Tuesday evening tensions rose at the Irvine City Council meeting as councilmembers considered the future location for the development of the Southern California Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery.
In the packed City Hall, councilmembers voted to build the veterans cemetery on city land originally planned for a golf course in a 4-1 vote. Mayor Christina Shea, Mayor Pro Tempore Anthony Kuo and councilmembers Michael Carroll and Farrah Khan were in support. Melissa Fox was the sole “No” vote.
“I am so proud that our council approved a final resting place for our Orange County veterans,” Mayor Shea told Irvine Weekly. “Now we need the state Senate to do the right thing and approve the full funding package so we can finally honor our veterans in the way they deserve.”
The meeting was rife with emotion, opinion and, at times, conjecture. Public comments were offered for over three hours by residents, veterans, political operatives, school board members and a state senator from neighboring Santa Ana.
Mayor Shea, who has spearheaded efforts to build a veterans cemetery and memorial, presided over the meeting and the at-times rambunctious crowd. At one point during the meeting state Sen. Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana) – whose district doesn’t include Irvine – refused to give up the microphone after his allotted three-minute speaking time expired. He then turned around and bizarrely began addressing the audience directly. (To make sure everyone who attends a public meeting has an opportunity to speak, many cities set time limits for public comments.)
Umberg has ties to Larry Agran, the former Irvine councilmember who was ousted from the City Council in 2014 after a failed re-election bid clouded by extensive controversy around his handling of the Great Park. Agran has been accused of using the veterans cemetery and veterans for political gain.
Ultimately, despite the political posturing and rancor, Irvine’s decision on the veterans cemetery location came down to the 4-1 council vote.
“We are making good on a promise to deliver the Southern California Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery with a bi-partisan plan that respects our veterans and taxpayers,” said Mayor Pro Tem Kuo. “As our patient veterans organizations have been saying, we are finally on the path to ‘get this done!’ ”
Nick Berardino, president of the Veterans Alliance of Orange County, told Irvine Weekly, “Veterans who have so bravely served this great nation were served by a City Council majority who voted for the only reasonable proposal.”
The golf course site the council approved Tuesday has already completed and passed environmental review and is estimated to save the city upwards of $30 million to construct compared to alternative sites.