Just when everyone thought it was a done deal, the wabblers who make up the Republican majority on the Irvine City Council have torn open a scab on what should be a bi-partisan no-brainer in regards to the Veterans Cemetery and Memorial at the Great Park.
Former Assembly member Sharon Quirk-Silva said it best: “Is there a way in our great country and county that we can respect one anothers culture, and still find a final resting place for our veterans in the Great Park?”
I’m afraid the answer is going to be “no.” And for that, blame the weak leaders on the Irvine City Council.
Homeowners, many from China, have paid between $700,000 to more than $1 million for homes sold by FivePoint. Council member Christina Shea, who originally objected to the Cemetery and Memorial at the Great Park while covering for the city’s development partner, said in her may 6 letter to “Irvine Friends” she is still seeking a “win-win” situation for the neighbors and the Veterans. The OC Register reported on the issue in Saturday’s edition.
Mayor Steven Choi courted the Chinese vote and contributions from them in the last election. And his Chinese planning commissioner, Anthony Kuo, in Chinese media, suggested that the Cemetery might never make it out of the planning process. No one on the council wants to be perceived as anti-Veteran. FivePoint doesn’t want to be perceived as anti-Veteran. But there’s a lot of homes to sell and the Chinese immigrant market wants to buy and pays cash. I’m afraid the council majority and the developer are clearly anti-Veteran.
But there’s really no middle ground.
The out of town buyers don’t want a cemetery. Their opposition website cites the Cemetery as a threat to property values, a lack of respect for Asian culture, and an insistence they had no time to react to the news of the approval of new legislation. Mayor Choi asked these residents “where were you when I needed you” when he tried to stop this idea that’s much bigger than him. And the question should be asked, did FivePoint disclose the cemetery to potential buyers? Does anyone have a copy of the disclosure documents they’d like to share? Who should these new home buyers really be upset with?
I found this CNBC story from 2013 that’s very illuminating. From the story:
At a brand new housing development in Irvine, Calif., some of America’s largest home builders are back at work after a crippling housing crash. Lennar, Pulte, K Hovnanian, Ryland to name a few. It’s a rebirth for U.S. construction, but the customers are largely Chinese.
“They see the market here still has room for appreciation,” said Irvine-area real estate agent Kinney Yong, of RE/MAX Premier Realty. “What’s driving them over here is that they have this cash, and they want to park it somewhere or invest somewhere.”
Yong’s phone has been ringing off the hook, with more than 5,000 new homes slated for the nearby Great Park Neighborhood. Most of the calls are from overseas, but prospective buyers are not looking solely for financial returns on the real estate.
“We are seeing a lot of Asians who are buying as an investment, but their kids are going to school here, so kids live in the home. They are looking at it more as an investment in education,” said Emile Haddad, CEO of Fivepoint Communities, developer of the Great Park Neighborhood.
That is Brian Yang’s plan. Speaking from his home in China, Yang said he purchased a home in Irvine this year, but he will wait five years, until his daughter turns 10, before moving his family to the U.S. He has several reasons for taking the leap.
“Education in America is very good and world class, so the first one is for education, and I think the second one is for the property appreciation,” explained Yang.
While American secondary schools and universities are a big draw for the majority of Chinese buyers in California, Yang, and many of his colleagues, are also concerned about China’s political instability, inflation, even pollution. They are paying all-cash for real estate in California, using it as a safe-haven for their wealth. Yang was reluctant to talk about the money, but he admitted, “I feel the same way to some extent.”
While Yang purchased an older home, the new model homes at Great Park are drawing thousands of potential buyers. In fact, more than 20,000 attended the opening weekend, according to developers. The vast majority of lookers were Asian, and that fact is not lost on the builders. Hoping to cash in on this new wave of investors, they are tailoring the homes to the demand. Some are incorporating multigenerational floor plans and even Feng Shui designs.
“The imbalance of supply and demand here is really driving a lot of competition for these homes,” said Haddad.
The homes range from the mid-$700,000s to well over $1 million. Cash is king, and there is a seemingly limitless amount.
“The price doesn’t matter, 800,000, 1 million, 1.5. If they like it they will purchase it,” said Helen Zhang of Tarbell Realtors.
The quiet and persistent ongoing lobbying of these new neighbors on our city council members has been met with a measure of finding a compromise. Veterans insist El Toro was the last American soil some of these Veterans touched before leaving to fight in faraway wars. Being buried there on the site of the El Toro base is a right they fought for, died for, and worked the legislative process for. They played by the rules and won. The new neighbors will use their significant wealth to change this. And by not being firm, by not showing leadership, this city council majority has demonstrated just how for sale they really are. We’re back to running out the clock; waiting for enough new homes to be sold to families who object to a cemetery to give this council majority an out.
Todd Spitzer doesn’t get off easy here either. His office refuses to answer the simple “yes” or “no” question if Mr. Spitzer continued to seek a new location after AB 1453 was signed by Governor Brown. Mr. Spitzer says he supports the Memorial at the Great Park, but in making that statement is clearly speaking from both sides of his mouth. The Veterans we spoke with last night know this and feel betrayed by Mr. Spitzer as well.
This Council majority and Mr. Spitzer aren’t leading here; they are following the wishes of the developer with expensive homes to sell who’s a known ATM for political Independent Expenditures. Perhaps it’s best for Irvine voters to get them out of the way.