Liss: Critical History of OC Veterans Cemetery Location

The unique, original and historic MCAS El Toro Control Tower that would be preserved on the “hangar” site (ARDA) within the Veterans Cemetery, along with the original hangars and flightline.

Spencer Custodio’s article that appeared the morning of May 29th: “OC Veterans Cemetery Location Remains Uncertain” again reflects Mayor Christina Shea’s highly distorted version of truth and good sense.  She was quoted as saying that the State is going to need to fully fund the hangar site [ARDA site] before the city commits to anything.

As Custodio reports, the current plan is for three State legislators to each ask for $10 million to be put into the coming year’s State budget towards the building of the Veterans Cemetery on the historic hangar and control tower site (the ARDA site).  But, we’ll know for sure in a few weeks if the requested $30 million is in the pending State budget.  It’s absurd to think that after spending $30 million on a piece of property that they would then own, the State will pull the plug and not follow through to complete construction of the first phase of the Veterans Cemetery.

I’d also like to fill in a bit of critical history that Custodio omits when he writes: “Progress on the cemetery froze until the land swap proposal was offered by developer Five Point Holdings in early 2017, which kicked off a battle…”  Yes, progress froze, because on June 6, 2017, at a special meeting called by then Mayor Donald Wagner, the City Council voted 3-2 to change the designated site for the Veterans Cemetery from the historic hangar site (ARDA) to the strawberry fields site, thereby removing a $30 million pending grant from the State’s 2017-18 budget that would have been approved a week or so later for complete ARDA site cleanup.

That $30 million grant had been announced eleven days earlier, on May 26, 2017, by Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva in a press release with a photo of her standing next to then Governor Brown.  She announced that a $30 million grant to CalVet was successfully inserted into the pending 2017-18 budget, which was precisely the estimated cost to commence construction of the Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park with demolition, removal of hazardous waste and site clearing!  If that State grant had not been rejected, there never would have been an “unclear funding situation” as Custodio states—since the remaining funding would come from a federal grant and from the Great Park’s Fund 180, which is State money earmarked for Great Park improvements.

Harvey H Liss, P.E., Ph.D., is currently a writer and editor of Irvine Community News & Views.  He has resided in Irvine for 42 years, and was an Irvine Planning Commissioner in 2014.  A former assistant professor of civil engineering and applied mechanics, he was afterwards, in the late 1970s, project civil engineer for the Irvine Village of Woodbridge’s NE quadrant.  He is a California licensed professional civil engineer.

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