Is the Original (ARDA) Cemetery Site IN the Great Park? Trick Question! (Plus, a Poll!)

 Powered by Max Banner Ads 




(1) A misleading poll?

[Note: also see the follow-up to this post here, addressing Larry Agran’s “response.”]

Now that Gov. Jerry Brown will be coming to Irvine soon to inspect for himself the two proposed locations for the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park (or whatever it will ultimately be named) in the Great Park area of Irvine, the fighting between proponents of the two continues to mount.

I received an email today from a leading proponent of moving the park from the state-approved “ARDA” site to the site sometimes called “Strawberry Fields” (to the consternation of some fans of a nearby golf course of the same name) adjacent to the northern side of the tail of “El Toro Y” — which I’ll call the “El Toro Y” site.  It turns out that there is a poll in the field, in which you — YOU — can participate.

Take a poll in Larry Agran’s’ Irvine News and Views.

“Do you favor keeping the Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery on the 125-acre site, in the Great Park, as planned?”

 The email then points out something interesting:

This is a bogus question, the ARDA cemetery as legislated is not in the Great Park.

Do you see it anywhere? This map in presently on the City’s website:

Great Park map, NOT showing proposed ARDA veterans cemetery site.

And, what do you know? It really isn’t there! But that’s not as definitive as you might think. To telegraph the moral of the story as close to the beginning as a lede-burier like me can put it:

Both the ARDA site and the El Toro Y site MIGHT or MIGHT NOT be in the Great Park — depending on the what the City ultimately decides the final boundaries of the Great Park to be!

In other words, I don’t quite agree with the email that it’s clear that the ARDA site is not part of the Great Park. But I also think — and I suspect that this was the point of the email — that the poll question is highly misleading, in that the El Toro Y site, if incorporated into the legal boundaries of the Great Park, would seem to future visitors and Irvine resident to be a lot more “part of the Great Park” than the ARDA site would be!

Same map as above, but with ARDA site in pink.

What I’m leading up to is this conclusion:

Choosing the El Toro Y site would actually bring the Great Park MUCH CLOSER to the original fundamental intent envisioned by Larry Agran and his friends — creating a public space in Irvine that would be in a class with Central Park in Manhattan!

In other words, the poll question may now be technically true (although it may end up not being true and even having it exactly backwards), but the concern that it wants to rouse in those responding to it — that someone is trying to rip away the Veterans Cemetery from the glory and grandeur of the Great Park — is completely ill-founded.  The original Master Plan for the Great Park was permanently destroyed 3-1/2 years ago — and I do understand what a blow that was and continues to be to Larry Agran and his supporters.  And a Veterans Cemetery at the ARDA site would, absolutely, salvage some of the Great Park’s glory at the moment that it was most threatened.  But, the El Toro Y site would do so even more, and in the future no one will remember or care that Agran’s original proposal was for it to be sited in a less visible and convenient location a few miles north.

Here’s how I reach that conclusion.

(“Up” is roughly northeast.)  Remember this map from before?  The former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro is outlined in yellow. The state-approved site of the cemetery is in orange. The proposed new site of the cemetery, given a land swap, is in blue. The FBI site is in green. The 5 and 405 are both highlighted in pink. Their junction, the “El Toro Y,” is at the leftmost tip of the site in blue — what one might call the “Gateway to Irvine.”  By the way — at least some of that land just up the 5 from the parcel in blue is owned by city and the county!

(2) First, a Little History — Because You Hate That

The Great Park as proposed, and ultimately abandoned, was to be 1300 acres, land that had originally been part of Marine Corps Air Station El Toro (“MCAS El Toro.”)  To me, and I think to most people, that is the fundamental definition of the Great Park:  that it is the successor in location and in historical significance to MCAS El Toro.

Single family luxury houses, for example, may succeed MCAS El Toro in location but not in historical significance; a golf course and sports center succeed it in location and only somewhat in historical significance, as they’re not something so unique in Southern California.  Terraformed land — a bosque and a bee, a wildlife corridor, a cultural terrace — that’s more what we’re talking about.  (And more that was in the original Master Plan, which may or may not have been to some extent a pipe dream, would do so as well.)  And a scenic, somber  Veterans Cemetery?  Bingo!  The concept may resonate of Arlington National Cemetery more than it does Central Park, but it’s still a significant marker of the site and a significant marker of Irvine.  That’s why, when his original plan was scuttled by the new Irvine City Council majority, Agran was quick to accept the Veterans Cemetery proposal as a worthy “Plan B.”

The planned 1300-acre Great Park, in practice, turned out to constitute only that portion of the land owned by the City of Irvine.  (The colored-in portion you see in the top map above is only the 688 acres that FivePoint agreed to develop for Park use — technically known as the “Great Park Improvement Area” — and does not include the 125-acre ARVA site.)  The only reason that the ARVA site was part of the city-owned Great Park lands was that a corner of it was suffused with toxic waste and nobody wanted to take on the liability for cleaning it up — as well as for any subsequent illnesses.  (Agran was and remains correct that building Portola High School so close to the toxic waste is a travesty.  But that’s money already spent.)

