairs, is conducting a $500,000 feasibility study of the current site in order to prepare for a federal grant application that has a July 1 deadline. Council members said any change in plans would put Irvine in the “back of the line” and seriously threaten the city’s ability to have a veterans cemetery.

“[CalVet’s] got 88 other applications sitting there already. Do we want to move to the back of the line, is that what we want?” Said Councilwoman Beth Krom.

Proponents of the land swap said they don’t want to pull back on the process for the current veterans cemetery site because of exactly those concerns. Instead, they want to include the site as an alternative in CalVet’s application.

However, council members dismissed the idea that going on “two separate tracks” will lead to anything but the elimination of any future veterans cemetery in Irvine.

Some residents were openly hostile to the idea of allowing Irvine’s public policy to be influenced by the ancient Chinese philosophy.

“Superstitions from Asia have no place here. They should not even be considered. Much less discussed,” said veteran Larry Bales. “Land swap isn’t a solution, it’s a capitulation.”

Krom and her former council colleague and ally, Larry Agran, expressed suspicion that the land swap was really just a ploy by the developer to construct more housing.

Krom pointed to a letter from Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation Chairman Bill Cook as evidence. The letter, which articulates the reasons for the proposed land swap, was signed by Cook but written by someone with FivePoint Communities.

Cook acknowledged that Krom’s assertion was true, but said it nonetheless fully represented what he would have written.

Agran, a former U.S. Army soldier, said now is not the time for he, Cook and others to retreat from a site they fought hard to secure.

“Two years ago we won the key battle to establish the southern California Veterans Cemetery at the Great Park, we took that hill two years ago. Why would we surrender it now? Why would we surrender even one inch of it?” Agran said.

Shea said her colleagues didn’t do their homework on the plan and that submitting the other site as an alternative for CalVet to consider would not derail the proposal. She also argued that it was a better site because the process wouldn’t be hampered by millions of dollars in demolition costs, which is the case at the current site.

“I feel like we’re creating our own superstitions up here,” Shea said.

And Shea countered claims that the land swap was really about the developer’s profit margins. She said the site FivePoint is giving in exchange was worth more because the developer could sell it off to an organization for its international headquarters.

In the end, the council voted  3-1 against the proposal and instead passed a motion from Krom to reaffirm their previous decision. The motion also allocated $100,000 toward moving the current veterans cemetery plan forward. Mayor Steven Choi voted against the motion, saying it was weak and unnecessary.

Shea walked out of the meeting before the vote was cast and said she didn’t need to reaffirm her commitment to the cemetery. After the vote, some Chinese residents walked out of the chambers, hissed at council members and yelled “shame on you.”

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek

  • Steve Lister

    To be blunt, F*** the Chinese! This is the United States of America. Quit capitulating to immigrants that want to change the American way of life. Like the old bumper sticker of the past, America, love it or leave it!

  • Andy T.

    Don’t know if most people who commented here do not understand, or they do not want to understand, the following FACTS:
    1. Veterans were in full agreement with the swap, because the alternate site is a much better option all around: faster & cheaper to build, and much more visible and accessible.
    2. It was NOT the developer’s idea to swap land; he was simply trying to come up with a compromise that satisfies both parties: Veterans and residents. He certainly did that, but looks like 4 out of 5 council members have a different self-serving agenda, which constitutes of obstruction, delay and cronyism.
    3. The developer’s land by the freeway is by far more valuable than the cemetery’s site; so why for once people don’t give credit to someone who is trying to get people together, rather than create more animosity a la Donald Trump, and now like Lalloway, Schott & Krom?

  • Jacki Livingston

    Did they actually try to sell that load of bull pucky with a straight face? Feng Shui? That is hilarious.

  • LFOldTimer

    I entered the military voluntarily. I wasn’t drafted. I did my time and came out with an honorable discharge. My philosophy is that no one really owes me anything for joining the miliary since it was a personal choice. When people say “Thank you for your service” sometimes I tell them I appreciate the gratitude but it’s not really necessary since I voluntarily enlisted. Or I respond in kind “And thank you for paying for my education with the GI Bill”.

    Now those who were drafted and forced to serve and didn’t run off to Canada? Oh yeah. Thank each and every one of you for your service from the bottom of my heart. God bless you.

    With that said, I think it’s very important to honor those who actually gave their lives in the line of duty while serving in the military. It is the ultimate sacrifice. You can’t give much more in this world than your own life.

    I happen to think that Vet cemeteries should be reserved for those who actually died in the line of duty while serving their nation or died as a result of injuries or infections or medical conditions acquired while in the military.

    I definitely oppose any philosophy, including feng shui, influencing the location of a Vet’s cemetery. If living next to a cemetery bothers you that much – don’t buy property there. It really is that easy.

    I don’t know. Perhaps the pushback came from foreigners who have (had) an interest in buying property at the Great Park. I have no idea. If so, your preferences are not our priority. If you choose to live in our Country you can abide by our rules and our traditions.

    For all US citizens who are feng shui followers – just go buy someplace else that is not close to a cemetery. If you have the money to buy at the Great Park – your choices are unlimited.

    Those are my solutions.

  • Roger Butow

    As a USMC veteran who was stationed @ former MCAS El Toro, who both left, returned and was discharged from its gates, I have been very frustrated tracking this issue.

