Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, a vocal supporter of AB 1453 which was to establish a Veterans Cemetery and Memorial at the Great Park, has apparently not stopped seeking a new location for a new cemetery even after AB 1453 was signed by Governor Jerry Brown last fall.
Irvine Council member Christina Shea’s May 6 letter to “Irvine Friends” suggested those “hundreds of residents that spent up to a million dollars and more for their homes” contact Spitzer’s office for “details of his proposal.” We did. We didn’t get much.
We spoke with Spitzer’s communications director Melanie Eustace Thursday morning as asked for a “yes or no” answer on whether Spitzer was still looking for a site. Simple enough? She refused to answer, saying she wasn’t authorized to speak for the Supervisor (an odd thing for a spokesperson to say). We also asked for a copy of Spitzer’s proposal.
This afternoon, Eustice issued this statement on behalf of Todd Spitzer (we bolded some text for emphasis):
“I have always supported veterans and the City of Irvine in advancing their proposal for a Veteran’s (sic) cemetery at the Great Park.
I have identified 288 acres in my District that may serve as a cemetery for both civilians and veterans. Any County cemetery proposal that I consider for the public or veterans, will be an independent project and not in competition in any way with the effort at Great Park.
Whatever happens here, I’m going to work to honor our veterans and celebrate their heroism. We need to preserve and promote the important sacrifices that men and women have made to keep our country free.” – Supervisor Todd Spitzer
I’ll add no proposal was sent, just the statement.
Spitzer is speaking out of both sides of his mouth. He says he supports the Veterans Cemetery at the Great Park, but he kept looking for a new location? Which is it? By continuing to seek a new location outside of the Great Park, where the Veterans who lobbied for this Memorial have repeated said its where they want to be buried, Spitzer has turned his back on these Veterans he says he supports.
Spitzer’s statement doesn’t say where the 288 acres in his district is, but if its county land near Modjeska Canyon, its not going to work. As we wrote about last July:
Supervisor Todd Spitzer’s recent announcement that the County has “received interest” in a 100 acre parcel in his district known as Saddleback Vineyard left out a lot of information as he spent so many words extolling the patriotism of the men and women who served in our Armed Forces and how they deserve his work “to honor our veterans and celebrate their heroism. We need to preserve and promote the important sacrifices that men and women have made to keep our country free.” (notice the repetitive statement from the one above — editor)
In his announcement, Spitzer said “the County has already received interest in a parcel located in Modjeska Canyon. The 100.36-acre Saddleback Vineyards property is located between Modjeska Grade Road and the Cleveland National Forest in the Foothill-Trabuco Specific Plan Area.” What Spitzer neglected to say is this is land the county already owns. They bought it in September 2011 when Bill Campbell held the seat. I took a trip there yesterday. I have serious doubts that Spitzer has even visited the site he was promoting.
It’s 100+ acres that the county purchased for about $2 million three years ago. Some improvements were planned for the hiking trails, but its unclear if that work was ever done. The road there isn’t the easiest; You take Santiago Canyon Road East to Modjeska Grade Road (the sheriff’s department ought to patrol better; lots of speeders and reckless drivers). Signs aren’t well marked at all. The area is rocky, very hilly, full of large rocks, brush and jutted hills; it’s only suitable for hiking and open space. There are some spots where you could bury some vets, but I didn’t see any visible signs of a water source (family likes to plant flowers at gravesites). Forget a large burial site; graves would need dynamited first and then a backhoe could dig them. I pondered what might be easier; to fill in an area with dirt so you could actually dig a grave to bury a soldier or dynamite the area and bring in bulldozers. There is 100 acres there; I’ll guess 15 might work for a cemetery.
As it turns out, a neighbor of mine is a geologist who knows the parcel remarkably well. Of the 100 acres, he believes 25-to-40 acres could work for a cemetery but would require significant land moving via bulldozers. There is no water source that he’s aware of and he felt the roads to the site are inadequate for any sort of memorial procession to the gravesite due to the narrow and winding roads. The parcel is 100 acres but the work required to get even half of the space available is likely far more expensive to develop than what it would take to clean up any soil at the Great Park.
But Spitzer is far from promoting the final resting place for Veteran’s at the site of the former El Toro base where so many left to fight for freedom and so many returned from the fight. He ignores the fact this is the site the Veterans want for their permanent resting place.
If Spitzer has identified 288 acres — nearly three times the size of the Saddleback Vineyards property — he has an obligation to tell the public where the site is and why he continued to look for a new location even after Brown came to town.
Remember, Spitzer’s up for election in 2016 and helping Emil Haddad remove a barrier to selling million dollar homes would almost certain garner significant campaign contributions and independent expenditures promoting Spitzer and going after any opponent. And perhaps garner sizable contributions from those residents who are fighting to bounce the Veterans Cemetery from the Great Park.