Veterans Need Not Apply (Or Die)
Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting has been cancelled for lack of
interest agenda items. That doesn’t mean we can’t have a meeting, however. Don’t forget, the Parks and Recreation Commission is holding a design forum for a veterans memorial this afternoon beginning at 4:30 pm in the city council chambers. It should be interesting to see how many show up on a Monday afternoon a half hour before the normal close of a business day. Thanks for the planning, staff.
Wed to the idea of a Veterans Memorial at the appropriately renamed Veterans Memorial Park, is a veterans cemetery for Orange County. Initially proposed by veterans and opposed by NIMBYs, then assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva was instrumental in bringing legislation that would pave the way for a veterans cemetery “somewhere” in Orange County.
That “somewhere”, of course was a plot of land on the former MCAS base now being bulldozed for subdivisions and not-so-great parks. a 105 acre parcel of land has been identified on the property to be developed as a potential final resting place for the county’s many veterans who have settled here.
It didn’t take long, however, for the opposition to rear its collective ugly head. What was surprising is the tactic they took.
As far back as October of last year, a local blog urged the city of Irvine to relocate the proposed cemetery anywhere but…..Irvine. Well, OK, they just didn’t want it next to their house as they had paid lots of money for their property and they were afraid a veterans cemetery would lower their home value. But, except for cool places like Musick Honor Farm and alleged contamination near proposed high schools, Irvine is mostly neighborhoods. And parks. And technology centers.
On the Talk Irvine forum, one of the discussions which appeared last year, was on the location of the veterans cemetery. That discussion, begun in July of last year has recently been renewed with the appearance of an anti-veterans cemetery petition. The pro and anti cemetery discussion has mostly centered around Feng-Shui, Asian Culture and….property values. And, while many of the contributors have supported the building of a veterans cemetery, quite a few thank the veteran in one sentence and then, in the same sentence, denounce the idea of a final resting place for them.
Another Irvine blog, run by and for the Asian community, also makes a deal out of Asians, housing and cemeteries. This blog could be largely discounted as other blog entries clearly mark it as a special interest section.
Now, it seems, there is a petition circulating in Irvine that would set signatures to paper in an effort to stop the project. We were unable to obtain a copy of the petition but our friends at The Liberal OC did.
The petition relies on scare tactics and misinformation to lure people into signing it. Among other misleading statements the petition says:
2. ….Most of the residents lived (sic) next to the cemetery are Asians. In Asian culture it is taboo to place a cemetery next to homes or close to urban area (sic).
While the “taboo” issue is debatable, what is not debatable is the fact that the largest Vietnamese community in the United States lives in and around (and also utilizes) Westminster Memorial Park. In fact, one section of the park is dedicated to the Asian community and specifically respects their culture.
3. Many Irvine residents did not know about this cemetery until October, 2014.
Well, the proposed cemetery has been in the works for several years, thanks to The American Legion District Commander, Bill Cook, and others. It was in the news and there were meetings, including a meeting with the author of the Bill authorizing the cemetery Sharon Quirk-Silva. In fact, it was hard not to hear something about it.
4. In the next 100 years, the development of the west Coast (sic) of the United States will be largely supported by the Asian investment and immigrants.
Really? So, Latin America and Europe will have less influence than Asia? While we all drive Asian cars, this statement is a bit presumptuous. But, say it was true. Does anyone honestly think the Chinese won’t invest in California, indeed the entire west coast, because there is a veterans cemetery in Irvine?
5. The cemetery will drive down home values and increase blight.
So, according to the petition authors, the Cypress-Los Alamitos-Rossmoor area is blighted because of Forest Lawn Cypress. North Santa Ana is blighted because they have two cemeteries across the street from each other. Orange Park Acres is blighted with low house prices due to Holy Sepulcher Cemetery, a double whammy because its run by the dreaded Roman Catholic Diocese. Even Corona del Mar property values have been drug down by the Pacific View Memorial Park because it is smack in the middle of their high-end housing. Wow. Who knew?
The petition closes by stating the proposed cemetery is in the wrong location because it is too close to homes, a high school and the urban center [I kid you not], and at a highly populated area.
They go on to offer their help in “finding a better location to create a win-win situation.”
Newsflash, Irvine petition writer and your allies – There is no better location than a former Marine Air Base with deep ties (much deeper and longer than the Asian community) to Orange County. The El Toro Marine Base saw hundreds of thousands of veterans of every branch of service pass through its gates over the years. There is a fierce pride among the residents, veteran or not, in that legacy.
The petition author(s) talk about disrespect to the Asian community. What about the disrespect shown to the veterans through the circulation of this petition? As Sharon Quirk-Silva said on her Facebook Page, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion….. To say that a veteran cemetery will cause blight is disrespectful.”
