I grew up in Irvine at a time when Marine Corps Air Station El Toro and Marine Corps Air Station Tustin were both active and operational. In fact, many of my classmates in Irvine’s public schools were the children of active duty Marines. The presence of these two bases was an integral part of our community’s heritage, and certainly a formative part of my rearing.
Following the closure of El Toro, a years-long fight ensued to determine whether the base would become an international airport or a park for our region to enjoy. The concept of a park won over Orange County, but then an internal fight evolved into how the Orange County Great Park would be built. Today’s discussion of where a veterans cemetery would be sited has devolved from a policy discussion to yet another political battle where logic and planning are thrown out the window in favor of rhetoric and personal attacks.
In less than a year of serving on the Irvine City Council, I have received a number of emails and phone calls challenging and criticizing my position on the veterans cemetery — a position at which I have yet to completely arrive. After reviewing studies and further input from Irvine’s Transportation, Planning, and Finance Commissions, the state Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Federal Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as hearing from Irvine residents, I hope the City Council will come to a reasonable and thoughtful conclusion absent of the campaign-style rhetoric, dramatic accusation and political posturing that this discussion has endured thus far.
Have there been starts and stops? Yes. Have there been unnecessary delays? Yes. Have veterans and homeowners been caught in the middle? Yes. But, not because of developers, or the Legislature or the current composition of the Irvine City Council. It’s all been because of a misleading narrative that a former politician is crafting in order to create a wedge issue. So far, he has succeeded. But, let’s not let “he who shall not be named,” win at the expense of veterans, homeowners, and a community that is better and stronger when neighbors aren’t arguing with neighbors.
Following a scheduled public vote on Tuesday, and at the Legislature’s request, the council will clarify what Irvine’s position is relative to our role in delivering the Southern California Veterans Memorial Park. Both potential sites being considered are city of Irvine-owned assets valued at between $100-$400 million each, that we are prepared to deed to the state of California to build a veterans cemetery. At its core, the decision is whether or not to move forward on a site that will cost roughly $90 million to clean-up and construct, of which only a third of the funding has been identified, or a site that will cost roughly $50 million to clean-up and construct, of which 100 percent of the funding above and beyond the value of the land have been identified.
Let me be clear: no one disputes the sacrifices our veterans have made, and the significant debt we owe to them. For me, this has never been an issue of whether or not veterans deserve a final resting place, especially one so hallowed as a former military installation.
I have confidence that the Irvine City Council will deliberate in a respectful fashion that honors our veterans and respects our taxpayers. I hope that members of the Legislature will respect local control and the importance of local land use decisions.
Anthony Kuo is the first member of the Irvine City Council to have grown up in Irvine and is serving as mayor pro tem. He previously spent over seven years on Irvine’s Planning Commission.