Strawberry Fields, Eternally? Irvine Council Decides at 4 p.m. Tuesday Special Meeting!

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(1) “Bury Veterans, not the lede!”

Irvine’s City Council will decide Tuesday at 4 p.m., hopefully with you in attendance!, whether it will move OC’s planned Veterans Cemetery from a site including a toxic waste dump from the days of Marine Corps Air Base at El Toro — which three years ago was nevertheless the best available option for siting in 2014, but is not so in 2017 — to one adjacent to the northbound approach to the “El Toro Y” the junction of OC’s main north(west)-south(east) routes from San Diego to northern California.

Opponents of the move, motivated by implacable hatred of the developer FivePoints Communities and its owner Emile Haddad — who did so much (and so much of it in violation of election law) to destroy the longstanding  Larry Agran/Beth Krom Democratic hegemony over the city — have hit upon their final argument before tomorrow’s hearing, and it is this:

Democratic Councilwoman Melissa Fox, if you cast your deciding vote for moving the cemetery on June 6, we will destroy your political career!

I disagree with Melissa Fox and her husband Mike Fox (and their close friend and ally Florice Hoffman) about all sorts of issues within the party, although we generally agree on issues related to the outside world.  But I will say this on behalf of Melissa.

She never served in the military, as her father did, but she clearly appreciates its principles.  She has never, to my knowledge, in her entire life been called upon to show valor under fire.  But for people to be putting her in a position where, as a civilian politician, she finally has the chance to show that valor, in support of a cause that is fundamentally about HONORING VALOR, is so deliciously stupid and self-defeating that it’s no surprise that its online home is among anonymous commenters at Liberal OC.

The chance to stare down cowardly “enemy” snipers and do what’s right must be intoxicating for her.

As for these threats from what is usually the “Party Unity, yay!” crowd — well, a lot more voters in Irvine are likely to admire political courage than to care about the stance of a bitter-at-his-actual-moment-of-triumph Larry Agran.  If he wants to support Christine Shea for Mayor instead of Melissa, for example, the rest of us will have to just sit back and enjoy the spectacle.  But I think that he and his will think better of it.

Melissa will probably, after this vote, do more than anyone on Council — especially if she can bring herself to support equally valorous and like-minded-on-this-issue Farrah Khan, whose support she’ll badly need if Agran gets too mopey and pissy, for Council after undermining her last year — to turn the resulting cemetery into something that does salvage a substantial measure of Agran’s vision for greatness at the site.  She’s not “for FivePoint,” she’s for veterans — it’s not “three from FivePoint and two from its opponents,” it’s two vs. two with a veterans’ advocate in the middle” — and if Agran and his troops don’t want to admit it now they will do so soon enough once the battle has ended and the building has begun.

(2) Welcome to Strawberry Fields

This is what opponents of the land swap describe as an inferior site for a grand public memorial site, sitting right at the end (or beginning, for arrivals) of the runway that took so many soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines towards and to Asia.  It was part of MCAS El Toro, but the part reserved for aborted takeoffs and premature landings, that would better squash strawberry plants than people in buildings.  Military personnel, rather than agricultural workers, passed over it from some dozens of metres in the air.

It was the moment of “goodbye” — and, for many, of “goodbye forever.”  Symbolically, it is just about perfect; functionally, it is prominent and convenient to rapid transit (Irvine Metrolink) and to the eyes of children in the back seats of cars passing by.

Strawberry Field Harvest in Irvine, from Karen Jeske’s fine California Blog, at

As a comic interlude, there is also a nearby golf course and wedding event site called Strawberry Farms that has reportedly been a little bit miffed and jittery aboutt the “Strawberry Fields” name, because some of its patrons have been a bit frantic about their site being knocked down for a Veterans Cemetery.  They shouldn’t worry: if there’s one secular thing more sacred in Orange County than a Veterans Cemetery, it’s a golf course.  Anyway, to help you tell the difference, here it is:

Here it is. Quite beautiful on the inside — you could look it up at, if you’d like — but if we printed those pictures we’d have to charge them.

You’re safe, golfers and wedding celebrants.  No veterans remains anywhere around there!   You can relax now — and remember to swing from the belly.

There is a silly argument (in my opinion) over whether this site or the original ARDA site is really “part of the Great Park,” which has driven some very slanted poll questions from the Agran sponsored local newspaper.  BOTH WERE PART OF MCAS-EL TORO.  They were at opposite ends of the runway; one experienced the rumble of planes slightly off the ground and one was where the planes started and stopped (and the fluids that ran and cleaned them were dumped.)  NEITHER IS AN INTRINSIC PART OF “THE GREAT PARK,” because the Great Park IS whatever the hell the City Council SAYS it is!

Anyone who thinks that the City Council will prefer to consider the Vets Cemetery simply “adjacent to” the Great Park rather than its crown jewel is, um, sniffing jet fuel.  OF COURSE it will be integrated into the Great Park, as it should be.  What matters is that it WAS PART OF MCAS-EL TORO!  You can change the boundaries of the Great Park — just as Irvine changed its own boundaries when it annexed the site — with a simple resolution, but you can’t rewrite decades of history with one!

The past is fixed.  The future is what we make of it.

And right now, we are making that future very fast, hurtling towards an unexpectedly prompt conclusion.  Break ground now, on this site, and Governor Brown may be able to preside over the first internment at the cemetery that he has done so much to help make happen.  (I LIKE THAT!)  The governor agrees that it is Irvine’s right to choose a site, and the legislation to make it happen — shepherded by OC’s Sharon Quirk-Silva and Josh Newman, is as “can’t fail” as can be imagined.  (My bet is that it is so “can’t fail” that the Rules Committee will declare it immune to any riders so that no pet projects can piggyback on it.)  Now that Council vote will happen — and the starter’s gun will fire.