Veterans (including myself) have fought long and hard to establish a cemetery within the boundaries of Orange County. There are only two suitable locations for a cemetery, in my opinion. It’s unfortunate Tustin has chosen to haggle over a baseball stadium rather than a cemetery. They’d probably have a better chance of securing the latter.
I won’t pull the, “if you don’t like it, leave” card. I will say, let the majority prevail. In the current scenario, that looks like the pro-cemetery folks. Don’t worry, though. The cemetery is a long way from having the first hero buried there. You’ll have plenty of time to get used to it – or move.
I never thought that is is where I’d settle down,
Thought I’d die an old man back in my hometown,
They gave me this plot of land,
Me and some other men,
For a job well done.
Arlington – Trace Adkins
By now, you have probably heard the news about a push for a veterans cemetery in Orange County. The idea isn’t new. Almost since the Marines left El Toro and Tustin, veterans have been pushing for a place to host their final rest. Unfortunately, most of it was just talk as politicians were too busy deciding which of their cronies would benefit from some of the most valuable land in the county. And, although some may have briefly discussed the idea in conjunction with the Great Park or other developments, the idea kind of fell into the background of discussions.
Recently, though, the idea of a veterans cemetery has been revived and is, in fact, gaining a lot of support both here and in Sacramento. On Saturday, I attended a meeting in Buena Park (lured by the prospect of a free pancake breakfast) hosted by Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva. Earlier this year, Quirk-Silva introduced a bill that would clear the way for the establishment of a state run veterans cemetery in Orange County. AB1453 was wisely written with the idea of powerful developers nixing the use of valuable property near the Great Park and allows for the establishment of a cemetery “somewhere” in the county.
This is important legislation as, without it, a veterans cemetery would likely not ever come to pass. That’s because the Feds have a corner on veterans cemeteries in the area. And, because there are open cemeteries within 65 miles of Orange County, they will not consider constructing one here. That leaves the Golden State to do the job, if they are willing – and they are.
Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva came to the breakfast meeting with an appetite and good news. AB1453, introduced in January of this year, sailed through the Assembly and is now going through the legislative process in the Senate. In fact, Senator Lou Correa’s Senate Veterans Affairs Committee passed the bill on June 24th and sent it to Senate Appropriations Committee with recommendation to the Consent Calendar. To date, there have been zero “no” votes on this bill.
In Orange County Board of Supervisor Todd Spitzer’s most recent missive, you would think the whole thing was his idea. Never one to miss an opportunity for self-aggrandizing, Spitzer has a photo of him and Veterans Advisory Council Chair, Bobby McDonald prominently displayed at the top of his weekly newsletter. He talks about how he is looking for a donation of more than a 100 acres and then goes on to suggest a location near Modjeska Grade Road (100.03 acres, to be exact) as a possibility.
The Third District is a natural fit to provide a home to a veterans cemetery because it has the canyons and a significant and substantial amount of the most open space in the vicinity of the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro,” Spitzer said. “It’s time to come together in the Third District to find a viable option. I’m inviting Orange County leaders in the Third District to get the word out that we are in search of a land donation of over 100 acres to build a veterans cemetery.
Notice Spitzer doesn’t mention the old Marine Corps base property as a viable location. Perhaps that’s because, according to the Liberal OC, developers are doing their best to deflect the idea. Five Points Homes, a large developer of the old base property, is not too keen on the idea. In fact, they made a presentation at the Irvine Ad Hoc Committee for a Veterans Cemetery and Memorial meeting in June to propose other locations around Orange County. Alternatives for them included the Tustin MCAS, Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base and the Seal Beach NWS. The one “ideal” space was curiously located in San Juan Capistrano, just off Interstate 5, about as far away from the Great Park as you can get.
Although there is no script to go along with the PowerPoint slides, one gets the idea: Great Park Bad, other spots (any other), good. Face it, who would want to have their kids grow up around a nasty old cemetery. And, just think of the drop in home prices.
Never mind that, according to reliable sources, Orange County is home to the highest number of veterans (and homeless veterans) in the nation. Never mind that Orange County had and still has a huge military presence and history with all services represented. About the only ones who don’t think placing a veterans cemetery at the Great Park is appropriate are those who desperately want the income that would be lost by establishing one.
We think MCAS El Toro is the most appropriate location to honor our veterans. The city of Tustin has wisely joined a majority of cities In supporting AB1453. It’s unfortunate that neither John Nielsen (who was more concerned his business cronies would have to pay more property tax) or Beckie Gomez thought enough to support it with an official resolution, opting for a letter instead. Now, what would have been great is if Chuck Puckett and Allan Bernstein would put as much effort in locating the cemetery at MCAS Tustin (near the blimp hangars would be good) as they are in getting Arte Moreno to relocate the Angels.
