If Larry Agran Just Rebutted Me on the Vets Cemetery, Why Don’t I Feel Rebutted?




Want a more “Central Park-like” Great Park? Build the Veterans Cemetery to the south!

Over at Lib OC — and, yeah, I’m going to link to it this time! — our chum Chumley just republished a story by Larry Agran in Irvine News and Views which Chumley asserts rebuts various points I made in my piece on the issue from earlier this week.

Funny, I don’t feel rebutted.  But let’s take a look at what Agran has to say anyway.  First, though, a little bit on what Chumley himself has to say.

  1. “The value of the two parcels is different.”  Yes, it is.  And the utility of the two parcels for the purpose of constructing a Veterans Cemetery is also different.  The value of 125 undeveloped-but-developable acres in a secluded area of Anaheim Hills might be much higher than that of a similarly sized parcel right off of the 91 Freeway in blighted northwest Anaheim or south Fullerton.  BUT, if one’s interest is in building a new public attraction that people will want to visit, the site right off of the freeway is clearly going to be better — especially if it will come already built-out and doesn’t require remediation of toxics.
  2. “FivePoint would profit handsomely … market[ing] homes to wealthy Chinese neighbors who are buying homes from a kiosk in Beijing.”  About that last part: because Chumley is the DPOC’s Communications Chair, I’d like to think that he’s not just flat-out being racist here.  Because Chumley likes to degrade those with lesser incomes than his as a PR professional, it may be the “kiosk” part that bothers him more.  In any event: I’d personally prefer that FivePoint sell to veterans who might want to live near a vets cemetery, but does anyone argue that they aren’t within their rights to market their property in Beijing?
  3. “The Vets would get a plot of land without tens of or hundreds of millions of dollars to administer a cemetery for years.” No.  A “plot of land” is not built up.  The vets would get a fully developed cemetery.  That’s huge difference.  And, yes, if the cemetery remained in the hands of the city, it would have to pay the bill for operation and maintenance.  BUT, if it were a state-owned or federally owned Veterans Cemetery, they would pick up these expenses!  Here’s the deal that Irvine could offer them — and it might be part of the deal reached this year: “we will donate the cemetery to you if you handle the costs of operation and maintenance, including staffing, repair, and insurance.”  The federal government in particular is STARVING for new places to bury veterans or their cremains; does anyone really think they’re going to say “no”?  Does anyone really think that the state would say “no” if the vets did?  If that happens, some private interest would take it and operate it just for the prestige!
  4. “[OCVMP’s] Bill [Cook] said ‘CalVet found favor…’ with the plan and the truth is, no they didn’t.  Did Bill lie?  I wouldn’t trust a word out of his mouth again.”  I had spoken to Bill about this before it became an issue, and I think that Chumley is confusing “found favor” with “favored.”  I don’t think that Bill said, or even claimed, that CalVet had definitively said that it favored the swap site over the ARDA site.  I think that he said that they had evaluated the site and found that it met the relevant criteria — i.e., it found nothing that would lead the site not to be considered unfavorable, i.e., “found favor,” i.e. “passed muster.”  Bill did not lie.  I do believe that Chumley won’t trust anything Bill says, but that has more to do with what Chumley chooses to believe than with Bill’s honesty.  (And I don’t trust a word off of Chumley’s fingertips, either.)
  5. “Greg Diamond at the OJ Blog wrote a long post about how the new site would somehow fulfill former Irvine city council member Larry Agran’s vision for a Veteran’s Cemetery and Memorial.  I reached out to Larry and he has granted permission for us to republish his thoughts in this month’s Irvine Community News & Views.”  You might think that those views would be relevant to what I actually wrote in the article, right?  Well, judge for yourself.

Here’s a sample of what Agran had to say:

