A Not-So-Great Park Veteran’s Cemetery; 125 Acres for Just 25?

The Voice of OC is reporting Thursday morning that the landswap of 125 acres for the “Strawberry Fields” location of the Orange County Veteran’s Cemetery may not be what was offered as a win-win-win for the City, Veterans and the Developer (Five Point).

From the story by Norberto Santana:

This week, as preparations began for next Tuesday’s Irvine City Council meeting to finalize the transaction, city staff apparently started communicating some heartburn over the details of the deal — which involves developer Five Points, 125 acres of land they own and $10 million to help fund the first phase of development for a veterans cemetery, which will utilize 25 acres.

So what happens to the other 100 acres over the next century while the cemetery is built out?

That, it seems, hasn’t been thought out.

Yet the answers could blow up the whole deal.

There also apparently are significant challenges with the negotiations involving Five Points and city officials as well as issues regarding how the $10 million will be paid out.

Irvine has legitimate reasons to be cautious about how the land is transferred.

Note that the city is in the middle of a legal dispute with the County of Orange on a nearby 100-acre parcel – with county officials playing with all sorts of different uses – including a civic center, a water park, a homeless shelter and housing – for the land tract.

“I have heard that there have been thoughts of putting this matter (or portions of it) on our closed session agenda so that various alternatives might be discussed – alternatives that include the City retaining control of most of the property, and only turning a portion of the land over to the State for a veterans cemetery. Possibly even using a portion of the property for the city to develop hotels, and possibly housing,” wrote Councilwoman Christina Shea in a Wednesday email to City Manager Sean Joyce, obtained through the state’s Public Records Act.

Shea voiced opposition to dealing with the issue in closed session, arguing in her email to Joyce, that “this Council has made promises to both our residents and the veterans of Orange County. Therefore, I strongly urge you to place this matter on our public agenda, if it is ready for review, including these suggested options, so that everyone might understand what is being considered, and the ramifications of these options to our Veterans community.”

Reports that local developers like the Irvine Company and Five Points are trying to attract Amazon to site its headquarters in Irvine also has veteran leaders speculating publicly whether there are plans to switch land parcels on them once again for another commercial interest.

Veterans leader Bill Cook, who headed up efforts to find the original land for the veterans’ cemetery and then supported the 125-acre land swap, said the last minute questions from staff seemed like “a complete betrayal of the veterans.”

It sounds like the Veterans are being screwed over by the city and the developers in a bid to attract Amazon for its second North American headquarters.

In choosing the location for HQ2, Amazon has a preference for:

  • Metropolitan areas with more than one million people
  • A stable and business-friendly environment
  • Urban or suburban locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent
  • Communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options

HQ2 could be, but does not have to be:

  • An urban or downtown campus
  • A similar layout to Amazon’s Seattle campus
  • A development-prepped site. We want to encourage states and communities to think creatively for viable real estate options, while not negatively affecting our preferred timeline.

When it comes to attracting Amazon’s new HQ, Irvine and Orange County meet several requirements for relocation but fail in the areas of housing costs.  Home prices and rents are skyhigh in Orange County and in Irvine in particular.  Marketwatch has reviewed all of Amazon’s criteria and Southern California didn’t make the cut.

From Marketwatch:

First, Amazon asks for metropolitan areas with more than one million people.

There are 53 U.S. metropolitan areas that meet that criteria — but one is off the list, since that’s Seattle, where Amazon’s AMZN, -0.60%  current headquarters reside. There also are six Canadian cities with more than a million people — recall that Amazon said it was looking in “North America,” not just the U.S. — but for purposes of this exercise, and lacking the data, we’re going to exclude the Canadians. Sorry, eh.

Next up for Amazon is a “stable and business-friendly environment.” MarketWatch ranked America’s most business-friendly cities as recently as 2015. (We don’t have the time to re-create the rankings, and alas the reporter who led the project now writes for another news outlet.) So we’re going to use the top 50 as a screen.

