OC to Get a Veterans Cemetery, But Where?

Runways and hangars at the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, which is now the site of Irvine's Great Park.

Military veterans will get a cemetery in Orange County, but the Irvine City Council is divided over where to put it.

One side favors a 125-acre site on the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station while the other wants to let a developer build it near the intersection of the 5 and 405 freeways.

And still unknown is whether the state will pay the roughly $40 million needed to complete the El Toro site or exactly how the developer who owns the freeway site would create that cemetery.

The two cemetery proposals at Tuesday’s council meeting pitted Councilwoman Christina Shea, who favors the freeway location, against Councilman Jeff Lalloway, who supports the former El Toro base, now known as the Great Park.

“This (the freeway plan) is an effort by a developer to get additional homes built within the Great Park,” said Lalloway. “Let’s just say it for what it is — that’s what it is.”

“I’m not going to die on my sword on this,” said Shea of the debate over where to put the cemetery. “I hope to move forward because I want to see that cemetery built and we know it can be built in the next year and a half.”

Lalloway’s 125-acre plan calls for Irvine to put up $38 million to develop the cemetery on the Great Park site with another roughly $40 million coming from the state legislature and governor.

“The state is basically broke, so what you’re asking people to do is stick with your proposal and that we’re going to wait another how many years before we ever get any money from the State of California,” said Shea, adding Brown has said he supports the cemetery, but there’s no state funding for it.

Shea’s plan proposes a land swap with the development firm FivePoints Communities getting the city’s Great Park cemetery site in exchange for land FivePoints owns near the 405 and 5 interchange. The city council shot down that plan last year and voted to keep the cemetery at the Great Park site. (http://voiceofoc.org/2016/04/feng-shui-doesnt-sway-irvine-council-veterans-cemetery-location-unchanged/)

But this year, Councilwoman Melissa Fox proposed combining the two proposals. The city would put up $38 million toward construction and state funds can be sought for the Great Park site at the same time staff is reviewing how the freeway land could be turned into a cemetery.

Her plan eventually passed on a 3-2 vote, with Councilwoman Lynn Schott voting no and Lalloway loudly dissenting.

For decades, no elected officials tried to get a local cemetery for Orange County veterans. Currently, the closest veteran cemeteries are in Riverside, Los Angeles and San Diego counties.

But nearly three years ago, Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton) got the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown to buy the El Toro site for a cemetery. After she lost her seat to former Assemblywoman Young Kim (R-Fullerton), all progress on the cemetery stopped. Quirk-Silva won the seat back in November.

Developer FivePoint Communities has opposed putting the cemetery in the Great Park, near homes and a school.

When the issue was before the city council last year, the room was packed with Chinese residents who opposed locating the cemetery in the Great Park because it would create bad feng shui in the neighborhoods that surround it. Chinese are Irvine’s largest Asian majority, making up about 12 percent of the city’s population.

This year, military veterans crowded the council meeting.

“I am one veteran who did not find welcome when I came home. Now, nearly 50 years later, I’m again made to feel unwelcome by those who say the veterans cemetery proposal is not welcome at the (Great Park) site,” said Jack Fanchar, a U.S. Army draftee in the Vietnam War. “I suspect it violates someone’s marketing plan.”

“I consider these (former military base) acres hallow grounds,” Army veteran Ed Pope told the city council.

“When I’m buried, I really don’t want the freeway close,” said U.S. Air Force veteran Angelo Vassos “What has the developer done for Irvine?”

But other veterans support Shea’s land swap proposal or said they don’t mind where it is. They just want it built quickly.

“Where you place the cemetery will say a lot about your city. It makes a strong statement to the world that you care about veterans if you place it in a prominent … site (near the freeway),” U.S. Army veteran Robert Breton said. “(The freeway) site is a better site and it will, in the end, take less time and less money.”

The next steps are up to Quirk-Silva and FivePoint Communities chairman Emile Haddad.

“I will continue to push the state to do its part on the project,” said Quirk-Silva in a statement published on her web site. 

Haddad has told the city council he’s ready to begin discussing funding for the first phase of the cemetery, but no details have been provided.

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC intern. He can be reached at spencercustodio@gmail.com.

  • Roger Butow

    Glad to see that the LAT has reposted this column……As an OC, Vietnam-era Marine veteran, one who served briefly @ former MCAS El Toro, not to mention a community activist engaged in this base conversion since inception, it is beyond disheartening to sit around and wait for these career bureaucrats and their hand-chosen developer to resolve this.

    OC voters were bilked—we trusted Irvine to create what they promised asap, they acquired a dominant, sole-proprietor role, were handed a Rolls-Royce opportunity and delivered a Pinto.

    So while Irvine’s coffers keep getting stuffed, with increasing funds on the horizon because they gleefully, greedily sold their souls (and ours) to developers from No Cal, our rightful resting place circles the drain.

    It might be difficult and very “un-PC” to say it, but MANY MANY American military veterans have been either injured or died due to serving on Asian soil. And their community’s response? It’s bad ju-ju, negative fengshui. That is not only disrespectful, but ingratitude to the max.

    Irvine’s political structure response? Keep playing mind games while we veterans and our families wonder about how & why we became a pinball, bouncing and bumping around year after year. Maybe a can that Irvine has been kicking down the road for a decade.

    Well, here’s a hot flash: Being disabled (either physically or mentally) due to combat-related activities isn’t a whole heck of a lot of joyful fun either. We deserve a final resting place commensurate with our commitment, to go where sent, fight and defend other nation’s struggles.

