Orange County Supervisors voiced support for reserving burial space for late police officers and firefighters in the public side of a Veterans Cemetery planned for Gypsum Canyon in Anaheim Hills. 

It’s an idea that comes from county Supervisor Don Wagner, who touted support from recent letters by groups like the county firefighter chiefs’ union, the Sheriff’s deputy union, and a veterans organization. 

Supervisors took no action on the idea on Tuesday, as there was no request for one.

At their Tuesday board meeting, supervisors signaled they would leave the idea up to the public agency charged with operating the Gypsum Canyon burial grounds when it’s developed: The Orange County Cemetery District. 

Though supervisors do hold the ultimate authoritative stick, Wagner indicated near the end of the discussion, which happened the same day that Anaheim’s Honda Center hosted a memorial service for Nicholas Vella, a Huntington Beach police officer killed in a February helicopter crash.

County supervisors’ discussion also comes during what’s currently the cemetery district’s early stage of planning and design for the Gypsum Canyon site, which was rallied around last year as a veterans’ resting site following a decade-long fight that most times focused on competing locations throughout the City of Irvine.

Namely, some people in town waged a fierce battle to put the cemetery on the old El Toro Marine Corps Air Station – a base many local veterans served on until it closed in the 1990s. 

The cemetery in Anaheim, once developed, has potential as a monument reminiscent of the national veterans’ cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, Wagner said on Tuesday, adding he hasn’t seen his idea implemented for dedicated first responder burials at other cemeteries while doing research for his proposal. 

“There is plenty of room at the public side of the cemetery to accommodate this mere 10 acres to serve these men and women who’ve done so much to serve us,” Wagner said during the meeting, added that no plot of land would be taken away from veterans 

He added that the idea is not meant “in any way” to take away from or diminish “the veterans’ component of the cemetery,” adding one letter of support he said he received from a veterans group acknowledged the idea “rather enhances it, allows us to increase the dignity of this site.”

There were no objections from supervisors, but a few questions.

What kind of police officers and firefighters would get space there – those who’ve served less than 10 years in Orange County? 

First responders killed on the job? 

What are the costs? 

Would their families be buried with them? 

Answering some of those questions – mostly around burial space criteria –  may come down to discussions with law enforcement and firefighter groups in the county, Wagner said, also urging against being “overly restrictive.”

And money comes into play. 

“The public cemetery side is paid for, right? There is a fee for the interments. So at least the understanding that I have is that this law enforcement and fire component – there would be a paid component so that there is no financial expectation borne by the cemetery district,” said County of Orange CEO Frank Kim during the meeting. 

Wagner said there really isn’t a financing precedent for his idea.

“Because what, frankly, came as a surprise to me when we were looking into this item is that it hasn’t been done anywhere else that we can find. Certainly not on any scale that it has made national news.”

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