Some business-friendly metro areas, including Omaha, Neb. (sorry, Warren Buffett); Boise, Idaho; and Madison, Wis., don’t meet the population criteria. And Seattle, again, is out. (Seems Jeff Bezos chose wisely for Amazon’s present headquarters). That leaves 21 metro areas.

Onto the next criteria: “urban or suburban locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent.” To meet this Amazon requirement, a metro area had to meet one of two screens — either the largest percentage of professional, management and scientific jobs, or the largest percentage of workers in management, business, science and arts. Both were taken using the three-year average to 2015 from the American Community Survey. 

That screen cuts the list to San Francisco; Raleigh, N.C.; San Jose, Calif.; Provo, Utah; Denver; Boston; Austin, Texas; San Diego; Washington, D.C.; Atlanta; New York and Tampa. Seattle, again, would’ve made the list. Austin also has the advantage of being headquarters of Whole Foods, which Amazon recently acquired.

If you’re willing to bend the rules just a little bit, Bridgeport, Conn. (population of 944,000), and Baltimore (54th in the MarketWatch business-climate ranking) also would make the list.

Finally, we have “communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options.” That’s a harder metric to screen for, but we’re going to read that as, mostly, Amazon looking for tax breaks.

According to the Urban Institute, 12 states and Washington, D.C., give high-technology tax incentives. So that would leave Denver, Boston, the District of Columbia, New York (and northern New Jersey) and Tampa. And, again, Seattle.

That’s not to say that states couldn’t provide other incentives, however, and generally states are willing to wheel and deal to land a big company. Making a subjective call, we’re going to cross the California cities off the list and keep the others.

And with that, you get our finalist list for Amazon’s second headquarters: Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Bridgeport, Denver, New York, Provo, Raleigh, Tampa and Washington.

You have to wonder if the Veterans group driving the cemetery — many of whom don’t live in Irvine and cannot impact the vote for City Council members — are having buyer’s remorse for agreeing to the landswap and will settle for a Veteran’s Cemetery that’s one-fifth the size of what was promised.

The notion that the landswap was saving Irvine taxpayers money is complete folly.  This claim was a smoke screen from FivePoint and the state of California.  Let’s go to the CalVet report for the proof points:  https://www.calvet.ca.gov/VetServices/Documents/2016-06-22%20SCVC%20Concept%20Plan.pdf



SOURCE:  June 2016

Department of General Services Southern California Veterans Cemetery Concept Plan 

Page 16

The review of relevant agreements indicates that Heritage Fields is currently responsible for demolition of runways on the proposed Veterans Cemetery site. That obligation is found in the 2010 Amended and Restated Master Implementation Agreement between the City and Heritage Fields. However, there is no timing specified for the demolition of that hardscape. Further, absent Heritage Fields’ consent, the obligation to demolish those runways will terminate upon the City’s transfer of the ARDA site to another entity or the State. The cost estimate includes the costs for the demolition of the site hardscape. 

Page 15

Adjacent to the flight control tower building is an existing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) easement that occupies 1.7 acres. The City of Irvine staff has previously stated that the FAA building is currently operational and occupied and will not be demolished. Utilities and access to the building and site need to be maintained at all times. Heritage Fields is the organization that is responsible for installing the permanent utilities to the FAA property. In recent discussions with the City of Irvine staff, the City of Irvine and Heritage Fields has not yet determined the locations of the permanent utilities at the time of this report.

Page 18

5.8 Hazards and Hazardous Materials

In discussions with the City of Irvine staff, when the site is transferred to the State, the State will be responsible for the environmental remediation if contaminated soil is discovered during excavation. 

Do you see an obligation of Irvine taxpayers to pay anything here?   I don’t.

This was never about saving Irvine taxpayers money.  It was about saving FivePoint money.  They had all the entitlements for the Strawberry Fields site transferred to the ARDA site and we’re talking 9,000 car trips a day.  The landswap was a gift of public funds to a billionaire developer and now it looks like the Veterans are holding the crappy end of the stick.


