A botanical garden with some type of veterans memorial might be built on the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro following failed years-long efforts to get a state veterans cemetery there.

The effort to place a botanical garden in the Irvine Great Park is ramping up again after years on ice, with city council members slated to discuss hiring consultants to review the next stage of the project at their upcoming Tuesday meeting. 

All eyes have turned to a 125-acre parcel along the north edge of the park that still holds the ruins of an old runway, barracks, hangars and an air traffic control tower from the land’s history as El Toro. 

Over the last 10 years, that land has been caught up as a potential site for a state veterans cemetery in Orange County until last year when nearly every veterans group in the county announced their support for a piece of county owned land at Gypsum Canyon in Anaheim. 

[Read: Irvine Endorses Veterans Cemetery in Gypsum Canyon, Ending Yearslong Debate]

While the botanical garden was one of the first ideas pitched for the park back in 2005, the project never really managed to get off the ground, despite several fundraising drives over the years. 

Now that there appears to be an opening, no one’s wasting any time.

Councilwoman Tammy Kim and Mayor Farrah Khan are asking their colleagues to consider moving forward with studying the hangar site as the possible home for the garden, and they want to hire consultants to get on the ground and begin looking. 

In a phone interview with Voice of OC, Kim said she’s pushing the hangar site because it’s the easiest piece of land to work with due to the Navy’s ownership restrictions on other parts of the park and that it’s “been dragging out for eternity.” 

“There’s been talk of a botanical garden for years and years and years and then nothing gets done and it dies on the vine,” Kim said. “People want a park where you can be close to nature and really ponder and think about the beauty that is this world.”

When asked to comment on the botanical garden on Thursday, Khan said it was Kim’s proposal and did not comment further despite co-sponsoring the motion. 

But Kim and Khan aren’t the only ones who have ideas for that piece of land. 

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Councilman Larry Agran has been asking the council to discuss his plans for a veterans memorial park at the same spot for months, hosting multiple seminars discussing his plan.

He’s also asked his council colleagues multiple times to help him put the idea on a meeting agenda for public discussion. 

Under the city’s rules, any council member who wishes to put an item on the agenda must have the support of a second council member. Only the mayor can put an item on the agenda without additional support. 

Agran said that he was happy to see Kim’s discussion moving forward even though his proposal hadn’t.

“If the discussion about the (hangar) site begins with a discussion about the botanical garden that might be there, that’s good news as far as I’m concerned,” Agran said in a phone interview last Thursday. “I’m looking forward to that discussion.”

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The primary difference between the two plans is how much of the garden will be dedicated to veterans. 

While Agran’s plan calls for the entire area to become a veterans memorial park, Kim said while she hopes to see a portion of the park dedicated to the veterans of El Toro, it should be more multi-functional. 

“This is not a botanical garden and veterans war memorial, this is a botanical garden,” Kim said. 

“There’s a lot of components, there’s going to be a cultural component, education, environmental … my intention is to have a component in there that honors and appreciates the sacrifices of our veterans.”

The Irvine City Council’s Great Park meeting starts at 2 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon. 

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

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