While the 10-year old dream of Orange County’s first veterans cemetery took some big steps forward last year, the official groundbreaking could happen next year.
Discussions on bringing a state veterans cemetery to Irvine started over a decade ago, but after years of stalled progress, veterans relocated their efforts to a piece of county land in Gypsum Canyon in 2021, and since then the project has continued moving forward.
Last month, local politicians and veterans gathered at the future site of the cemetery, hoisting a massive American flag over the 91 and 241 freeways to applause from the crowd and honks from the cars on the highway.
At that event, both OC Supervisor Don Wagner and Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva said they hoped to see a groundbreaking by 2024, with internments beginning in 2025.
Nick Berardino, president of the Veterans Alliance of Orange County, said he thinks it could happen sooner if the state moves to study the site early in the new year.
Before the state can approve Gypsum Canyon as a potential home for the cemetery, the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of General Services have to review the land and make sure it’s suitable.
It’s a process that’s been performed at three other sites in Irvine over the last decade.
The county is on standby to pay for the study, but is waiting on the state to give them the greenlight to transfer the funds.
“I believe that right after the holidays the paperwork which is required to transfer the money to begin the study should be completed,” Berardino said in an interview. “There’s no reason that the study can’t start in late January.”
Currently, the plan is for the cemetery study to begin some time in spring according to Lindsey Sin, Deputy Secretary for Communications of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
From there, it’ll likely take a few months to get the final results based on how long the state took with previous studies of sites in Orange County.
But the biggest open question is the final price tag on the site, which will be answered by the expected report from the state later this year.
So far, there’s about $44 million set aside for construction, with $20 million coming from the county government and another $24 million allocated by state legislators.
While no official estimates exist, the lack of existing infrastructure in Gypsum drives up potential costs, with Wagner saying he thinks it’ll come in at around $100 million altogether.
Berardino said while the final price tag remains unknown, he thinks they have enough funding to start building it in phases while they keep looking for more donors.
“We could start pretty quickly with the funds we already have,” Berardino said. “At this point, it’s based on the will of the legislature and the governor.”
There will also be opportunities for private donors to contribute, but it remains unknown if any will pitch in.
FivePoint Holdings, a developer in the city of Irvine, at one point pledged $28 million to one of the city’s proposed sites, but Berardino said it’s unlikely they would send any funds to the Gypsum site.
“FivePoint has completely abandoned the cemetery issue, they have packed up their bags and left,” Berardino said. “We have not had a discussion with FivePoint in almost three years.”
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a Groundtruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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