By WESLEY NEWHART
After two years of tension between opposition groups surrounding the location of the Irvine Cemetery, the city of Irvine has decided to build the cemetery on the interchange of the I-5 and I-405 freeways.
The originally proposed site of the cemetery was in the Orange County Great Park (OCGP) and had initially been approved.
The official timeline of the development plan predicts a completion date in 2019 on the interchange.
If the original plans had been pursued, the cemetery would have been completed sometime in 2018.
The cost of buying land for the cemetery in Orange County would have amounted to nearly $4,125,000.00; instead, the Irvine City Council accepted an accord to receive 125 acres of city-owned land from the OCGP.
The opposition to the relocation of the cemetery supported the original site for its historical significance because it was the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Base.
The way campaign petitioners gathered the signatures has been controversial, as some people reportedly were lied to or were pressured into signing the petition.
“One petitioner was saying that there was already a cemetery there and that they were picking up the bodies and relocating them,” City Councilwoman Melissa Fox said in an interview with Sword and Shield.
Former Irvine Mayor and City Councilmember Larry Agran joined the campaign in order to keep the original site for the veteran cemetery.
Current Irvine City Councilman Jeffrey Lalloway and Argan were the lead proponents for putting the veteran cemetery in the Great Park.
The OCGP site for the Irvine cemetery was state approved, including its original design.
It was then sent along to the federal government and was approved by the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
“I would hope that the council would reconsider and repeal,” Agran said in interview with Sword and Shield. “Never in the city’s history, have so many in such a short period of time called upon the council to reconsider and repeal its very unpopular action.”
The OCGP location raised concerns from citizens due to the chemicals used on the base that would cost millions of dollars to clean up, similar to the controversy that surrounded the construction of Portola High School.
“The construction on the toxic waste site (Great Park site) is simply too costly for our city to undergo,” Fox said. “We don’t have the money to remove toxic waste and clear out the structures that already exist on that land.
“The Strawberry Fields site (Interchange site) is not one of the options; it’s the only option.”
The City Council voted 3-2 on September 26 in a motion to move the cemetery from its original location to the newly proposed location.
The land swap was made with Five Point Communities, a home development firm which owns properties throughout California.
The Firm owns the land surrounding the original site for the cemetery as well as the land that the cemetery was moved to.
In response to this swap, a citizen referendum led by Ed Pope was launched in October of this year to stop the land swap under the name Save the Veterans Cemetery.
The movement rose to prominence with their anti-land swap stance and ballot campaign to challenge the cemetery relocation.
“Ed Pope created the Save the Veterans cemetery foundation in hopes that the results would force a referendum to keep the cemetery within the Great Park by forcing the city council to reverse the vote or put it on a city ballot in the next election,” Agran said.
The organization distributed ballots throughout October in hopes of obtaining the 12,000 signatures needed to challenge the city council decision.
Fox felt the direct impact of the controversy when she was assaulted for taking a picture of the signatures.
In late October, when Fox sat down at a nearby table, a man came over and assaulted her with their own sign, which states, “Do not sign the misleading veterans cemetery petition. Get the facts.”
The unofficial count of votes stood around 19,000.
Those votes have yet to be officially counted, and if authentic, the council must reverse their decision and send the issue to voters of Irvine in a city-wide referendum.
Teachers and students from UHS have their own opinions surrounding the cemetery swap.
“There is no quiet left in Orange County,” Social Studies teacher Ms. Judy Richonne said. “It is an unrealistic expectation to find a quiet place [and] memorialization should be where the people who are going to appreciate it [can remember in peace], wherever that may be.”
Contributions made by Shea Rangi