  42 comments for “A Not-So-Great Park Veteran’s Cemetery; 125 Acres for Just 25?

  1. ARDAnista
    September 21, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    I’m guess those yellow groundbreaking hats are all shoved up Bill Cook’s ass right now. By Wagner, Shea and Fox. Emile Haddad is laughing his way to the bank

    • Ltpar
      September 22, 2017 at 10:18 am

      I must have missed it smewhere but as best I can tell Shea and Fox are against any changes to the swap plan. The only question is Wagner, who would be committing plitical suicide going against the veterans. Don Bren and the Irvine Company can find space for Amazon on their own land, forget the Veterans Cemetery.

  2. Alan
    September 21, 2017 at 2:10 pm

    The Vets are being played by the developer and the 3 on the city council and have been all along. I hate it when people stand behind the flag and then try to screw the vets. Wake up people. it’s all about the money and nothing else.

    • Ltpar
      September 22, 2017 at 10:21 am

      You sound just like an Agranista, money is the top priority. Don’t put Shea, Fox and Wagner in that category as they have proven otherwise. They will make the Veterans Cemetery happen, as proposed.

  3. September 21, 2017 at 2:58 pm

    Spot on. It’s all about the money and the Vets were used as pawns. Regarding Amazon HQ, see article: http://www.smartcitiesdive.com/news/lessons-from-seattle-what-amazon-hq2-contenders-should-consider/505180/

    Note also that there’s a requirement for a good transit infrastructure…..I think our traffic commission just ok’ed a pedestrian bridge and some signal synchronization up Culver….does this count? hahaha.

    In another Voice of OC article today, Hadad has even acknowledged that the [City Council] approval process has strayed from the master plan…..ya think!!!

  4. Crazy like a ....
    September 21, 2017 at 3:20 pm

    So Fox lied when she said her vote saved taxpayer money?

    • Turtle Rock
      September 21, 2017 at 9:46 pm

      Yep, total and complete lie. It’s in writing from the OWEN report. Lies all around to grease their pockets.

      • She's a hypocrite
        September 22, 2017 at 4:00 pm

        Why is Melissa Fox defending two of the most homophobic electeds in OC? Pack it in Melissa. No votes for you in 2020

    • Ltpar
      September 22, 2017 at 10:24 am

      No she did not lie. Clearly you are misinformed or ignorant to the facts of this case, so give the rest of us a break. Fox, Shea and Wagner will be acting in the best interests of the Veterans and the citizens of Irvine.

      • CyberBully for Pat
        September 22, 2017 at 11:25 am

        Shea only cares about Haddad. She doesn’t care about residents.

      • CyberBully for Pat
        September 22, 2017 at 11:26 am

        melania’s little finger? The one she covered her privates with in her “modeling” days?

      • Turtle Rock
        September 22, 2017 at 11:48 am

        Please read the OWEN report. There are the facts. Can dispute those. Please tell me how that report shows that Irvine tax payers were ever on the hook for $30mm? I would LOVE to be wrong here. State never wanted to pay for the vets / decontamination and thus forced the swap making the OWEN report null and void. As for the residents, how does slamming 9,000 cars in the middle of Irvine, or essentially giving away 125 acres for $9.4m in the best interest of the residents of Irvine? and add to it the rumor of hotels and residences on the 100 acre balance of the strawberry fields?

        • Ltpar
          September 22, 2017 at 4:25 pm

          Not familiar with the “Owen Report,” but I do know a little history regarding the Great Park and Veterans Cemetery. First, let’s get finger of blame pointed where it should be. Only two existing Council members, Jeff Lalloway and Lynn Schott supported using 30 million in City Redevelopment Funds as a match with the State’s 30 million contribution. Those funds applied to the original site, where it was estimated clean up costs would be extensive. On the alternate site, the State would still ante up 30 million but there was no City match. In addition, Phase 1 of the Cemetery construction would be completed and funded by Five Points Developers.

