IRVINE — A plan to build Orange County’s first veterans cemetery at the former El Toro Marine base took a giant step foward Tuesday.
The Irvine City Council on Tuesday, Sept. 26, approved an agreement to receive 125 acres near the I-5/I-405 interchange for the same amount of city-owned land adjacent to the Orange County Great Park.
Irvine will immediately donate the land to California so the state can start building the cemetery, which will be the only permitted use.
“It is a historic day. We see now that we are going to move forward,” said Bill Cook, a Vietnam War veteran who heads the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation. “It is going to be a very monumental site.”
If things go smoothly, cemetery construction could start as early as October 2018, said Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, who introduced the state bill to establish a cemetery in Irvine. The new cemetery is expected to relieve a shortage in military gravesites in Southern California. The national cemetery in Los Angeles is at capacity and the one in Riverside requires a lengthy wait.
The next step is for the state to analyze the site, put together an environmental report and apply for a $10 million federal grant by June, Quirk-Silva said.
The state has budgeted $5.5 million toward the project, and developer FivePoint, who currently owns the proposed site, will also chip in $10 million as part of the swap. The total $25.5 million should be enough to build the first 25 acres of the cemetery, Quirk-Silva said.
In the deal, Irvine will swap 125 acres north of the Great Park, originally planned for the cemetery, with FivePoint’s property just north of the Bake Parkway interchange, which is currently used as strawberry fields.
The council voted 3-2 in favor of the land swap, with Mayor Pro Tem Lynn Schott and Councilman Jeff Lalloway opposing it.
The deal has become a political football in the city, and once again Tuesday the council chamber was split between those who support the land swap and those who want the city to stick with the original site.
Some of the more than 25 people who addressed the council said the city shouldn’t give away its valuable land to FivePoint, which oversees the development of 9,500 homes around the Great Park.
Before Tuesday’s meeting, Irvine officials considered giving the cemetery site in phases so the city could use some of it for other purposes, such as hotels and housing.
That angered some people, including veterans and…