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”.
No Protests But Plenty of Voices
I hope everyone enjoyed the Chili Cookoff on the 1st. With no Planning Commission meeting scheduled this week, I had plenty of time to look over the Tustin City Council meeting from the week before.
First up were several speakers, including Marie Sales, who continue to complain to the city council about police brutality and how nothing has changed. Sales made unsubstantiated complaints of harassment of her family and harassment at the chili cookoff (I never saw them) and demanding that policies and procedures be changed.
The most eloquent speaker was tattoed young lady whose name I didn’t get. I only mention the tattoos as it was a pointed and impressive reference to profiling. This young lady was the first to request that the names of the police officers involved in the incident be released. She reminded the city council of the supreme court ruling that now prevents government from withholding the names of law enforcement involved in shootings under the guise of “investigation”. As with most of the other speakers on the subject, she alleged police harassment of minorities in our community.
To hear these speakers, it sounds like the city is turning a deaf ear to the minority community and, particularly, the family of Robert Villa who was killed in a police shooting on February 10th. But, in speaking with Tustin Chief of Police Charles Cellano last week, the city has reached out to the family on multiple occasions in an effort to start a dialogue. In fact, Chief Cellano offered to have a meeting with the family and other interested parties. To date, he says, they have not answered. Why?
Perhaps it is easier to come to a city council meeting and demand names and policy change “right now” rather than to hold a discussion that, in the long run, could effect substantial change for the better of the community. So the real question is one of intent – are the protesters interested in justice or are they interested in getting their name in the newspaper? It may be better to stop being influenced by outsiders, who come to Tustin to grab a headline, and start a real dialogue with city officials. Perhaps then Mrs Villa can get that closure she is looking for.
For the first time in awhile, the Consent Calendar was voted on in its entirety without comment on any particular subject.
That allowed the meeting, which was already proceeding into its second hour, to move to the Public Hearing on the downtown consultant agreement. Phil Cox, owner of Cox Market Plaza and kin to Columbus Tustin (he made sure we all knew that), was first to speak. Besides having a business interest in downtown, Phil is probably one of the biggest preservationists of Old Town. He is also one heck of a speaker.
The topic tonight? Ficus trees and their damage to the sidewalks of Old Town. Phil gave a detailed discussion on the damage the trees are doing to the sidewalks and other infrastructure of the city. Although he had to cut his presentation short, he was able to show the unseen damage the roots are doing to the city sewer system. The gist of Phil’s presentation was that the ficus trees should be replaced with environmentally sound trees that will not damage what we currently have in Old Town. Notwithstanding Mayor Murray’s trying to run him off, Cox made his point.
There was a question from Councilmember Gomez as to why the extra funds were needed. Community Development Director Elizabeth Binsack said, essentially, the CDBG funds were only part of the funding for the consultant (if I heard right, it was $500k total). The funds were being requested now because it was unclear if funds would be available next year as well.
Councilman Nielsen asked for clarification of the boundaries of the study. Binsack stated the boundaries were that of Old Town itself but could include “interface areas” suggested by the consultant as well. The motion passed unanimously so, hopefully, we will get that study this year. As Mayor Murray pointed out, there is a “synergy” in Old Town with new buildings about to be occupied and even newer ones (hopefully) going up.
The repeal of the sex offender ordinances garnered a bit of commentary. It was clear that no one was happy about the repeal of the ordinance that was caused by the Godinez court decision. That appellate decision invalidated a number of city and county ordinances in Orange County.
Mayor Al Murray, a former police captain was clear that he felt the city ordinance was necessary protection for the community, Councilman John Nielsen, who voted in favor of the original ordinance voiced an even stronger opinion. Saying he made no apologies in enacting the ordinances, Nielsen felt they were necessary in going further than state law to protect the community. As a matter of principle, he said he would vote no on repealing the ordinance.
While Murray and Nielsen both stated their opinion by voting against the repeal, I hope they will follow up with action. If the city feels this strongly that state law is inadequate, action should be initiated through one of the many lobbying organizations the city belongs to, to sponsor effective state legislation that would do the job. The advantage, as I have written before, would be to enact consistent law that can be effectively enforced by law enforcement at all levels of government.
John was on a roll as the city council moved on to the last item on the agenda, Consideration of Support for AB1453 – Veterans Cemetery and Prop 13. Nielsen stated he felt a resolution was necessary due to all the rumblings going on at the Capitol over changing Prop 13. He felt that the bent of the legislature made it mandatory to use the strongest language possible to “protect the citizens” in keeping Prop 13 intact. Councilmember Beckie Gomez said she failed to see a serious attack on Prop 13 and was ambivalent to either a resolution or a letter of support.
While Nielsen may have stated altruistic motives for his pro-vote, his real concern is what the legislature has lately discussed. Knowing the strong opposition from California voters over a complete overturn of Prop 13, discussion has centered around splitting the tax rolls and effectively eliminating Prop 13 for businesses. Nielsen, who has consistently demonstrated his love of business (particularly political contributors) over the citizens of the community, finds a win-win in championing a supporting resolution from the city.
