The study being conducted by the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet) has been turned over to the governor’s office for review, according to Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan. However, Khan said she did not know when the city of Irvine would have access to the findings.
“The report is with the governor’s office for review and we don’t know when we’ll get it,” Khan wrote in a text message to Irvine Weekly.
Khan added that she hopes the state is aware how much this decision will impact the community and that this will culminate years of discussion over where the veterans cemetery will be built in Irvine.
“I hope the State makes a decision that takes into account the cultural sensitivities of our Great Park residents,” Khan said.
Council member Larry Agran said he was also curious about when the report would become available, adding that he was informed it would become available in late May.
“I’m awaiting its publication, only in the sense that once published, it will give us the opportunity to move ahead and commence construction at the ARDA site. The CalVet report, of course, in no way changes the fact that the city of Irvine has already selected the ARDA site,” Agran said on a phone call with Irvine Weekly. “That was done by the people, when they signed the Great Park Veterans Cemetery Initiative, when they qualified for the ballot and within the City Council on May 12, 2020.”
The $700,000 CalVet study, which was required by Assembly Bill 368, was funded by the state budget, in order to determine the most cost-effective site to build the veterans cemetery in Irvine.
The study examined two sites, the ARDA and Golf Course site. Based on the results of the CalVet study, the state will award the most cost-effective site $24.5 million in funding, per a statement from California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
However, in recent months, the study itself has become the subject of scrutiny, from both the public and members of the City Council.
Specifically, Council member Larry Agran, who is a largely outspoken supporter for the ARDA site, has publicly said the council was using the CalVet study to further delay the veterans cemetery project in Irvine.
However, both the city and CalVet have denied those accusations. In March, CalVet presented an update to the council regarding the timeline of the report.
During the City Council meeting on Tuesday, March 24, David Gerard, Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Capital Assets and Facilities Management Division of CalVet, said despite the outcome of the study, the Irvine veterans cemetery project was not close to being “shovel ready” at the time.
During the March 24 meeting, Khan also 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 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.”
Barring the results, Agran said he will remain confident the cemetery will be placed on the ARDA site.
“Obviously it would not only disappoint, but probably outrage the Irvine community, if the council were to try to undo that adopted and selected site,” Agran explained. “I think the political response would be very powerful and very much opposed to trying to undo the will of the people. As a legal matter, there probably would be avenues pursued by the Build The Great Park Veterans Cemetery committee and others.”
This is a developing story.