Signed, Sealed, and Delivered in Under 10 Months: Gov. Brown Signs Quirk-Silva’s OC Veterans Cemetery Bill

Sharon and Jerry Brown red and blue

Sharon Quirk-Silva brought red and blue together to get AB 1453 — the bill establishing Orange County’s first Veteran’s Cemetery in Irvine’s Great Park — to Jerry Brown’s desk for the Governor’s signature. Yesterday, he signed it.

So much was happening yesterday that this slipped under the radar — but it’s very much worth note: Gov. Jerry Brown has signed AB 1453 into law.  What was unimaginable ten months ago — even its then-handful of proponents couldn’t have imagined it — has come to pass.  Orange County, home to over 3 million people, will finally get its first veterans cemetery — which will be the most, and arguably only, truly great thing in Irvine’s Great Park.

Let’s start with some perspective on that timeline.  While doing some research for this study, I came across this announcement from Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva’s office, dated December 4, 2013:

“I am very excited and honored to be given this opportunity to chair the Assembly Veterans Affairs Committee, which oversees various policy issues affecting the Cal-Vet loan program, Department of Veterans Affairs, National Guard, State military, and Veterans.

I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Legislature, staff and advocates on bills that are considered by this committee in the next session.  I have been a strong supporter of efforts that will provide our veterans and their families with the services and benefits they need to help facilitate a full transition from active duty back to civilian life.”

Last month, Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva hosted a “Hometown Heroes” event where she recognized over 80 Veterans in her District for their service and dedication to their communities. A clip from this event and Veterans Day celebrations can be accessed below.

A nice statement — and, while it was released less than 300 days ago, it contains no mention of a Veteran’s Cemetery in Orange County.  That was not yet on her radar.

Speaker John Perez obviously wanted to be supportive of Quirk-Silva, and Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee is a popular perch from which a state politicians can meet the public.  But simply holding the post would normally confer much of the benefit that a politician would derive from being that Committee Chair; the appointment doesn’t mean that anyone in the Assembly hierarchy expected Quirk-Silva to actually do that much with it.

Quirk-Silva, though, quickly had other ideas.

Having heard about the efforts of a small and motley crew of veterans to bring a veterans cemetery to Orange County, Quirk-Silva sought out Irvine City Councilmembers Larry Agran and Beth Krom.   Both were smarting over the new Irvine City Council majority’s gleefully stomping on the City’s long-held (and long-deferred) Master Plan for the Great Park.  While the Veterans Cemetery wasn’t part of the Great Park’s Master Plan, it offered the promise of at least some of the Greatness that they had hoped to bring the Irvine.

Quirk-Silva talked to Agran and then to the Veterans Group, which began meeting in a back room at the Garden Grove office of Quirk-Silva’s mentor, Rep. Loretta Sanchez.  The veterans were largely conservative, largely Republican, and largely suspicious of Larry Agran.  To most of them, Quirk-Silva was an unknown.  They were largely unorganized and, well into the process, suspected that they were playing a much longer game — one that might take ten years or so rather than ten months.

(I’m glossing over most internal discussions from OCVMP and the amazing work of the John Spangler, the non-partisan State staffer for the Veterans Affairs Committees, and Sharon’s own staff in this report, simply because the former is semi-private and I don’t know how much the staffers want to take credit.  (Frankly, I hope that Spangler does.  His work was reliable and incredible.)  But there’s enough to tell here simply on the legislative side; I may have a follow up after a celebratory event for those involved takes place this Wednesday.)

Quirk-Silva had one firm rule from the outset: no partisanship.  Partisanship was one of the greatest enemies of such a proposal.  Any political leader who wanted on to the project was welcome as a sponsor: Republican, Democrat, third-party, Independent.  That’s easy to say — but harder to do.  Quirk-Silva, more than anyone, made this work — smacking down deviations from proper behavior like the elementary school teacher that she was for years.

Some of the smartest political figures in Orange County believed late into the game that this was a nice idea … that wouldn’t happen.  I won’t divulge details of discussions during meetings, but at one meeting one prominent longstanding leader declared flatly to the OC Veterans Memorial Park Committee (OCVMP) that in Orange County the developers always get their way — and that the staunch opposition of developer Emile Haddad’s company Five Point was simply insurmountable.  The smart money in the County would have agreed with him.

The choke point at which the project could have been most easily killed was in a vote of the Irvine City Council.  Five Point was threatening litigation on various grounds to protect its interest in an adjoining residential tract that — I am not making this part up — was intended to be sold to investors trying to bring money out of the People’s Republic of China to someplace safer, and who objected to the presence of a cemetery because it would bring bad feng shui.  (Irvine Mayor Steven Choi flat out said this from the podium at one or more meetings; it’s not just some theory.)  His colleague Christine Shea was a virtual spokesperson for Five Points’ position on the dais, presenting dubious legal theories and mistaken factual assertions with abandon.

The deciding vote on the City Council was Jeffrey Lalloway.  Lalloway is not normally reticent on City Council, but when this issue came up at the beginning he simply said that he supported it and would make it happen — and then he mostly kept quiet while the other four argued.  When the Council formed a committee to consider the proposal, its members were expected to be Agran (who had been masterful in getting the proposal into shape for Irvine’s consideration) and Choi — but on Lalloway’s motion it instead became Lalloway and Choi.  (Note: previous sentence has been corrected from originally saying “Shea” instead of “Choi.”)  Hearts fell among OCVMP members; if the bill was going to be killed by delay (as I predicted early on would be attempted), this was exactly how it would happen.  Lalloway might never have to vote against the proposal — but if the committee just took too long to come up with a recommendation, he wouldn’t have to — and he could have claimed that it was due to circumstances beyond his control.