It’s sad that AB1453, which would authorize a state veterans cemetery in the county, didn’t receive the same level of support. But then, none of our sitting council has ever served their country in the military so the idea of a veterans cemetery is probably lost on them. Oh, and the bill is authored by a democrat. At least we got a letter of support.
Enjoy your week. The Tustin Police Department is sponsoring a couple of upcoming events including the annual Police Open House this Saturday in front of city hall. There will be demonstrations and tours of the police building. You may also get a chance to meet our new Chief of Police, Charles Cellano. Unfortunately, don’t be surprised if a few protesters show up.
On The City Council Agenda – June 3, 2014
A tough issue facing the Tustin City Council Tuesday will be the repeal of the majority of its local sex offender ordinances. As you may have read, the California Appeals Court has struck down most local sex offender laws and both Irvine and Orange have repealed their ordinances. Tustin is following suit by repealing that part of the ordinance that prohibits sex offenders from entering city parks.
Don’t worry, your children are safe. The ordinances in question were rather far reaching and unnecessarily built upon state law which already effectively limited sex offenders from entering parks and schools without permission. At the time, the city jumped on the Republican bandwagon to enact mostly superfluous laws. The appeals court simply put the onus back on the state (where it should be) to enact appropriate laws and get rid of the checkerboard of (sometimes) confusing local ordinances. Police will still be able to do their job without the perceived rights violations that could potentially occur. Yup, I hate to say it, sex offenders have rights, too.
Tustin police will also be able to enforce the residency restrictions of state law as well.
Before tackling the regular business of the day, however, the city council will meet to discuss the proposed budget for the coming fiscal year. This budget workshop will convene at 4 pm in city council chambers and the public is invited to comment and discuss the proposals. I am still looking through the documents myself. The summary gives a flat, conservative picture of the city’s approach to finance. At the outset, I would simply ask them to take a closer look at items they purchased out of the reserve fund last year and ensure like items are budgeted for. The reserve should stop being used as a slush fund for pet projects. You can see the proposed budget here.
Back under Regular Business, the city council will consider a proposal by the Community Development Department to increase the budget for a consultant by $100,000. The purpose is to develop a downtown commercial core plan. The council previously approved more than $60,000 for the study. In publishing the RFP, they apparently discovered consultants aren’t cheap.
We still believe the study could best be done by city planners with perhaps a minimum of outside help. Unfortunately, City Manager Jeff Parker and Community Development Director Elizabeth Binsack are intent on maintaining the Republican cant to privatization, even for projects where it is obvious city planners have an advantage.
The last item of Regular Business is one close to my own heart. Item 15, Consideration of Supporting Assembly Bill 1453 – Orange County Veterans Cemetery. Through the history of the El Toro and Tustin Marine air bases, our city has a long history of serving veterans. The closest veterans cemetery is Riverside National Cemetery near March Air Force Base.
Sharon Quirk-Silva’s Assembly Bill 1453 would authorize the construction of a state veterans cemetery in Orange County. The latest proposal would place a veterans cemetery on El Toro property, a situation faced by an unenthusiastic Irvine City Council who have gone as far as to hire a Feng Shiu consultant. Apparently, cemeteries are not consistent with a Feng Shui lifestyle.
Anyway, it took awhile but Tustin city fathers must have read my blog asking for support for Silva’s bill. Yes, this deserves discussion as to where it will be located. But, we owe it to our veterans to give them a final resting place in their own county.
Special Meeting – 4:00 pm
Workshop on proposed budget for fiscal year 2014-2015.
Closed Session – 5:30 pm
Conference with Legal Counsel – 2 items each of initiation and exposure to litigation
Liability Claim – Maria Teresa Dunn Clam No. 14-02
Conference with Real Property Negotiators – TUSD
Regular City Council Meeting – 7:00 pm
Student Government Day 2014 – Ethan Banks, Amy Coulter, Olivia Bancroft, Alison Greenberg
“Everyday Hero” – Jim Carson, Orangewood Children’s Foundation
Annual Levying of Assessments – Tustin Landscape and Lighting District for Fiscal Year 2014-15
Review City Conflict of Interest Code – City Manager
Call for Election – November 4, 2014 – 2 council positions
Approve Grants of Easements Southern California Edison over portions of roadways and parcels of Tustin Legacy properties.
Request for Appropriation – Downtown Commercial Core Plan, Consutant fees and agreements. Additional funds requested.
Exclusive Sales Listing Agreement – CBRE Inc. for Tusting Legacy Area 4
Repeal of Sex Offender Ordinance – Repeals certain sections of city code to conform with recent court of appeals decisions.
Consideration for Support of Assembly Bill 1453 and Reaffirming Support for Proposition 13 – Resolutions to support Sharon Quirk-Silva’s proposal to establish a veterans cemetery in Orange County. Second resolution would reaffirm city support of Prop 13.