During the Irvine City Council meeting on Tuesday, March 23, the California Department Of Veterans Affairs (CalVet) presented an update on its feasibility study for the veterans cemetery in Irvine, and confirmed that the Irvine City Council is not delaying the project in any way.
In fact, according to David Gerard, Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Capital Assets and Facilities Management Division of CalVet, the Irvine veterans cemetery project is not close to being “shovel ready” by any means.
After the CalVet presentation, Irvine City Council members were able to address concerns overheard in the community, including rumors that the City Council was working to delay the project, by allowing the CalVet study to continue.
Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan asked Gerard, who delivered the presentation via Zoom on behalf of CalVet, if he could confirm if Irvine was doing anything to delay the process of the veterans cemetery from moving forward.
“Is there anything that we’re doing to slow down the progress of the cemetery, or maybe I should say is there anything else we should be doing to speed up that process?” Khan asked.
Gerard, who said he has more than a decade of experience with CalVet, voiced his understanding of the sensitivity surrounding the issue of building a veterans cemetery in the Irvine community. Adding that the inclusion of multiple sites makes the process even more complex.
“My personal opinion is, not having one identifying site makes it complicated,” he said. “I sympathize with the fact that there are different views and so forth, but in my personal opinion, it makes more difficult, in order to proceed.”
In response, Khan clarified that the project could not move forward without the completion of the CalVet study.
“Whether we pick a site or not, we can’t move forward until that CalVet Feasibility study is complete, correct?” she asked.
“Correct,” Gerard said. “Once the feasibility study is done, you will have at your disposal, you’ll have the ARDA site, which will have been updated, you’ll have the Strawberry Fields site, and you’ll have a brand new golf course site for consideration. By June 30, we will either update the ARDA site or we will submit a new pre-application for the Golf Course site.”
Council Member Larry Agran, who is the council’s most outspoken supporter for the ARDA site, said CalVet’s presentation was inaccurate, due to the fact that the “people of Irvine” have selected the ARDA site.
“I must say, I have to correct the record. Site selection has taken place in the city of Irvine. The people of the city ratified that by virtue of the initiative that was circulated in and adopted by the City Council on May 12, 2020,” Agran said via Zoom on Tuesday, March 23.
Irvine City Council member Anthony Kuo explained he had heard there was hesitancy in the community with allowing the CalVet study to move forward, adding that delaying construction would result in a loss of federally earmarked funding for the project.
“There has been some communications that we have received that by the city’s inaction, that we threaten the loss of funding previously allocated by the Legislature,” Kuo asked.
“I’m not familiar with that, but I believe the answer is, ‘No,’” Gerard said.
Kuo also referenced the notion that the CalVet study is a, “waste of time,” a statement that can be attributed to Councilmember Agran from an interview with Irvine Weekly in September 2020.
“We are almost complete with our third evaluation, there is no delay,” Gerard explained. “Consideration can be given to the other sites if deemed appropriate.”
“So, is this project today, shovel ready?” Kuo asked.
“Absolutely not,” Gerard replied.
Kuo also asked if there was anything that the council could do “now” to help CalVet move forward.
“I think the council needs to come to a decision on what piece of property they would like to move forward with. The studies that are being done will be evaluated by the CalVet Department of General Services, how effective they’ll be in terms of environmental conditions and operating a cemetery in perpetuity,” Gerard said. “But the true decision comes from the community, and that piece of property will need to make its way into the state hands, and that is the key.”
Great Park resident Raj Partha called into the City Council meeting on Tuesday, and said he is fully supportive of the veterans cemetery, but asked the council to take this matter seriously, as he believes, “the will of the people” is not represented by 19,000 votes.
“Just over the past couple of years there are thousands of residents that moved into Great Park, and when we talk about a vote of 19,000 people, I can tell you that it’s clearly not representative of the residents here for whom this decision is most consequential,” he said. “So I really urge the council here to take that into consideration for making such a big decision.”