The journey to realizing the dream of an Orange County Veterans Cemetery feels longer and windier than the yellow brick road in the Wizard of Oz. With the Irvine City Council’s adoption of a voter submitted plan for a specific site in the Great Park, the veteran cemetery is now slated to be built at the original location chosen seven years ago. The Irvine City Council vote ends a contentious initiative battle between the Irvine City Council and residents of Irvine.
It’s taken a lot to get us here. After I was elected to the State Assembly in 2012, serving as chair of the Assembly Veterans Committee, I carried legislation to find a suitable cemetery site. In 2013, an honorable, hardworking group of local veterans worked towards bringing the idea of a veteran’s cemetery to Orange County. Together with the City of Irvine, we identified the ARDA Site for a future cemetery. My legislation AB1453, signed by Governor Jerry Brown, began the initial steps for an Orange County Veteran Cemetery.
However, in 2014, I lost my re-election and the Veteran Cemetery Plan languished. When I returned to office in 2016, we began another attempt to revive the Irvine Cemetery Project. This time there were new city council members to work with, and an option to switch the cemetery from the ARDA site to The Strawberry Field Site was brought forward. After much thought and negotiation, many, including myself, felt that this land was suitable. It was also less costly, and had support from Veterans groups.
After a celebration ceremony, an initiative was brought forward by community leaders to keep the cemetery at the ARDA site. The good people of Irvine voted for this original site. We then tried to work with new city council members to continue this project in 2018, even receiving an additional 10 million dollars in the 2019 state budget to support the cemetery plan. Once again, another site was being discussed, and a new council majority selected a third site, the Golf Site.
Again, we believed it to be a favorable site. We had now secured $20 million from the state with a proposed $10 million reimbursement from the Federal Government, and $28 million dollars that was pledged by 5 Point Developer, Emile Haddad, to support the Golf Site, as a future cemetery.
This now meant that there was close to full funding for a cemetery in Irvine. We were thrilled.
But a split continued in the community regarding the ideal location for the veteran cemetery. A struggle ensued over which site would prevail, with another initiative being brought forward last year to say the cemetery should be built at the ARDA Site. This initiative gained the signatures required and was headed for the ballot in November 2020. Tuesday night’s vote now settles the matter, and the future cemetery will be at the ARDA site according to the city ordinance.
In short we started with site A (ARDA), went to site B (Strawberry Fields), then to site C (Golf Course), and the site chosen is back to site A (ARDA).
It has been a twisty, bumpy road to arrive where we started. This has left a HUGE hurdle to jump, in order to actually see a cemetery built. At this point, there is no specified funding for the ARDA Cemetery. An estimated $75 Million dollars would need to be secured.
As I am writing this article, I was just called and notified that the $25 million dollars allocated to this project is being moved back to the general fund for critical budget needs.
The world has changed in the past two months, and now we have a $54 billion dollar state budget deficit, staring us in the face.
In addition, we have a growing homeless population, a serious housing crisis, and unemployment that may topple over 20%. Priorities in the state will now need to shift to economic recovery. I am an optimist and will always be a cheerleader for this cemetery, but honestly I am quite sad that this project was not built. We had many opportunities, but the delays and site changes added years to this project. The old saying in government is, “Use it or lose it!”, and we just lost our state funding.
My sincere wish is that someday we will honor our veterans by building an Orange County Veteran Cemetery. I have always said to my own children and my students. “Actions speak louder than Words!” In the future let’s get building, instead of arguing.
I want to sincerely thank our veterans and current enlisted military for their brave service to our country. I thank the many elected officials that supported this honorable concept, and I wish the City of Irvine the best of luck in the future with this honorable vision.
Assembly Member Sharon Quirk -Silva, Representing the 65th District.
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