The Irvine Planning Commission wants to send the City Council as fast as possible all available environmental reports and any potential development contracts in or near the Great Park that could affect development of a veterans cemetery.

The  Commission voted 4-1 Aug. 2 to direct staff to research a 2012 environmental study of the entire area and work with the city attorney to review any contractual obligations the city has on the land. The commission set Sept. 6 as a deadline for the information to come back to the Planning Commission, before going to the Council.

“It’s a very exhaustive list. It’s almost overkill,” commissioner Patty Bartlett said at the meeting. “I’m not going to call this stall tactics, but it feels like stall tactics.”

Bartlett was the dissenting vote.

Planning Commission Chairman Greg Smith said he’s trying to get the numerous reports to the City Council quickly.

“I don’t want any more hands in the pie,” Smith said about other committees or commissions getting involved that aren’t listed in the direction given by the City Council. “My plan is to have this back by September 6th.”

The city is looking at two spots for the cemetery: a 125-acre site near the heart of the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro next to the park and a planned 195-acre golf course in the Great Park. The park was once part of El Toro. 

Smith reminded everyone at the start of the veterans cemetery item that the commission does not pick the location of the cemetery — that’s up to the City Council.

Irvine was going to swap the original 125-acre original site for developer FivePoint Holdings-owned agricultural 125-acre land next to the 5 and 405 interchange on Bake Parkway. Irvine voters rejected the land swap June 5 by a margin of over 25 points.

Councilman Jeff Lalloway introduced a motion at the July 10 council meeting to move forward with building on the original site, which still has taxiways, hangars, barracks, jet engine-testing buildings and an active Federal Aviation Administration antenna array on it.

Before Lalloway’s motion made it to a vote, Mayor Don Wagner introduced a substitute motion. It directs the planning, finance and traffic commissions to further analyze what impact a veterans cemetery at the original site would have on the city’s budget, traffic and development obligations. The City Council voted 3-2 for the motion, with Councilwoman Lynn Schott and Lalloway dissenting.

Wagner’s motion doesn’t have a deadline for any of the analyses to come back to the council.

During public comment at the July 10 council meeting, some people who were concerned about the $78 million price tag for the hangar site proposed using land slated for a 195-acre golf course nearby in the Great Park.

Mayor Pro Tem Christina Shea and Councilwoman Melissa Fox sent a memo to the Planning Commission July 16, asking them to gather information on the golf course site.

At the Aug. 2 Planning Commission meeting, Bartlett said the commission should only review the golf course if the direction stemmed from a council vote.

“That memo is from two councilmembers,” Bartlett said. “I think it’s pretty clear the voters have spoken … It’s clear voters want the (original) site.”

But Smith said the commission should get ahead of the curve. He sent a memo July 23 to Director of Community Development Pete Carmichael to have the commission discuss and direct staff to look at both sites.

“I’m kind of doing this on my own. I think it’s time we took some leadership,” Smith said. “We’re not trying to preempt the council — we’re trying to give them more information in a timely basis.”

Commissioner John Duong was concerned the memo to the Planning Commission only came from two council members, but after learning about the Sept. 6 deadline, Duong voted yes.

“We’re going to do everything humanly possible to bring it back on the 6th,” Carmichael said.

A June 2016 study of the hangar site conducted by the Los Angeles-based Owen Group for the California Department of General Services priced the first phase of development at $78 million, including nearly $40 million in demolition and cleanup costs.

The Owen report notes that more soil studies should be conducted on the hangar site and if toxic soil is found, the cost to clean it up would increase the price dramatically. The report does not give an estimate on soil remediation, but does say if enough contamination is found, the site should be excavated eight to 10 feet in an effort to remove the contamination.  

Bartlett asked what studies have been done to each site and if they need any land remediation, outside of the 2012 environmental review which looked at the whole area of land.

Carmichael said it’s “yet to be determined what level of (remediation), but they both need (environmental reviews)..”

The Planning Commission vote comes a week and a half before County Supervisors are expected Aug. 14 to receive a preliminary report on a veterans cemetery next to the 91 freeway and the 241 toll road.

The Board of Supervisors directed staff at the June 26 meeting to look into a cemetery at the freeway site after veterans, who supported the land swap in Irvine, approached Supervisor Todd Spitzer to examine the land. The veterans approached Spitzer shortly after Irvine voters rejected the land swap June 5.

Veterans Alliance of Orange County (VALOR) President Nick Berardino, a Vietnam War combat Marine, said the organization supports the freeway site in Anaheim Hills and cautiously supports the golf course site.

“We want a cemetery and we are supportive of the County’s efforts, which we are hopeful will be moving along quickly and we would also not be against the golf course. But, we are very cautious about what’s going on in the city of Irvine and encourage the county and city to continue moving in a positive direction,” Berardino said in a Sunday phone interview.  

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC reporter who covers south Orange County and Fullerton. You can reach him at Follow on Twitter @SpencerCustodio

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