  1. “Just three years ago, in 2014 when I was in my last year as an Irvine City Councilmember, I was proud to offer the Council resolution — unanimously supported — to have the City designate 125 acres within the Great Park (about 10 percent of the entire Great Park) for a Veterans Cemetery.”  A little misleading, but OK.  “In my last year…” makes it sound like Agran retired rather than being defeated for re-election.  And “unanimously supported” overlooks that Choi and Shea clearly intended to vote “no” until Lalloway became the third “yes” vote and they gave up.  But mostly true.
  2. “This generous City action, in turn, enabled Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva — then Chair of the State Assembly Veterans Affairs Committee — to win legislative approval that officially provided State support for the Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park.  The combined City and State action led to a plan and design for the Veterans Cemetery; followed by an on-time application for approval by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; and now a position on the ‘Priority List’ for Federal funding.”  It was, absolutely, a generous action — and Agran and Quirk-Silva deserve the lion’s share of credit among elected officials for making it happen, shared with the OCVMP’s Bill Cook and arguably OCVMP’s Robert Brower (the top liaison to Council).  The second tier of credit going to Jerry Brown (signed it), Don Wagner (co-sponsored it), and OCVMP’s Brian Chuchua (fostered most of the heavy lifting that transformed OCVMP into an actual consequential political group.)  But: while it has a position on the “Priority List,” as I recall it’s a pretty low position, in which it remains vulnerable to political attack, especially in the “Wild West Bedlam” atmosphere of the Trump Administration.
  3. “Lalloway began working with … Quirk-Silva to develop a funding plan:  The City would pledge to put up half of the funds to build the $77 million Veterans Cemetery — roughly $40 million from the more than $250 million Great Park development fund; and Silva [sic] pledged she would work to have the State match the City’s effort.”  This was good!  And it may still turn out to be essential!  But: (a) the $40 million could also go for other Great-Park-related purposes; (b) Quirk-Silva could only promise to work for, not necessarily to obtain, state funding; and (c) no money would be needed for funding if FivePoint BUILDS THE WHOLE THING.  (Somehow, this pledge gets left out of the calculations of a “dollar for dollar swap.”  FivePoint offers to build the whole thing!)
  4. “Shea and Mayor Donald Wagner did everything in their power to derail [the proposal] — and Councilmember Melissa Fox added language that inexplicably kept a ‘land-swap’ proposal alive as a possible ‘second track’ alternative site for the Veterans Cemetery.”  Larry Agran is among the smartest politicians I’ve met, and there’s no way that he really thinks that Fox’s amendment was “inexplicable,” unless he is spoofing on Wallace Shawn’s uttering “INCONCEIVABLE!” in The Princess Bride.  It was entirely explicable: it was to allow veterans to get the best option possible.
  5. “[T]he ‘land-swap’ was simply a land-and-entitlement grab worth hundreds of millions of dollars — it would enable developer FivePoint Communities to build 1,500 or even 2,000 more homes on the hallowed 125 acres that, in 2014, had been designated for the Veterans Cemetery.”  It is certainly in FivePoint’s interest, but we’re not sure why.  One argument covered here is that FivePoint’s aim may not be to build new homes there at all — a hotel and related amenities is more likely — but to extricate themselves from the legal and PR problems that would ensue if the cemetery were built there when adequate disclosures may not have been made to purchasers of the surrounding property.  As I (and Agran) argued three years ago, and it is still true, FivePoint’s problems are not the City of Irvine’s problem to solve.  But if FivePoint decides to solve its problem by paying money to give the City of Irvine something better than it could have had before, then it may not be Irvine’s problem, but it sure is Irvine’s opportunity!
  6. “Councilmember Lynn Schott, soft-spoken yet articulate and logical, noted that it was important to remain on course and build the Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park, as planned.”  That’s Schott in the gauzy soft-focus photo at right, taken right from the Liberal OC site. Neither Agran nor Chumley has had anything nice to say about Schott’s “soft-spoken” logical articulateness at any time that I can remember prior to this present event.  On Irvine’s Council, she’s a coalition partner of Lalloway’s rather than Wagner’s and Shea’s — and, if I were on that Council, I probably would be as well most of the time.  But not on this issue, because the merits argue otherwise.  (Comic relief interlude over!)
  7.  “As I watched Shea and Wagner doing everything they could to promote the interests of developer FivePoint Communities and their allies, I actually found the spectacle sickening.  These are the same developers that spent well over $1 million to elect Wagner and re-elect Shea just last November.  For once, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Shea and Wagner stood up for Irvine residents and American veterans, and put our interests ahead of yet another land-entitlement giveaway to FivePoint Communities, further enriching their big-bucks campaign donors.  That’s something to think about as the most solemn of American holidays approaches, Memorial Day, when we honor all who served but especially those who, in President Lincoln’s words, “gave the last full measure of devotion” to our country.”  I’d prefer to think that Agran did not craft this section himself.  This sort of PR glurge is beneath him.  Like others in OCVMP, I’m no “ally” of FivePoint here; I’m (vicariously) engaged in a bona fide arm’s length transaction with them that leaves everyone better off.  But if Agran truly is “sickened,” it’s because he remembers how FivePoint was part of a coalition lied about him and cheated — even to the point of breaking campaign finance law — to defeat him for Mayor in 2012 and for Council in 2014.  And he may be sickened because he wasn’t reading this blog last year when I reported that from what I could tell Fox was NOT with him on this issue, which made it weird that he was doing so much to promote her and to undermine her co-endorsed Democrat in the race, Farrah Khan.  He has good reason to be pissed off at FivePoint, but such grievances have to be put aside when it comes to making policy.  As for his feeling betrayed by Fox — to whom Chumley gave a “hey, do I smell fire?” sort of dark warning to Fox in the context of “others” considering a recall of her — for either not being bought or not staying bought:  do I really have to, at this late point in his life, say, hey, “Welcome to Politics”?
  8. “Here in Irvine, let’s devote ourselves to rejecting developer-driven “land-swaps” and other get-rich-quick entitlement schemes.  Instead, let’s push forward to put the Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery where it belongs — in the Great Park…and as soon as possible!”  One of the points that I’d have most liked to see Agran take on from my prior piece is my explanation of how this could and would have been part of the Great Park from the outset had the City owned it.  And it could still be made part of the Great Park now, by the Council simply expanding the official boundaries of the Great Park to include it!  It is in that sense, which Chumley seems not to understand, that this action complements and completes Agran’s vision more than anything else could.  He wanted a great Great Park — and, with its capstone project dominating the view from South County’s most monumental freeway junction — HE’LL HAVE IT!  Join the celebration, Larry — YOU MADE THIS HAPPEN!  THANKS!

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.)