One member of OCVMP remained confident that Lalloway would come through — a Republican elder statesman, bona fide Purple-Heart war hero, and (I surmise) advisor to Lalloway named Robert Brower.  (Brower also informed me that he was involved in a lot of the development on and around Brea Boulevard in my fair city of Brea — so I also have to give him credit for helping to create some of the most delightful public spaces and streetfront homes in Orange County.)  Brower was the most politically active Republican on the OCVMP — I mean nothing but admiration by calling him “a fixer” — and he laughably outmatched me as the OCVMP committee member most active in Democratic party politics.   I have no doubt whatsoever that if Brower had wanted the project dead, it would have died.

Brower was firm: Lalloway said that he was going to get this done — and he would.  We need pay no attention to what he was saying — or, in this case, not saying.  The latter was what was so unnerving: continued strong statements from Lalloway on the podium during the months that the proposal sat in a City Council committee would have left little doubt of eventual success.  But Lalloway was almost Sphinx-like much of the time.

Brower might well say that Lalloway’s vote was assured from the start, but I have to note that there was another reason that he could not dare waver even if he wanted to.  His big competition in the City Council race this year, aside from Agran, is Melissa Fox, who had run for State Assembly against his political mentor Don Wagner in 2010.  Fox was and remains an excellent speaker — and she took up the Veterans Cemetery cause with great gusto from the audience.  Every time she spoke, Lalloway may have had visions of what her campaign mailers against him would look like if he were the deciding vote against the project — and they would have been absolutely devastating.  So, we’ll be fair and give them both credit for the presence of a third vote on the City Council in favor of the Veterans Cemetery.  Only Jeff Lalloway knows for sure whether his vote would have been a definite thing without Fox looming over him — and that is between him and his God (and Emile Haddad.)

Approval from the City Council came so late in the game that simple logistics presented the second-to-last major hurdle for the proposal.  I’m not looking all of this up now, but if memory serves AB 1453 passed from both the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate floor, and then both the Assembly Appropriations Committee and the Assembly floor, on the last possible day.  Lots of good bills fell by the wayside during this process, usually without explanation, just for lack of sufficient priority — and it was Quirk-Silva’s connections and firm hand that prevented that fate for this bill.  (The people who think that “anyone could have gotten this bill through” are either deluded, misinformed, or stark raving mad.)

The bill has already appeared so late — due to unnecessary delay, in my book — that OC lost a year’s place in line to get federal funding for it.  That’s sad — especially for veterans who will die a year before they might have been able to be buried there — but better one year late than ten (or a hundred.)  The final hurdle was Gov. Jerry Brown.  Quirk-Silva met many times with the Governor — who seems to be no great fan of our county with the exception of certain fat checkbooks located here — to push for his approval of the project, starting in its early stages.  Brown can be quixotic and mercurial in his choices of what bills to sign — and bills favoring OC don’t have a great track record with him.  But Brown was on board, supporting what will someday be a major destination in Orange County, in the end.

As I said, Sharon was scrupulous — and, I can attest from personal experience, sometimes quite pointed — in insisting that this proposal not be allowed to become a partisan political football.  That’s why, in the end, I can’t think of a single major OC politician who would be expected to take a position on it — even Choi and Shea, who had tried so hard to kill it –that didn’t support it.  (If you readers know of any, please let me know — I’d like to highlight their “accomplishment.”  I think that even Supervisor Shawn Nelson, whom I swatted on these pages a few months back for what seemed to be ignorant and dismissive anti-Quirk-Silva comments, supported it — I think.  Send your correction, if need be through the usual channels, sir.  That would be Vern.)

Quirk-Silva’s generous willingness to share credit extended even to her opponent in the upcoming electionYoung Kim — whose active help with moving the hearts of Irvine’s large Korean-American community could have proven quite important to its success in the darkest days when time seemed to be running out on Irvine’s committee.  I’d have had to acknowledge her here and now — much as I do those who are generally my political antagonists such as Lalloway and Wagner.  But, she didn’t.  When I gave her one last chance before the final vote — something that I’m pretty sure was brought to the attention of her campaign, as I’m apparently well-read in certain North OC offices — she surprised me when she STILL didn’t take a stand favoring it.  In those waning days of its battle through the legislature, she did, however, tell one person from OCVMP that she supported it — and she told another person, whom she may not have realized was also from the OCVMP, that she opposed it.


I don’t know whether Young Kim, in her heart, took one of these positions, or both, or whether she is actually a set of identical twins that sometimes fails to coordinate their responses, or what.  But I do know this: jumping onto the bandwagon before the Governor signed this popular bill was as close as one comes to a political intelligence test.  And she failed — both by taking NO position publicly and by taking TWO CONTRARY positions privately.

I’m sorry if I affront any of the good (hell, I’ll even say “great”) Republicans who poured their hearts and souls into this effort, and this is the only time in this post that I’m saying anything I think that one can fairly consider partisan: Sharon Quirk-Silva muscled this bill passed a veritable legislative obstacle course and she got this bill enacted into law.  If Young Kim were the 65th AD Assemblywoman — even if we presume that she’d have supported the bill at all — there’s just no way that that would have happened.

And that is the difference between being represented in Sacramento by a heavyweight political figure — versus a lightweight poser.

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. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)