TheLiberalOC has learned that FivePoint, a major land developer building is offering to swap land south of the Irvine Metro Station with land earmarked for the proposed Veteran’s Cemetery and Memorial and a Veteran’s Group led by Bill Cook has asked the city of Irvine to make this happen. The land FivePoint is offering is designated for commercial use and the site of the cemetery and memorial would be used for new homes contiguous to other Great Park Neighborhood Homes within the Irvine Unified School District. One source close to city hall said if FivePoint gets the deal, the profit alone from new homes on the original cemetery site could be as high as $500 million while the Veteran’s aren’t assured the cemetery will happen if the site is moved.
In a letter to Mayor Steven Choi and the City Council, Veteran’s leader Bill Cook outlined his changed of position:
CalVet is in the process of submitting a pre-application requesting Federal Veterans Cemetery Grant Funds (administered by the US Department of Veterans Affairs) to design, develop, construct and equip the cemetery. They are attempting to meet the July 1, 2016 Federal grant pre-application deadline.
CalVet shared with the City and with us that they are unable to predict timing for the project beyond the July 1, 2016 pre-application submittal goal because the US Department of Veterans Affairs determines project eligibility and timing is dependent on the Federal Veterans Affairs’ evaluation of applications received from all States.
Based on this uncertainty and the fact that some neighbors of the site have voiced concerns over the adjacency, and as CalVet and DGS complete their study we have been in contact with FivePoint Communities regarding possible alternative sites. FivePoint has been extremely helpful and has come to the table with a genuine willingness to explore all options.
Through this effort, FivePoint has offered to consider a “swap” of the ARDA Transfer site for land it owns in the South-East part of their property. We believe that this site would meet all of our internal criteria for an appropriate cemetery site and we are anxious to have the CalVet team include the alternative in their pre-application.
Cook’s incorrect about any uncertainty in the project. It’s not delayed at all and is on track to meet every deadline before it. But the “uncertainty” is being used as a tool to convince the Vets they can get a cemetery on El Toro grounds faster somehow when there is no guarantee that can or will happen any differently than the site the cemetery is planned for now.
Cook contacted me Tuesday night to make the case for the Park and agreed that FivePoint CEO Emile Haddad’s rationale for the swap has little to do with community service and everything to do with selling homes in the neighborhood near the proposed cemetery site, but feels the new location is a better spot for the Veteran’s Cemetery and Memorial. The neighborhood near the proposed site off Irvine Blvd is home to a number of Chinese nationals, many of whom have paid cash for million-dollar plus homes. These neighbors have organized protests against the cemetery which they believe diminishes the value of their homes and is bad feng shui.
As we continue to support Cook’s efforts for a cemetery and memorial for OC’s Veterans, his failure to contact people like former Mayor Larry Agran and former State Rep. Sharon Quirk-Silva to discuss possible FivePoint negotiations is poor judgment on his part.
City Council member Christina Shea has asked that Cook’s request be agendized for the April 12 City Council meeting and her role in this endeavor has more to do with benefiting Haddad than helping Vets. Shea did vote for the plan only after opposing it on the grounds that FivePoint should be consulted in some manner.
For FivePoint, this is more about swapping land zoned for commercial development with land that could be zoned for homes, making the deal far more valuable for the developer. The Veterans are effectively giving the developer millions of dollars without getting anything in return. After Sharon Quirk-Silva, who led the fight for the Cemetery in the State Assembly, was defeated in the 2014 elections, there was much discussion between this blog and people close to the developer that the cemetery would never see the light of day.
There was speculation that Irvine State Rep Don Wagner (AD-68) and State Rep Tom Daly (AD-69) were crafting a bill to authorize the land swap if the City Council voted in the affirmative. Daly told us that’s not the case.
“I am aware of the proposed change of the site, but will need to have many questions answered before I take a position,” said Daly. “My office is working closely with the Veterans to deliver the cemetery in the best and most timely manner. No one has suggested the need for a bill.”
But the way Assembly Bill 1453 (AB 1453) was introduced in the California legislature establishings a Southern California Veterans Cemetery. The bill requires the Cemetery to be placed on the land designated at the Great Park. AB 1453 became effective January 1, 2015 and the process of developing the cemetery and memorial is underway from the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet). A new bill approving a landswap would be required.
The US Veterans Administration, under both parties, is one of the worst when it comes to delays in construction of major projects. For example, a 2012 Congressional Hearing addressed major delays in building new VA hospitals authorized in 2004 and 2005 that still weren’t operational seven and eight years later. A landswap 16 months after AB 1453 became effective just might cause the Department of Veterans Affairs to give pause to awarding the grants further delaying this project in Orange County.
Being against a landswap where the developers stands to profit to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars doesn’t mean we are against a Veteran’s Cemetery and Memorial. It simply means the Veterans are selling themselves short and could get more from this deal, like having FivePoint pay for the entire development of the Cemetery and Memorial. More importantly, even offering the landswap places FivePoint in breach of its agreement with the city over development around the Great Park. It’s a slippery slope that makes us wonder, “what else do they want?” And will the city council roll over for Five Point while using a compromise with the Veterans as a rationale?
Leave the cemetery where it was intended to be.