Irvine City Councilman Jeff Lalloway and State Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk Silva this week will jumpstart a stalled debate in Orange County over building a veterans cemetery.
Veterans have been pushing for their own cemetery in Orange County for decades, arguing they shouldn’t have to endure long drives to Los Angeles, San Diego or Riverside – which have their own federally-designated veterans cemeteries – to visit fallen comrades.
Lalloway on Tuesday will propose that the City of Irvine provide $40 million in direct funding for a veterans’ cemetery on the same site that Irvine council members supported several years ago on the former Marine Air Base at El Toro.
After the council supported one site three years ago, Quirk Silva got state legislation approved and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown that designated a site on the base as a veterans’ cemetery. Federal officials also offered support for the site. Quirk Silva later got state officials to fund a study that put a $77 million price tag on the site.
Yet Quirk Silva then lost re-election to former State Assemblywoman Young Kim and momentum on the veterans’ cemetery seemed to run out.
“It just kinda sat there,” Quirk Silva said.
“There are people who don’t want to see a cemetery built,” Lalloway said. “They want to see it delayed and by creating a split on the city council and among veterans they can eliminate or delay this proposal forever.”
Indeed, given the large funding gap facing the project, developer Emile Haddad and his Five Point Communities has stepped up to say the company will build a full cemetery if veterans opt for a different site in Irvine, one that doesn’t complicate housing sales on the former military base.
Some veterans have balked at the offer. Others want to accept it saying it’s fully funded and the best shot at having something built in this lifetime.
Lalloway says his plan is a game changer.
“This puts it on the goal line,” Lalloway said of the current plan.
Yet in politics, that’s where things always get complicated.
Depending on Orange County’s legislative delegation – despite Quirk Silva’s amazing success the first time around on the veterans’ cemetery – is one heck of a longshot bet.
“It is a heavy lift,” she said.
This is the same delegation that for decades hasn’t been able to do anything about reversing one of the worst shares of property tax allocations from Sacramento than any other California county. It’s the same delegation that almost sold our fairgrounds by accident. The same delegation that couldn’t do anything to save $73 million in vehicle license fees that Sacramento took back a few years back.
Yet this is the delegation that is supposed to be able to run the board legislatively this time around, getting their colleagues to support more than $30 million for a county known as one of America’s most Republican in what today could be called the most Democratic of state legislatures.
Even Quirk Silva – who is willing to take on the fight – acknowledges that the amount wouldn’t likely come at once, but in payments. Yet that might not be what is needed to be a project going, she argues.
“I’ll do what I can, even if they change to the other site. But I hope they’ll stick with the original site,” Quirk Silva said.
Lalloway argues that betting on a developer could be tricky as well. That’s what the last Irvine city council did when it argued that the developer would help build the Great Park, a plan that fizzled when redevelopment disappeared.
There is indeed no sense of what Five Points will propose to build.
And that’s really the presentation that we all need to see.
It’s Haddad’s turn.
Whether or not Tuesday night is a game changer or not is unclear.
What is very clear is that by proposing something, Lalloway and Quirk Silva have really put the pressure on Five Points to step up.
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