          The recent proposal by the City Attorney, City Manager, Council-members Lalloway, Schott and was put together without consulting or getting input from the full Council. Council-members Shea and Fox are fundamentally opposed to anything other than the original land swap agreement. It is also my understanding that Five Points is opposed to any changes and will withdraw their offer of both the alternate and original site, if the fools from the City persist. I do not know the State’s position on the new proposal, but am guessing they would not support it. Tuesday’s Council meeting should be very interesting as this secret proposal gets aired in public. I anticipate Veterans will have a lot to say about this betrayal by Lalloway, Schott and Wagner.

  5. John
    September 21, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    FivePoint stands by its deal. The obstacle now is Don Wagner, who appears to have joined the Lalloway/Agran camp to prevent the veterans cemetery from being built.

    There are two major developers in Irvine, and they often don’t see things the same way. The larger and more powerful developer (responsible for most of Irvine’s recent residential and office growth) does not want a cemetery in Irvine, period. That developer is not FivePoint.

    • September 21, 2017 at 10:19 pm

      Agran isn’t elected

    • Ltpar
      September 22, 2017 at 10:26 am

      In Wagner double crosses the Veterans his political future is as dead as a door nail. I think Don is much smarter than that.

    • George P
      September 22, 2017 at 12:05 pm

      Of course they stand by their deal. They get 125 acres smack in the middle of Irvine for $9.4m. As recently as this week, emails from city staff say the there *may* be a reappraisal…..*may*? seriously? A $9.4m evaluation that is also home now to 9,000 ADT??? Really?? They had only committed to $10m towards Phase 1 at last check which is probably why the reduction to 25 acres. Would be great if there was some transparency so that we could make some informed decisions. Note that if it weren’t for this debacle, the ground would be broken for months now.

  6. Dan Chmielewski
    September 22, 2017 at 8:50 am


    I read Haddad’s comments and his support for a cemetery while he and his team did everything they could to kill it. He made these remarks without any sense of irony. It’s like Melania Trump speaking at the UN about bullying.

    • Chris
      September 22, 2017 at 9:38 am

      We haven’t heard from Joyce on this. It’s literally Haddad saying something and throwing a wrench in the process.

    • Ltpar
      September 22, 2017 at 10:32 am

      And you, an Agranista mouthpiece, speaking about honesty and integrity would be irony in any case. Melania Trump has more credibility in her little finger than you do in your entire body.

      • September 22, 2017 at 11:39 am

        would you like a documented list of the lies Trump has told so far Pat? Melania is behind him 1000% — that’s the contract that they have.

        Can’t wait for Mueller’s report to come out

    • Alan
      September 22, 2017 at 5:58 pm

      Dan, I am starting to think this is all just a setup to make Haddad, Shea and Fox look good in the end? Nothing else makes sense to me. Let’s see what happens.

  7. Janis Morris
    September 22, 2017 at 10:18 am

    John, you may say many things regarding Larry Agran but he has always worked to bring about the Veteran’s Cemetery. I haven’t a clue what you were attempting by that statement.
    And it remains to be seen what Five Points “stands-by”.

    • John
      September 22, 2017 at 12:20 pm

      Agran’s only interest in a veterans cemetery was to try to screw over FivePoint in revenge for their spending money to defeat him. He was on the City Council for twenty years and was Chair of the Great Park and did absolutely nothing to create a veterans cemetery. Now that the veterans cemetery will be built on the Strawberry Fields — with FivePoints’ financial support — he is doing everything he can to sabotage it. Agran is a corrupt fraud and no friend of veterans.

  8. Agranista
    September 22, 2017 at 3:49 pm

    Agran is a veteran. There wouldn’t be a cemetery without him. You’re wring

    • John
      September 22, 2017 at 8:59 pm

      Agran spent some weekends in the reserves, but it is beyond dispute that for the decade or so that he was Chair of the Great Park and the uncontested leader of the City Council majority, he did zilch to create a veterans cemetery.

