Preliminary election results showed 63 percent of Irvine voters opposed a ballot measure that would move Orange County’s first veterans cemetery to the edge of the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, near the interchange of the 5 and 405 freeways.
As of 1 a.m. Wednesday, Orange County’s elections office estimated at least 80 percent of all ballots countywide had been counted. The results for Measure B showed all precincts reporting.
Officials do not know how many ballots are currently in the mail. Under state law, ballots mailed on or before Election Day are counted and included in the final result after they’re received by the Registrar.
At the center of the measure is a land swap between the city and FivePoint Holdings, the real estate developer of the former El Toro base.
The swap would give FivePoint the land previously designated for a veterans cemetery near the center of the former base in exchange for FivePoint’s strawberry fields near the freeways.
In order to make the land swap possible, the City Council in October changed the zoning of the original site — which still has taxiways, barracks, hangars and jet engine-testing buildings on it — to grant development rights to FivePoint, including 812,000 square feet of research and development space and nearly 9,000 daily commuter trips in and out of the land.
Under Measure B, the cemetery would be built on the strawberry fields now owned by FivePoint.
Many veterans said they wanted the cemetery at the original site near the center of the base because it was the last piece of American soil where many men and women stood before flying to war and dying in combat.
Proponents of the strawberry fields said the agricultural site is a more feasible place to build a cemetery because it should cost less money since there is no pavement or buildings that need to be removed.
In a rare display of bipartisan support, both the Republican Party of Orange County and Democratic Party of Orange County have endorsed the strawberry fields.
FivePoint pledged $10 million to help develop the strawberry field site. It’s still unknown what it would cost to build the cemetery on that site.
Opponents of the swap, including former Irvine Mayor Larry Agran, have questioned if FivePoint will actually provide the funding, saying the commitment is not in writing.
FivePoint made the $10 million promise in an April 10 letter to the state Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
Veterans have been fighting for years for a cemetery in the county. Currently, the nearest cemeteries are in Riverside and San Diego counties. Although local chapters of veterans organizations like Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion have backed the strawberry field site, a divide remains among veterans.
In the run-up to the election, political infighting led some veterans to fear people lost sight of who the cemetery is about—veterans.
Signs in favor of the swap stated “Real Veterans Support Measure B.” They were later taken down.
Wide Lead for Irvine Measure C, Measure D Behind
Measure C, which would increase the threshold to a two-thirds majority council vote before placing a tax increase proposal on ballots, was ahead in the first round of returns, with 77 percent in favor and 23 percent opposing.
Measure D, which would exempt land developments approved by the City Council from being subject to voter approval, was behind as of 1 a.m. Wednesday, with 54 percent opposing and 46 percent supporting. Earlier in the evening Measure D was slightly ahead.
The land development measure was put forward by opponents of an effort by resident Karen Jaffe to place a voter initiative on November’s ballot that would require a vote by city residents on developments that have more than 40 housing units, a commercial/industrial development bigger than 10,000 square feet, or converting public land to private use.
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at email@example.com.