    When sworn in, we offered our lives up to the causes our country felt righteous—-now we’re treated as if chattel or trash, the cemetery basically denigrated down to a marginal, least expensive place to dump bodies without honor.

    Irvine gets more than the original 30 pieces of silver, and we who were soldiers get the Fickle Finger of Fate, the shaft.

  • I find it interesting that all these politicians squawk separation of church and state yet they are falling all over themselves to appease the Feng Shut aficionados. The cemetery belongs in a prominent location on the old Marine Corps base, period. I have to question the mentality and their connection with the developers of any veteran who thinks otherwise.

  • astar2b

    Leave plenty of room… 125 acres is not enough…

  • LFOldTimer

    Watch and learn. They’ll probably put the cemetery up near the landfill. Let’s tell it like it is. All those politicians who are opposed to placing the cemetery in the Great Park next to the housing projects give the rich homeowners (many of whom are foreign nationals) priority over vets who served, sacrificed their lives and were maimed or died in war. Veterans are best out of sight, out of mind (according to Big Money and their cronies). Keeping the rich homeowners happy is of the highest priority. Pay attention. Sooner or later Lalloway will roll over and acquiesce. Mark my words. The vets will NEVER be laid to rest at a cemetery at the Great Park anywhere near the million dollar plus homes. According to the politicians – they just aren’t good enough. Big Money for the win, once again!

    Oh, and for the record – to all those who accused me of being a Trump bootlicker – I found it deplorable that Trump authorized a missile strike on Syria for the purpose of ousting Assad and fomenting regime change in Syria. He is no better than Bush, Hillary or Obama in that respect – a pathetic warmonger who is pushing his weight around and committing more war crimes. We have no legal authorization to be in Syria, let alone bombing their country and overthrowing their government. It’s all about clearing the way to build a gas pipeline from the ME through Syria into western Europe. It’s all about Big Money and promoting US domination over the rest of the world. As a kid I was told we were fighting the communists because they were taking over the world and we had to stop them. It was called the “domino theory”. Fast forward 50 years and now we are doing the same thing. But now that we’re doing it it’s perfectly legitimate. lol.

    I’m very disappointed in Trump on this matter. He must be taking orders from Hillary and Obama. He’s lost a piece of my respect. For the record.

    • justanon

      “He must be taking orders from Bush, Hillary and Obama.”

      If there was any wonder how you could have been stupid enough to vote for that lying POS trump look no further than who you blame it on. Of all the ridiculous and ignorant things you spout this has got to be the topper.

      Our militarism comes from our huge bloated military!!! And FYI dumb-*ss, your boy trump campaigned on pumping up the military even more. This is EXACTLY what you voted for!!!

      Your ‘shock’ that trump is recklessly using our military might is just pathetic and rings hollow.

      This is your cheap excuse for distancing yourself from the obvious disaster that electing a reckless, bigoted, ignorant, lying, mentally ill jerk for POTUS has wrought.

      You have POOR JUDGEMENT and REASONING SKILLS. YOU should NOT BE PONTIFICATING!

      YOU should shut up and spend some time reflecting on the ugly impulses, namely your bigotry, that made you think voting for someone like trump was acceptable in the first place. You and your ilk wanted so badly to punish ‘others’, but the truth is you punished us all because of your evil bigotry.

      SHAME ON YOU!!!

      NOW GO AWAY!!!!!!!!!

      • LFOldTimer

        I’m different from you, justanon.

        I actually condemn actions of those who I vote for when they screw up. You carried Hildabeast’s shoe shine kit start to finish. ha. And we know what she stood for! ha.

        A choice between Hildabeast and Trump was a no-brainer. It’s still a no-brainer. Most important, Trump will appoint conservatives to the SCOTUS which will guarantee conservative rulings for 30 years on. That, by itself, justified a Trump vote. If I had it to do over again I would’ve voted 5 times for Trump if it was legal and I had the opportunity to do so.

        I’m disappointed in Trump’s decision to shell Syria and blame the gas attack on Assad when all the evidence points in another direction. And I’m disappointed that Trump wants more regime change like Bush, Obama and Hillary specialized in when in office.

        I never expected to agree with everything Trump does. I’m not his Siamese twin for God sakes.

        Naturally you’d refuse to admit that Hildabeast (a Democrat) called for a missile attack on Syria before it even happened. ha. You never admitted to all of Hildabeast’s criminal and corrupted practices. lol

        And you’d refuse to admit that all the Dems in Congress praised Trump for his decision to shell Syria. And all of them want Trump to move forward on regime change replacing Assad too. ha.

        But naturally you’d disavow all those little factoids, wouldn’t you, dear? lol.

        You have no credibility with me.

        • justanon

          But I’m not the dumb, lying, schmuck who pretends to be ‘shocked’ when trump or any US President bombs another country. I know what a militaristic nation this is.

          Only a fool wouldn’t know that when you have a huge military that they lead on issues of war and as long as we continue to fetishize all things military, it will continue.

          I also want an intelligent and thoughtful POTUS, unlike you, who’s satisfied with an ignorant, reckless, lying, mentally ill jerk just as long as he satisfies your racist and bigoted agenda.

          Talk about a lack of “credibility”, ha, ha, ha!

  • kburgoyne

    Well gosh, I’ll just hazard a guess that the vets might prefer it at the old El Toro rather than the lovely view and noise of the traffic on the 405 & 5. That’s just a wild guess though. 🙂