(3) The Merits

FivePoint’s proposal for its building the land on the cemetery (at no public expense) as a sweetener to the land swap appears to be satisfactory to the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation, or OCVMP and the politicians and state officials who have a stake in making sure that this all truly does come to fruition.  [Full Disclosure: I have been involved with OCVMP — sometimes attending meetings with Brian Chuchua and sometimes offering my thoughts and advice otherwise — since December 2013 or January 2014.  Not having been hired by them as a formal legal counsel, I owe them no duty of loyalty — but as the father of a now-deployed sailor I do owe them a huge debt of gratitude for what they’ve done and my writings are motivated solely by that.]

I do wish that FivePoint’s offer were even better — I wish that Emile Haddad would just sign FivePoint over to the City, in hey, and let’s wish for Donald Bren to do the same for the Irvine Company while we’re at it, but both prospects seem just a tad unrealistic — but at some point one has done as much negotiating as one can and the deal is what it is.  Yes, the promises have to be locked in securely — but Irvine has a pretty excellent City Staff and legal team to take care of that sort of thing.  If FivePoint wants to betray Gov. Brown and an excitable state legislature, well, it can try, but it has much more to gain by keeping its promises.

But beyond that — and beyond the threats to Melissa Fox — boy, is there a lot of disinformation going around from those who hate FivePoint more than they love veterans!  Speaking of that, if you’d like to go read Melissa’s statement favoring the Strawberry Field site — EXCLUSIVE TO LIBERAL OC!!! — click that link.  (Leave a comment saying “Greg Diamond sent me here” if you’d like; we’ll see how many of those he publishes.  Remember, you can comment there anonymously — and with a fake email address!)  I can quote three paragraphs without him contacting me about it:

I believe that the Strawberry Field Site is by far the most advantageous for the residents of Irvine. This site, overwhelmingly preferred by the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Committee (OCVMP), saves at a minimum $77.5 million in city, state and national tax dollars, does not require the substantial remediation and decontamination of the original site, and reduces traffic through the City.

My strong commitment to an Orange County Veterans Cemetery located on the grounds of the old El Toro Marine base in Irvine has never wavered. My goal remains to establish this cemetery as expeditiously as possible.

Here are the facts:

The ARDA was last appraised in 2014 at $9,425,224. In 2105 [sic., probably intended to be either 2005 or 2015], the developer sold 72 acres adjacent to the Strawberry Field Site for $128,000,000.

OOOOH, that’s a nice find, given the “ARDA is so valuable and Strawberry Fields is trash” argument going around.  The point, of course, is that ARDA is more valuable FOR HOUSES and Strawberry Fields is more valuable FOR A STUNNING PUBLIC MEMORIAL THAT WILL ATTRACT NOTICE AND TOURISM.  I don’t want my house to face right against a freeway — but I sure do want my public attraction to be!  (There’s a reason that Angels Stadium wasn’t built in freeway-poor La Habra!)

Among the other points she makes — and I wrote the above before reading her piece — are that neither site is within the original boundaries of the proposed Great Park (ARDA because of toxic waste and Strawberry because the city didn’t own it!) but both were on MCAS – El Toro.

  1. FivePoint doesn’t seek additional entitlements at the Strawberry Field site.
  2. ARDA — which includes the requirement to remediate toxic waste — could end up costing more than the estimated $80-million-odd price tag, of which $38 million would be covered by the city, $30 million — of a $40 million request, the pointed denial of $10 million of which to the widely-beloved-in-Sacramento Sharon Quirk-Silva suggests that the legislature knew exactly what their preference was between the two sites, and $10 million of which would supposedly come from the federal government.
    1. I’d add — one reason for the switch is that FivePoint would almost surely continue to fight the ARDA site, as would the largely Chinese residents surrounding it — and stopping that extra $10 million could be the choke point for that.
  3. ARDA contains 77 buildings that need to be demolished in addition to the toxic waste dump, which she says — and I did not know this! — “the largest Superfund Project in the Nation”!  In contrast, the agricultural Strawberry Fields site requires only the picking of the remaining ripe strawberries — which is itself technically optional.  If it gets in the state budget for the upcoming year — and this vote is happening so quickly specifically to facilitate that! — then we could break ground far sooner.  (This has been lied about often on LibOC.)
  4. The City funding that would be used for the ARDA site — which comes from what was once Redevelopment money — can, if not used here, could be used by the city for other useful municipal purposes.
  5. OCVMP strongly favors the Strawberry Field Site because it suits the needs of a highly visible public memorial so perfectly.

I would add this to that: while lots of cities have tall buildings like those found in Irvine’s financial center, most have City Halls that are not that much less snazzy than Irvine’s, and many have fine colleges that look like UCI, very few have major veterans memorials visible from major freeway junctions.  The point being: that this is going to be the visible emblem of the City of Irvine — and maybe all of South Orange County — for decades if not centuries from now.  It will be considered, in a word: “GREAT.”  So if everyone is going to want to take credit for it in the future, they might has well help make it happen now!

I’m going to add some additional refutations of some misleading statements elsewhere — look for the word “UPDATED” at the top when I do — for now I want to get this published.  See you at the Council meeting at 4:00 or earlier to get good seats!


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose worker's rights and government accountability attorney, residing in northwest Brea. General Counsel of CATER, the Coalition of Anaheim Taxpayers for Economic Responsibility, a non-partisan group of people sick of local corruption. Deposed as Northern Vice Chair of DPOC in April 2014 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. Occasionally runs for office to challenge some nasty incumbent who would otherwise run unopposed. (Someday he might pick a fight with the intent to win rather than just dent someone. You'll know it when you see it.) He got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012 and in 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002. 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. A family member 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.)