Last July, the Irvine City Council directed staff to study two City-owned properties – the Amended and Restated Development Agreement (ARDA) site and the Golf Course site, located in the Orange County Great Park, for the location of the long-awaited and highly anticipated Southern California Veterans Cemetery. Both properties are within the historic boundaries of the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station (El Toro MCAS). There is broad consensus this cemetery is needed and should be within these historic boundaries.
Assembly member Sharon Quirk-Silva’s recent bill (AB 368), expressly designates the ARDA site as the only location the State of California will consider for this promised final resting place for Orange County veterans. This bill is in conflict with the dual site review process the City authorized; even worse, the bill caused the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet) to refuse to take steps to analyze the cost and feasibility of any site other than the ARDA.
The ARDA site, according to the State of California’s own Department of General Services (DGS), would require $91 million to remediate and to begin the initial phase of construction. In contrast, Irvine staff concluded the Golf Course site would require approximately $59 million or less to remediate and begin construction using the same costing methodology as that of DGS – a cost savings to California tax payers of approximately $30-40 million!
Since July 2018, both sites have been reviewed by the City of Irvine’s Planning, Transportation, and Finance Commissions. City staff have shared major differences between the locations at the public Commission meetings. The ARDA site has 77 buildings requiring demolition and possibly environmental remediation – the Golf Course site has no structures. The ARDA site has acres of former El Toro MCAS concrete runways and taxiways that must be removed and appropriately disposed of – the Golf Course site simply needs to dispose of the already demolished runways and taxiways. The ARDA site has not been through the 12-18 month environmental review process – the Golf Course site has.
Notwithstanding, the demolition and environmental differences, the ARDA site is bifurcated with a major access road (Cadence Boulevard) between residential homes and Portola High School. This thoroughfare violates the guidelines of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, who the State of California expects will provide significant funding for the cemetery. We believe this concern needs to be resolved by CalVet before the City makes a determination on a final location. The Southern California Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery should be a final resting place for California’s veterans free of traffic disruptions.
The City of Irvine is willing and ready to partner with CalVet; however, all potential roadblocks should be resolved, all financial responsibilities should be identified, and full funding by the State must be guaranteed before any designation by the State is suggested.
I have invited Governor Gavin Newsom to come to Irvine and tour both sites at his convenience – this invitation is extended to any state legislator weighing in on this matter. Decisions affecting local government control should not be made blindly and without full transparency and disclosure.
Irvine is renowned for its master plan. It is a city with a balanced population, employment and open space; that maintains the highest standards of architecture and design; and focuses on education, safety, and quality of life for its residents. As a City Council, we implement those ideas – through a master planned review process without interruption and interference.
Christina L. Shea is Mayor of the City of Irvine. She was first elected to the City Council in 1992.
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