    Those who’ve read my comments over the past decade about the entire conversion fiasco in either other media or more recently herein, know that I’ve distrusted the City the entire time regarding the Great Poke…especially Agran & Krom.

    All of that said, the last time I posted here regarding that cemetery was months ago—I was personally disgusted with the Asian community—not out of racism, not out of frustration that an inherent element (feng shui) of an admirable Chinese philosophy, Taoism, one I studied a lot in college, but couldn’t figure out why that was an issue: No, it was the injustice, the ingratitude shown to my Marine Corps brothers (no women in combat back when) like myself who offered up our lives to liberate and protect.

    All over Asia & Southeast Asia, we died or suffered extreme physical and mental injury, as POWs captured, tortured abused, never coming home physically or mentally intact as we left, our families suffering through the pain of separation and uncertainty of our whereabouts. Whether WWII, Korea, Vietnam et al, we were SEMPER FI.

    To this day we still offer shelter and military support to Pacific Rim nations, we still come to their aid in times of catastrophe. All we ever asked for was what we were promised: Somewhere on the base that still burns in our decaying memories, that represented commitment, that was part of the SOC community fabric, that our relatives could visit, that ALL could visit and pay their respects.

    That ground is not bad ju-ju, it is holy sacred soil stained with our blood, sweat and tears, feng shui is passé in spite of home decoration fads. Taoism lives as Shinto lives as Buddhism lives. Great.

    I have never been able to grasp why the Chinese community in Irvine feels our graveyard to be visual or spiritual blight. Those tombstones or plaques are a reminder that we are all human, all (if really compassionate) willing to sacrifice ourselves to higher lofty purposes. Symbols of the best part of the human race, inspirational.

    It is incredibly crass to see that apparently it’s all come down to money. When we were soldiers, that was obviously the last thing we sought. A dollar or two/hour or so was slave wages—although we did get paid that hefty sum even as we slept a few hours/night or took cat naps!

    We earned a resting place where ALL can be reminded that to know war is to know of the insanity among men, that old men lie and send young men (and now women) off to die, usually from the lower, expendable classes of society. That never seems to change, just the ambient humidity (desert dry or damp tropical terrain).

    I’m uncomfortable about thanked for my service as I wasn’t a combat, in country Marine. Plus I was very young, was going to be drafted anyway, signed up before everyone realized what Vietnam was really about. A dead end. But it takes 5-7 men/women to put one in the field, and as I didn’t choose my MOS, I did as I was told, went where I was ordered to go, I still feel that I deserve to rest in eternity with my siblings…….Stopping/detouring us is really hypocritical and Irvine should be embarrassed, ashamed for ever delaying or ending us our right, what were promised.

    End of sermon, end of diatribe. Forgive me, some things just need saying.

    • Bill Colver

      You might not have served in combat but you served. We may differ on some political views but you volunteered for a conflict that many sought great lengths to avoid.

      I agree that feng shui should not be the determining factor. Right now there is significant investment from the Asian community in Irvine. What happens if that mindset changes? The real estate marketplace and its consumers are a fickle bunch.

      I grew up in L.A. in a neighborhood that is significantly different than when I was a kid. No one can guarantee that won’t happen here.

      The sacrifices of veterans will be the same regardless of who lives nearby.

      • Roger Butow

        Bill: I grew up in a neighborhood that inadvertently prepared me for armed physical conflict: The mean streets, the barrios of Wilmington, Harbor City, LA Harbor area. Blonde haired, blue eyed, I was by far in the minority.
        Regardless, few skirmishes between the races were deadly, mostly intimidation, turf wars, bullying and at times fist fights. I saw 2 gang members die over a 10 year period….they get that many a month these days.
        The only thing different now is that instead of bars only on the windows of businesses, I think even the homes have them too.
        Automatic weapons instead of switchblades. Random shootings, unintended innocent victims. Sad.

    • kburgoyne

      Roger: I respect your position on the cemetery and the points you’re actually trying to make. I just want to point that while you had no say in what you were being paid as a soldier, and while it was good of you to not do it for the money, it must be recognized that many in power knew your job largely existed to protect their money. The money of families who probably haven’t seen any members engage in combat since maybe WWII. It just isn’t good marketing PR to admit it.

  • Paul Lucas

    Its not ok for those people to ask our Veterans to re-locate based on the tastes of foreign buyers who will in turn use the money they stole from Americans to offshore our jobs to their country for slave ;labor to enrich the people who would come back here to make homes out of purchase range for every one else due to aforementioned offshoring of jobs.

    • Cynthia Ward

      Paul I have always felt the same way. But I am very proud of the Veterans for trying to consider alternatives that were sensitive to others, while still completing their own mission. It was the gentlemanly (and ladylike) thing to at least try. So we continue working toward the existing site and ensure that our US military dead have a dignified final resting place in OC. I am glad for that outcome, because my great fear was the Council kicking the vets to the curb without ANY home base for the cemetery. As long as the vets win, that is all that counts on this one.

      • Paul Lucas

        The Vets are sticking to their guns on the location which I applaud. China can kick rocks for all I care.

        • Cynthia Ward

          The Vets were totally open to the alternate location, as it was still on former base land and actually offered fewer obstacles and greater visibility. But if the City says they are sticking with the original plan, then yes of course the Vets will stay the course. What they are sticking to their guns on is the FACT of a cemetery on that base. Period. We owe it to them.