Berardino: Setting the Record Straight on the OC Veterans Cemetery

Few things make me angrier than watching political theater in which military men and women are lauded for their duty and sacrifice even as their best interests are betrayed in pursuit of unrelated goals.

That’s precisely what’s happening right now in Orange County as Irvine voters prepare to vote on Measure B, a referendum that would ensure construction of California’s first new veterans cemetery in more than three decades.

For reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with what’s best for the veterans who will one day be laid to rest there – not to mention the taxpayers who will foot the bill – a noisy opposition led by an ousted Irvine city councilman seems hellbent on derailing this deserving and long overdue project. Irvine residents should not fall for more empty promises from the same lifelong politician who squandered hundreds of millions of dollars on grandiose and unachievable plans for the Orange County Great Park.

Building the cemetery on strawberry fields at the southern tip of the Great Park – now taking shape because of an innovative partnership between the City of Irvine and the developer FivePoint – costs tens of millions less than an alternative site, fast-tracks construction to meet the pressing needs of Orange County’s 130,000 veterans and does not increase traffic in Irvine. Opposing this site between Alton Parkway and the El Toro Y by voting no on Measure B would effectively end the last, best chance to realize the dream of a veterans cemetery in Orange County.

And to what end? Opponents of Measure B seem to want nothing more than to roil the political waters of Irvine for personal advantage. Settling a political vendetta this way is, at best, insulting to the Orange County men and women who served their country in uniform. So let’s set the record straight.

Opponents have called the currently approved and fully funded plan to build the cemetery on prime land a “sweetheart deal.” It is, but not in the sinister way their misleading campaign wants voters to think. In fact, it’s a lopsided deal in favor of taxpayers.

FivePoint, which owns the land, has agreed to swap it for another city-owned parcel that requires substantial demolition of old buildings and infrastructure after years of use as a military base. That alone cuts potentially years off the development timeline. Add to that the fact that the strawberry fields have never been developed – meaning there is no need to demolish existing structures. Plus, FivePoint will contribute $10 million toward construction. Taken together, just these factors shave about $50 million off the cost to taxpayers.

In agreeing to the swap, the city did not grant FivePoint any new development rights or any additional concessions for more traffic. FivePoint just takes what it’s entitled to build on one of the most visible pieces of undeveloped land in Orange County and transfers it to another parcel further north.

That reality should drive a stake through fear-mongering about additional traffic in Irvine. Alleging that the current cemetery site will create more traffic than is already forecast is an outrageous claim that shows just how far opponents will stoop. But it’s just one example of the lies they tell as they pretend to care about veterans and the legacy of the land at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro.

In a head-spinning blur of revisionist history, for example, opponents to the cemetery claim that it was supposed to be part of the Great Park and that the current site dishonors veterans because it lies outside the boundaries of the former base.

Both are just more lies.

No approved plan for the Great Park included a veterans’ cemetery within the boundaries of the park. The parcel initially designated for the cemetery was on City of Irvine-owned land near the park – just as the current site is. And the strawberry fields on which the cemetery is planned were within the boundaries of the base at the southern end of the runways that served as the departure point for troops and materiel defending freedom around the globe.

For some, those fragrant fields falling away under the wings of a transport were the last American soil they ever saw. They are a fitting place for veterans across Orange County to come home to. A “Yes” vote for Measure B ensures they can.

Nick Berardino, U.S. Marine Vietnam Combat Veteran

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org