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.
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
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.
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.
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.