      He only wanted a veterans cemetery only when he was out of power, and then only in order to get back at FivePoint. But when FivePoint surprised him by offering to build and pay for a veterans cemetery, Agran responded by attempting to sabotage it at every turn. He continues to do so, driven by an obsessive hatred of FivePoint.

      You can’t actually believe that Agran ever really expected Irvine to spend more than $30 million dollars of the City’s own money to build it at the (contamined) original ARDA site.

      • September 23, 2017 at 7:26 am

        The city never had to spend $30 million of its own money. Go back and read the post. FivePoint and the State were on the hook for that.

        • John
          September 23, 2017 at 1:04 pm

          You’re absolutely wrong. The Owens Report said the cost of using the ARDA would be nearly $80 million for Phase One. The majority of that cost would be to decontaminate and demolish the 77 buildings still on the property.

          The federal government offered no more than $10 million. The state offered far less than the remaining $70 million, leaving a substantial shortfall of about $38 million.

          If the original ARDA was used, that tab would have had to be picked up by Irvine taxpayers — an absurd expense for the City that no one would have supported except Agran and his followers who are determined to take revenge on FivdPoint at any cost. In other words, the cemetery would never have been built.

          That’s why the FivePoint land exchange was supported by every elected official in Orange County, both Democratic and Republican, with the glaring exception of perennial nay-sayers Jeff Lalloway and Lynn Schott.

          • Dan Chmielewski
            September 23, 2017 at 8:52 pm

            There are a number of buildings that cannot be demolished as they are still in use. The Owens Report says that the state and Heritage Fields were responsible for clean up.

          • George P
            September 23, 2017 at 10:01 pm

            No, Dan is not wrong. Phase 1 including cleanup was $78 million. $30m was cleanup which as is continually referenced was for the state or heritage fields to bear. Please look at Dan’s text pulled directly from the report. Please look at the report and the cost table at the back. $38m from the development funds was to be provided to either site for Phase 1 which still left a shortfall of about $10m at the strawberries which was supposed to be provided by the developer. Keep in mind that this is all based on the 125 acres at a $9.4m million valuation. But how the 125 acres is valued at this has no relation to reality is likely why there’s a considered reduction to only 25 acres. Below is a spreadsheet with the costs taken directly from the OWEN report and again for ONLY PHASE 1. No one has a clue where the rest of the money is coming for the remaining phases in either location. I don’t think anyone studied the numbers and for the city to simply base the swap on a 10 page discussion with no contractual terms in fiduciary malpractice, IMO.
            Buildings ARDA Strawberry
            Administration Building $848,400.00 $848,400.00
            Maintenance Building $1,252,600.00 $1,252,600.00
            Committal Shelter $182,400.00 $182,400.00

            Cemetery and Roadways
            Site Clearing $184,300.00 $184,300.00
            Hazardous Waste Remediation $3,446,200.00 $-
            Site Demolition & Clearing (12.5 Acres) $2,484,700.00 $-
            Site Demolition & Clearing (Remaining site 112.5 acres) $6,205,000.00 $-
            Building Demolition & Disposal $18,121,200.00 $-
            Site Improvements $5,445,000.00 $5,445,000.00
            Site Development $14,518,800.00 $14,518,800.00
            Site Utilities $1,672,900.00 $1,672,900.00

            Escalation $7,746,600.00 $7,746,600.00
            Construction Contingency at 5% $3,105,400.00 $1,592,550.00

            Ph 1 construction cost subtotal (Note 1) $65,213,500.00 $33,443,550.00

            Soft Cost $12,158,500.00 $12,158,500.00
            “A/E, Inspection, Special Consultants, Materials Testing
            Project/Construction Management, Agency Retained,
            CEQA (EIR/EIS), Mitigation/Surveys, Other Fees”

            Total $77,372,000.00 $45,602,050.00

  9. Alan
    September 22, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    This whole made up idea that the City will keep 100 acres for itself is hysterical. Then Haddad steps in and says he will back out of the deal if it’s not 125 acres for 125 acres. Shea and Fox say they are not going to make any back room deals and it has to be 125 for 125. Something smells like a huge setup to make the Developer, Shea and Fox all look like hero’s in the end. Just wait and see what happens.