Why isn’t the El Toro Y site part of the Great Park?  Because the City of Irvine didn’t own it!  It was part of the MCAS El Toro site that FivePoint’s predecessor had purchased from the Department of Defense, rather than being donated to the City.  Otherwise, it would unquestionably be part of the Great Park.  This is the land that was held out for agricultural use while MCAS El Toro was operating because it was at the end (or the beginning, depending on whether one was departing or landing) of the runway — the part where, as opposed to ARDA, the planes were already (or still) way up in the air as opposed to being on the ground.  That’s why it contains a negligible level of toxic waste.  (People eat the freaking strawberries grown there!)

So, to review: the El Toro Y was not “part of the Great Park” only because it was not owned by the City; ARDA was “part of the Great Park” only because it was so polluted that FivePoints’ predecessor wouldn’t buy it!

By now readers should have an inkling of why “Do you favor keeping the Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery on the 125-acre site, in the Great Park, as planned?” badly misses the point.    Unless you care most about what was in the original plan — as one gets the sense that Agran still does above all — your real concern should be “what is the most fitting tribute to the memory of MCAS El Toro and those who served there?”  People read “Great Park” and they think “MCAS!  Fitting tribute!” and they see “not in the Great Park” and they think “not MCAS!  Bad tribute!”  But in this case, by accidents of history, that heuristic leads one to exactly the wrong result.

The other problem, of course, is that the Master Plan is dead.  The Battle of the Master Plan took place on November 26, 2013; Agran’s side lost.  (I was on his side, too.  The sports-parkification of the MCAS was a huge disappointment.)

Worst of all, no free public racquetball and squash courts! WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?

Yes, the legislature approved the plan — thanks largely to the (as I have said repeatedly) MASTERFUL work of both Agran and of Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva.  But the main reason that no one had considered the El Toro Y site is that no one knew that it was a possibility, because the person at FivePoint who finally had the inspiration to say “hey, we own this land, let’s offer to swap it!” hadn’t as yet had that brilliant flash of inspiration.  Otherwise, it would surely have been part of the existing law.  (Why have the “feng shui” fight that seriously threatened the approval of the plan when we could avoid it?)

(3) The Great Park, Reimagined

The story that I’ve heard is that FivePoint doesn’t even plan to build new houses on the ARDA site post-sway.  More likely it would build a hotel.  (If I may be so bold as to suggest — how about some beautiful culturally appropriate Chinese-, Korean-, and Japanese-themed gardens bordering the Great Park itself, to provide some continuity and harmony!)

But look: the original concept of the Great Park is already badly maimed — not simply by the FivePoint houses on it but by the very un-Central Park structures to the near west and the golf course within the “agricultural area” in the upper center.  (There is no freaking golf course in Central Park!)  Aside from the bosque and the bee sticking up to the north and the wildlife corridor to the east (nice, but not actually part of the Great Park or MCAS El Toro at all, so far as I can tell), the real remaining “Great Park” parts of the Great Park are the already built-out Western Section (where the balloon is) and the Cultural Terrace in the southern quadrant, in blue.

That cultural terrace more or less borders the El Toro Y site.

Stay with me here….

The El Toro Y site stretches up toward the curve of Marine Drive, the street that is the lower border of the Cultural Terrace.  So far as I can tell, it would touch the lower part of the Wildlife Corridor, although not the Cultural Terrace itself.  But, so far as I can tell, the land just below that rightmost curve of Marine Drive is itself City owned — and there’s no obvious impediment to incorporating it into the Great Park (or even the Cemetery) as well.   (All of the land in question is labeled as being for “Future Development.”)

The Cultural Terrace is described on Irvine’s website as follows:

The vision for the Cultural Terrace area includes a variety of culturally oriented amenities, located near the Irvine Transportation Center in the southeastern portion of the park At an April 24, 2015 workshop, the Great Park Board reviewed the goals and considered several components for the future Cultural Terrace. Click here to view the discussion boards from the meeting.

I won’t include the discussion board in that last link, but I do encourage anyone reading this story to click the link visit them.  They constitute some of what you would find in the real Central Park: Art, museums, etc.

But you may have sped by something pretty significant in the above:

“… located near the Irvine Transportation Center in the southeastern portion of the park.”

Wait: the Irvine Transportation Center is right down there?  Down where the El Toro Y site would be?  Let’s look at this map from (which, like most of these maps, is oriented with northeast at or near the top) and another map with a larger scope but less clear labeling:

The new Broadcom campus is in purple on the top map and yellow in the bottom one.  The offered lot would be just below (southwest) of the Broadcom campus — but it doesn’t seem impossible that other public lands between it and the Cultural Terrace might eventually be annexed to the cemetery — or to the Great Park for other purposes — especially given that the cemetery might end up being the greater draw.  The Broadcom campus itself has shrunk from its original planned size, but I don’t have maps showing its current configuration or ownership.

