After nearly a decade of debate, the Irvine City Council is set to make a decision Tuesday on the future of a state veterans cemetery in Orange County.
Two sites have been proposed for the cemetery on the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. One of the sites is at the northern edge of the Great Park, sitting on an air traffic control tower and old hangars, while the other site is on land set to become a golf course.
While the hangar site is 125 acres, officials are discussing creating a 25-acre park buffer zone on the edge of the site, leaving both proposed sites with roughly 100 acres apiece, with space for 200,000 veterans at each, according to a March presentation from the California Department of Veterans Affairs.
City leaders were waiting for months on a study from the state, which confirmed the costs for both sites earlier this month: The hangar location is set to cost just over $110 million to construct, while the golf course site is estimated at $74.3 million.
Now, the City Council has to choose which site they give to the state to start construction, a vote that could end a yearslong fight or move it out of Irvine altogether.
No matter which way they vote, council members will likely face a lawsuit from the losing side.
If they choose to put it at the golf course site, advocates for the hangar location have already threatened to sue, citing a ballot initiative passed by the City Council last year zoning the hangar site as the only home for the cemetery.
But if council members opt for the hangar site, nearby residents from the Great Park have threatened to sue over concerns about having a cemetery so close to their homes, a fact they say they weren’t warned about before moving in.
Some veterans are even asking for the city to abandon the project altogether. Following the release of the state study, the Veterans Alliance of Orange County, the loudest proponent of the golf course site, asked the city to instead renounce any cemetery in Irvine and support a proposed location on county-owned land at Gypsum Canyon.
If city officials choose not to pursue a cemetery in Irvine altogether, it’ll flush over a million dollars, two ballot initiatives and dozens of hours of City Council discussion down the drain.
Almost every member of the council has avoided stating their preferred site. While Councilman Larry Agran is an outspoken supporter of the hangar site and wrote the ballot initiative the council approved last year, no one else has stated a preference.
Mayor Farrah Khan and Councilman Anthony Kuo said they refused to make a final decision until they have had a chance to review the state study, and council members Mike Carroll and Tammy Kim said they would support whatever the state recommended.
Kim was also criticized after announcing she was holding a town hall meeting on Friday to hear Great Park residents’ concerns about the cemetery, but only sent invitations to portions of the park community and required a cell phone number and email address to attend.
The invitation form was created by the Korean American Center, a nonprofit where Kim works as a managing director, leading to questions on social media about how she would manage the information.
In a Friday phone call with Voice of OC, Kim said she made the invitation through her work account because the city doesn’t use Google accounts, and that it was tailored specifically to Great Park residents because they would be the ones living next to the cemetery.
“I’m in my full right to listen to constituents. I wanted to have a listening session for our Great Park residents, and it’s not invite only, but it does have restricted attendance,” Kim said. “There’s no authority that every meeting at a public facility and (with) selective members of the public has to be open to everyone. We all have private meetings all the time with constituent groups, that’s what we do.”
Kim planned on going through with the meeting Friday evening, and the location was not publicly announced except to applicants who pre-registered.
The council will discuss the cemetery as the last item on its agenda at its 4 p.m. Tuesday meeting, which can be viewed here.
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