On Tuesday, the Irvine City Council will consider a proposal to move forward with a site for the Southern California Memorial Park, a tribute to veterans and a final resting place for them.
At the center of the decision for the council is whether to build the veterans memorial on Orange County Great Park land originally planned for a golf course — a move that would finally fulfill a promise to honor veterans and could save taxpayers upwards of $30 million.
Irvine Mayor Christina Shea has been a longtime leader for the project. She recently announced an additional $28 million in funding has been pledged by FivePoint Holdings to build the memorial park. That, combined with $25 million promised by the state of California, brings total project funding to $53 million, which could be enough to move forward with building the entire memorial.
Moving the cemetery to the proposed golf course site is “a win-win for everybody,” says Mayor Shea. It is a “win” for veterans, taxpayers and residents.
Local veterans groups have also come out in support of Shea’s plan to build the veterans memorial where the golf course was slated to be. Both the local chapter of the American Legion and the Veterans Alliance of Orange County have endorsed the effort.
Even still, some continue to push alternative venues for the cemetery. Former Irvine mayor and now county supervisor Don Wagner criticized Larry Agran in a recent NBC News 4 interview for continuing to meddle in the process. Agran was ousted from City Council in 2014 after a failed re-election bid clouded by extensive controversy around his handling of the Great Park.
The location “Larry Agran keeps pushing is way too expensive and doesn’t make sense,” Wagner told NBC.
The site Wagner is referring to, known as ARDA, would require costly clean-up of buildings and materials left behind from the former El Toro Marine Base. Beginning construction for the cemetery at the ARDA site would require roughly $91 million. And on top of the extensive remediation the ARDA site would also require a lengthy environmental review that would take at least 12 to 18 months before approval.
Other factors the council will consider when choosing the veterans cemetery site include proximity to schools and any necessary demolition and cleanup, as well as layout for burial sites, parking and federal rules for veterans cemeteries.
The United States Department of Veterans Affairs, which is expected to provide funding for the project, sets guidelines for veterans cemeteries. According to Mayor Shea, the ARDA site violates some of these guidelines because Cadence Boulevard cuts through it.
The city’s proposal to change plans for the golf course and instead build the veterans cemetery has been put forth to the Veterans Affairs Committee in the California Senate. Meanwhile, county officials are still considering all possibilities.
Irvine’s City Council will consider this issue at its July 23 meeting. The council will have the opportunity to vote on a resolution designating the city’s preferred site for the development of the veterans cemetery.