On the first map, you can also see that the transportation center is considerably closer to the El Toro Y location than to the ARDA location, which is the grayish-green area right of the blue of Portola High School.

Want a more “Central Park-like” Great Park? Build the Veterans Cemetery to the south!  The three lines through the purple Broadcom campus are because I’m not sure which parts of it would be passable.

One can imagine, then, a possible new configuration for what would be the portions of the redrawn Great Park that would recapture at least some of the feel that was initially intended.  The gold sections seem like “core” areas with the Central Park feeling — and I include the Veteran’s Cemetery within that.  (A Vets Cemetery would not feel out of place in the immensity of Manhattan’s Central Park.)  I do not include the wildlife corridor in gold on the presumption that we human folk are supposed to stay out of it.  The portions in yellow strike me as ones where the city or county might consider recreating areas into a spirit — not necessarily avoiding some commercial use — that would be in concert with the Great Park.  And, whether the Transportation Center itself were included within the boundary of the Great Park, it would still be smack dab in the middle of it.

The “center” of a Great Park with the Veteran’s Cemetery in the southern location would move from the golf course to the Cultural Terrace.  And that, I think, it only right and proper.

There’s just one problem with this idea — which I address in conclusion.

(4) But This Doesn’t Punish FivePoint and Its Buyers Enough!

I know that some people say that the Irvine Company is the one that opposes the El Toro Y site, and some say that it’s Gafcon — but, whomever else it is, it is clearly Larry Agran and his followers.  And the reason seems to have leaked out in the subtext of Dan Chmielewski’s writing in The Liberal OC, where he keeps on writing on how no deal should be approved unless it includes a “dollar for dollar” rather than an “acre-per-acre” swap.

(Land among pricy houses is, as you might guess, worth more than strawberry patches.)

This is both silly and wrong.  It’s silly because what ought to matter is what land is best suited for the purpose to which it should be put.  Irvine’s proper business is serving the public, not “serving” (as in “You Just Got Served!”) FivePoint.

Let’s use an analogy.  Let’s say that you’re catering a party for your junior high student’s graduation.  The Catering Fairy visits you and gifts you an assortment of lark’s tongues, hummingbird livers, shark’s fins, Rocky Mountain Oysters, blowfish caviar, aged haggis, chinchilla cheese, and exquisitely fermented Japanese natto — all of which you are assured are fabulously expensive.  Word gets to a nearby gourmet restaurant owner who immediately shows up and offers to trade you for equivalent platefuls of artisanal handmade pizzas with heirloom tomatoes, homemade sausages, fresh-baked breads, luscious desserts, and the finest soft drinks — really good food, but nothing that much out of the ordinary.

Let me remind you: you are catering a party for junior high students.  Do you make the trade?

OF COURSE YOU MAKE THE TRADE!  Those kids are going to barf up those lark’s tongues as soon as they get them into their mouths!  Is the restaurant owner going to make money off of them?  Sure — that that’s not your business.  Your task is to cater your child’s party.  You don’t worry about getting the same value for what you give away; you worry about getting the better deal for you.

Proximity to a highly visible major freeway junction, and to a transportation center for the hip locals, are excellent features for a major public attraction; less so for a secluded luxury mansion.  Holding out to get the restaurant owner to sweeten the deal a little is fine; but ultimately, you should come to an agreement.  The kids are depending on you.

As for repair and maintenance of the property, let me tell you something: if Jerry Brown, Josh Newman, and Sharon Quirk-Silva want the state to take over this facility once it’s built, it will happen.  So, for that matter, will the VA, which desperately wants more suitable land on which to bury veterans.

Let’s not let worst-case-scenarios and tendentious polling questions get in the way of doing something great.  Move it, build it, and celebrate the great accomplishment.  We are finally doing something for which future generations will remember us — and you more than anyone, Larry Agran — and thank us.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Deposed as Northern Vice Chair of DPOC in April 2014 (in violation of Roberts Rules) when his anti-corruption and pro-consumer work in Anaheim infuriated the Building Trades and Teamsters in spring 2014, who then worked with the lawless and power-mad DPOC Chair to eliminate his internal oversight. Expelled from DPOC in October 2018 (in violation of Roberts Rules) for having endorsed Spitzer over Rackauckas -- which needed to be done. None of his pre-putsch writings ever spoke for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level, nor do they now. One of his daughters co-owns a business offering campaign treasurer services to Democratic candidates and the odd independent. He is very proud of her. He doesn't directly profit from her work and it doesn't affect his coverage. (He does not always favor her clients, though she might hesitate to take one that he truly hated.) He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)