    • Emile Sucks
      September 23, 2017 at 12:15 pm

      Haddad is a money grubbing whore who only cares about $$$

  10. George P
    September 23, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    5 Point never promised more than $10 towards phase 1. Given that the 3-2 vote was not based on any contractual terms, my guess is that this is why there is drama now as well. The OWEN report is what the vets would throw at everyone and anyone before the swap and is referenced in the article above and repeated here for reference: https://www.calvet.ca.gov/VetServices/Documents/2016-06-22%20SCVC%20Concept%20Plan.pdf

    As Dan C. writes above, there are references on pages 15, 16, and 18 wherein Heritage Fields and the State were always responsible for the cleanup and decontamination so the citizen taxpayers were never on the hook for this. For the 3 council members to take credit for this is ludicrous.
    And let’s talk valuation for a second. 5 Point is getting 125 acres with 9000 ADT right smack in the middle of Irvine. Is council asking Irvine to forgive the fair market value of this land? Nearby portola high school land was valued at $134m for 43 acres! So Council is simply allowing 5 point to build thousands of homes on a piece of land that we are basically gifting to them? As a taxpaying resident, that’s plain thievery so don’t go tooting the horn about saving the taxpayers $30 when they are actually gifting away around $100m as far as I can tell.

    • Alan
      September 24, 2017 at 12:11 pm

      Well said George P!!!!!

    • Turtle Rock
      September 25, 2017 at 10:42 pm

      34 acres for Portola High School were worth $143 m in 2015. How much do you think the ARDA site should be valued for the 125 acres in 2017? Let’s see what the appraisal values are tomorrow.

  11. Truman Dinner Witness
    September 24, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    Someone tell Melissa Fox that when her husband yells at Larry Agran’s wife, her chances of re-election plunge. What a dick

    • Alan
      September 24, 2017 at 3:20 pm

      You are being too kind. Not surprising at all. That guy thinks he is something. Definition of a jerk.

    • David Vasquez
      September 24, 2017 at 7:57 pm

      One thing was perfectly clear: Col. Doug Applegate is willing to sellout women and families for the Latino vote. What a tool.

      • PettiGate
        September 25, 2017 at 10:29 am

        What is it about guys named Doug who are disrespectful to women?

  12. Turtle Rock
    September 24, 2017 at 10:24 pm

    The public is supposed to be able to see the terms of the deal. City staff said that the report was meant to be available on 22 September. I haven’t see this report yet and they expect us to be able to review it before the Council meeting that is, as I last heard, to be behind closed doors on 26 September. How is this allowed? Council is reviewing this deal all weekend. How come the public can’t comment on the fact that they appear to be giving away our land for $100m discount? Will someone be asking this question on Tuesday? Where’s the Cali AG?

  13. Willy Jardine
    September 25, 2017 at 11:15 pm

    The Vets have themselves to blame. They chose two birds in the bushover the bird in hand

  14. George P
    September 26, 2017 at 10:21 pm

    Wow. So the city just gave away 125 acres in the middle of Irvine for $4million total along with the associated traffic entitlements. As a resident of Irvine, I’m appalled. Who is looking out for my best interests? Can someone get a lawyer and sue the city for this fiduciary malpractice?? $10 million from 5 point to build Phase 1. That’ll get the vets a monument. Given that the Vets didn’t stand up for the citizens of Irvine and the entitlements / traffic in the swap, I really want them to come to me to ask for $$ towards the funding of the cemetery. Take a hike.

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