Surely, the time has come to bring this dream to fruition. Every veterans organization from the Orange County Veterans Advisory Council to The American Legion, to the Veterans of Foreign Wars are actively involved with this project. More than 200 veterans and interested persons showed up to hear Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva’s update on AB1453 and efforts to put this plan together.
Importantly, Quirk-Silva said AB1453 is just the beginning. Once the legislative authority has been granted, money still needs to be raised. Hope lies in the Feds who, although they won’t establish a cemetery here, will provide grant money to allow the state to establish and run one. Speaking as a veteran, I don’t really care one way or the other where the money comes from. The important thing is to honor our veterans by giving them a final resting place near their home. By rights, that resting place should be on, what The American Legion 29th District Commander, Bill Cook, called “Sacred Ground”.
Don’t Bury Me on the Lone Prairie
Although only remnants of the bases remain, Orange County was home to tens of thousands of U.S. Marines and their families over the years. We still have on our soil hundreds of Marine, Navy and Army personnel on several bases and reserve installations. And like the Marines in Camp Pendleton, the U.S. Air Force has a presence at a large (but little known) base in Los Angeles as well. On top of that, we are home to, by most estimates, over a hundred thousand veterans. So, it would be safe to say we are still a military county.
So, why is it, with all the rich history of two major bases and the multitude of support activities that have occurred since World War II, there is no place for a family to send their veteran to their final resting place?
Several of the cemeteries in Orange County have either reserved areas for veterans or a substantial memorial for vets. Santa Ana Cemetery is host to a major Civil War memorial and hosts a Memorial Day Ceremony each year. Westminster Memorial Park is also host to a memorial as well. The memorial at Pacific View Memorial Park overlooking the ocean in Corona del Mar is especially beautiful
None of these, however, are specifically for veterans or their families. In fact, the nearest Veterans Administration Cemetery is located in Riverside (Los Angeles is closer but they no longer have room). Riverside National Cemetery, is within 75 miles of Orange County so the prospect of a national cemetery is dim.
Fortunately, the state can and does build veterans cemeteries without the same requirement. And, I recently received an email inviting me to take a survey with one simple question: Should the city of Irvine identify and dedicate at least 100 acres at the Great Park to create a State Veterans Memorial and Cemetery?. The poll is straightforward and, at this writing, has a 2-1 majority in favor of the cemetery.
This is not the only effort by the group to get Irvine to take the lead in this issue. The Liberal OC recently ran an article on a press release they received from the group. The press release urges the Irvine City Council to take the necessary steps to set aside an appropriate amount of land at the Great Park for this project. Local politician, Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva, has also thrown in her support by introducing Assembly Bill 1453 which would open the doors to a state-run veterans cemetery. Quirk-Silva wisely wrote the bill to allow the establishment of a veterans cemetery anywhere in the county.
But the logical choice is Great Park land. Originally, a veterans cemetery was part of the deal for development to begin at the old Marine base. Unfortunately, through the years of political maneuvering by developers and some city council members, the project fell by the wayside for most. A tenacious group of veterans, mostly from South County, has held on to the dream. And, now, the time is right to push the idea.
Cities in Orange County have thrown support toward the idea. Los Alamitos, home to the Joint Forces Training Base, has been joined by Anaheim, Brea, Buena Park, Cypress, Fullerton and several others in the form of resolutions in support of AB1453. Likewise, every Orange County legislator has thrown their support to Quirk-Silva’s bill.
So, where is Tustin and, why haven’t our leaders chimed in? Are they afraid eyes may look toward the Legacy property? Even so, would that be a bad thing? Perhaps an alternative to the Great Park would be a veterans cemetery in the shadow of the blimp hangars.
In any case, the next logical step is the Irvine City Council meeting on Aprill 22, 2014. At that time, the city will discuss the formation of a site selection committee that would review potential sites both on the park and the surrounding area. Veterans are encouraged to attend and wear their patches, ribbons and other appropriate ceremonial attire (American Legion or VFW cap, etc.) in support of the cemetery effort.
The issue is far from a done deal. There are a number of entities, including one Irvine Councilperson, who appear to be against the idea of a veterans cemetery, at least at the Great Park. Five Points Homes, another detractor of the idea, is also attempting to muscle its way onto the committee presumably to keep the icky bodies away from their precious townhomes. Even a Feng Shiu consultant to the city (only in Irvine) has some misgivings.
As for me, I welcome a long overdue honor to our military. Their ghosts speak to me every day as I remember friends and comrades who will finally be able to come home. Let’s give them that peaceful place they deserve.