The Irvine City Council has scheduled a last-minute special meeting at 4 p.m. today to discuss specifics for a land swap with developer FivePoint Holdings that could lead to Orange County’s first veterans cemetery.
Councilwoman Melissa Fox said City Attorney Jeff Melching told her Mayor Don Wagner scheduled the meeting around 3:30 p.m. Monday, narrowly beating the 24-hour special meeting notice deadline required by the state’s Ralph M. Brown Act.
Fox said Melching told her he didn’t know why the mayor called the special meeting.
“This is not the way to run a city … but it could be an emergency, I don’t know,” Fox said, adding she didn’t have the final land swap agreement, but was told the council will have it when they get to the meeting.
In June the city voted to swap land from the former El Toro Marine Corp Air Station for a site owned by FivePoint off the 5 and 405 freeway interchange. The swap site now is used to grow strawberries and was once inside the edge of the base. Veterans have sought a cemetery in Orange County for years. Currently, the closest veterans cemeteries are in Riverside and San Diego Counties.
The appraisal for the two sites also came in on Monday. Councilwoman Christina Shea and Fox said the El Toro site was appraised at $4 million and the strawberry fields site is valued at $68 million.
The special meeting comes after FivePoint CEO Emile Haddad’s claims that City Manager Sean Joyce told him he only wanted to transfer 25 of the 125 acres to the state for cemetery development, while constructing revenue-generating buildings on the rest of the land, like a hotel and houses.
“We got a call where they basically told us that they would like to only transfer 25 acres,” Haddad previously told The Voice of OC. “Then they would keep the 100 acres … until the state is ready to build the balance of the cemetery.”
The council will publicly discuss the implementation agreement during the special meeting, although there’s no staff report attached to the item on the city’s website.
“I think it was scheduled around 3:30 (Monday)…because Melissa Fox and I have been very concerned about this closed session. We were literally not going to go into the closed session,” Shea said in a phone interview Monday.
Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation Chairman Bill Cook said Wagner was at a city event Saturday and promised the veterans all 125 acres.
But Cook said Wagner didn’t say if the city will transfer the 125 acres all at once to the state or not.
“It’s up to the rest of the council,” Wagner said in a Monday phone interview.
Meanwhile, Shea said it “took a fight” to get the item to public discussion amid speculation that specifics, like initially only transferring 25 out of the 125 acres to the state, were going to be discussed in closed session.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC reporter who covers south Orange County and Fullerton. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.