Cook: Where is our Southern California Veterans Cemetery?

The goal of OCVMP (Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation) is a proper, respectful Veterans Cemetery on old MCAS El Toro. Anywhere on old MCAS El Toro.

In order of site preference we would rank Strawberry Field at the top, ARDA at the bottom, and any other alternate configuration in between. Any site is acceptable. Just do it.

OCVMP and VALOR fully support AB368 and look forward to the full appropriation of funding that will move our SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA VETERANS CEMETERY forward.

From the 2014 designation of the ARDA by AB1453 until 2017, nothing happened.

“There will be a Veterans Cemetery here”

Of course AB1453’s $500,000 bought us a DGS/CalVet site study, known as the OWEN report, to be sent along to the VA for consideration on the Cemetery Grant Priority List (“Irvine” in 72nd place, among those ”construction grant pre-applications for which the State or Tribal Government does not have A&E funds and legislation – group 2”  FY2019 list page 3) Neither the OWEN report or the VA grant priority listing can be considered approvals.

Nothing happened in 2015. No construction funds, no construction schedule.

To move our cemetery forward we of OCVMP brought the generous and gracious offer of a site swap to the city council in 2016. It died in cricket silence for lack of a councilmember second. Nothing more happened in 2016. No construction funds, no construction schedule.

The site swap offer was brought forward by OCVMP again in 2017. With great consternation, only then was a motion of a city offer “from great park funds” made on the condition that the state match. Sharon Quirk-Silva did request $30M from the state budget, but the city council had voted to accept the swap offer. Veterans Code 1410 was amended to designate “Bake Parkway”, a DGS/CalVet study was initiated and $4.5M of phase one construction funds went into the state budget, and signed by Governor Brown.

And then there was a referendum and Measure B.

2019’s AB368 would again amend Section 1410 of the California Military and Veterans Code to read: “the site of the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, on 125 acres known as the Amended and Restated Development Agreement Site in the Orange County Great Park in the City of Irvine.”

Never mind that the ARDA (Amended and Restated Development Agreement) is not even in the Great Park, as the city attorney has made clear, and a judge agreed.

For now, until we get our Governor’s signature on AB368:

  1. Existing 1410 calls out the ‘Bake Parkway’ site, thus the Strawberry Field is still today the legislated ‘State and City approved’ SCVC site. Clean, prominent, ready, waiting, funded, and yes, still on the table available for the asking.
  2. DGS/CalVet has completed the site study, so what is called by some as ‘state approval’ or ‘VA approval’ exists in print for Bake Parkway – Strawberry Field.
  3. City of Irvine has a Veterans Cemetery Implementation Agreement drafted (in 2017) and ready. This agreement calls for a significant construction contribution from the developer upon execution. The VCIA which would convey title of Strawberry Field to the State only needed (needs) signature of the Mayor.

We say: Build the SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA VETERANS CEMETERY on old MCAS El Toro.

Semper Fi

Bill Cook is Chairman of the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation.

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