Vets Cemetery: the Counter-Argument That the Vets Said Was Manure Was Manure Indeed




Conceptual plan from FivePoint regarding how the Southern California Veteran’s Cemetery might look.  They had better not screw it up, because 100 years from now this is what they’ll be remembered for.

One main argument made by Larry Agran, Chumley, and others from their camp was that the actual purpose of the “land swap,” to place the Southern California Veterans Cemetery in the “Strawberry Fields” site, was a nefarious plan to delay the construction of the Veterans Cemetery indefinitely — with the possible prospect of killing it — because it could take a decade to get it approved and build it, etc.

Veterans at OCVMP, to put it politely, thought that this was somewhere between a confused misapprehension a jumbo-sized load of manure.  Everything that they saw and heard suggested that the plan would sail through quickly once it received City Council approval.  So, once the swap was approved, this became the first marker that could decide who was full of insight … and who was full of beans.

Well, THAT didn’t take long to sort out!  This came through from Irvine Councilwoman Melissa Fox on June 19:

More good news from the California State Legislature re the Orange County Veterans Cemetery in Irvine:

The State legislature has adopted two budget trailer bills related to the Southern California Veterans Cemetery, SB 96 and AB 97, now pending Governor Brown’s signature. SB 96 and AB 97 include the same budget allocations, provisions and direction to CalVet as reported last week.

§ $500,000 for CalVet study (site studies, concept plan and Phase I cost estimates)

§ Authorizes CalVet to acquire, study, design, develop, construct, and equip a state-owned and state-operated Southern California Veterans Cemetery at the Bake Parkway site.

§ Authorizes CalVet to submit a pre-application requesting Federal Cemetery Grant funds

§ $5 million transfer to the Southern California Veterans Cemetery Master Development Fund

If Governor Brown, as expected, signs the above listed provisions without line item veto in the coming week, they are effective July 1, 2017.

Starting with the Council approval on June 6, it will have taken … less than a month.

Less than a month.  Hell, if they can put together a 4th of July groundbreaking — just imagining the possibilities here — it could be less than a month between that approval and groundbreaking.

I don’t think that Agran and his crowd was correct to make thwarting Five Point’s goals — and we still don’t know how much their goals have actually gone beyond “just don’t build a freaking cemetery on the land next to where we didn’t adequately tell the people who already bought homes that that was even a possibility” and we don’t know how much the City Council (perhaps with Fox now switching sides?) may tamp down any ambitions Five Point may have for burdening the area with the traffic consequences of more dense construction on this parcel — a main theme of their opposition.  But, however unsavory, at least that argument was sincere!  People never had reason to think that they were being played for credulous fools if the Agranistas’ motive was just flat out political revenge.

But the rest of the arguments?  That the freeway adjacent site was a worse one for the memorial park?  That it might take forever to approve — or that the state might reject it and leave Irvine with the staffing, maintenance, and repair bill — or that it would take much longer to construct than the concrete-bound site with the toxic Superfund tail?

Those arguments should now be embarrassing to the people who made them.  (But, of course, to feel embarrassment you first have to have the capacity to feel shame.)

The state will own and operate the cemetery.  My guess is that the Broadcom campus, and the land north of the Broadcom campus, and the county land on the same ground but northbouth of the cemetery, might at some point to integrated into the cemetery, bringing it somewhere closer to a proper size.  And, eventually, the cemetery will probably pass on to the federal government, to become a federal veterans cemetery, because the federal government too will see it as a prestige project that it will like to call its own.  And the state — like the city, like the county — doesn’t really need to own the facility in order to benefit from it.

My sentimental hope is that before Larry Agran dies, may that day be long off, he will come to recognize that while everyone will want to claim parentage of this success, he and Sharon Quirk-Silva will be the ones with the most solid claim.  No matter what he or anyone else might say, the public will recognize that the cemetery IS part of the Great Park, because nobody will want it NOT to be.

I hope that some fitting portion of the Park-cum-Cemetery complex will be named for Agran, some part that looks down upon the cemetery that — but for his inspired dreams and hard work — would now be part of a big culture-altering airport.  I hope that, like so many of his fellow veterans, he may someday come to feel that he too would want to be buried there.  He may not having gotten the best of Five Point, but what he will have helped to build will last a whole lot longer than just another tract of houses.

It will be — in a sense it already is — Great.


Composite photo of the three politicians whose hard work most made this happen: Quirk-Silva, Brown, and Agran. (Sources: Assembly Democratic Caucus, OC Register).

[Author’s note: One of our commenters said something very unkind below about Larry Agran, leading me to respond with a comment a little longer than the story itself. I’ve decided to port it up here where it’s easier to notice and more pleasant to read. Strictly optional, of course! The comment in question appears in a blockquote at the bottom of this epilogue.]

“Mistakes were made,” to quote a famous South Countian, that’s for sure. But your take on this is far too uncharitable. There was nothing intrinsically wrong with wanting the equivalent of Manhattan’s Central Park — which is delightful, you should go check it out — in South County.

Maybe the dreams imbued in the specifics of the plans were too grandiose, maybe not. (They could have been scaled back with much less force than they were.) The crash of the economy and end of redevelopment money were certainly huge obstacles — as was the politically driven impatience with the process, which can kill pretty much ANY project that most people see in retrospect as having been worthwhile.

Then there is the mismanagement, which on Agran’s part strikes me as inadequate supervision of his advisors at Forde and Mollrich, which I find it hard to argue with — but every time I talk to Harvey Liss he has an explanation that sounds at least halfway plausible. My suggestion on that ground is to give Agran a choice of a plaque that describes him as the man who brought either the Southern California Veterans Cemetery, or the Solar Decathlon, to Irvine as see which he prefers.

But you are being truly churlish here, so now I have to sharpen my tone. If you appreciate the Veterans Cemetery — and the people with whom I’ve worked at the OCVMP Foundation certainly do — then you should just suck it up and thank Larry Agran for the work her did in 2014 to get it here. It would not be here — in EITHER location — without Larry Agran.

The only other politician about whom I can say that is Sharon Quirk-Silva. Jerry Brown signed it (and led the administration that did such excellent grunt work); Jeff Lalloway and Melissa Fox both cast critical deciding votes to save and secure it; and Josh Newman showed necessary leadership in pushing it over the finish line this year. But Agran and Quirk-Silva worked their asses off to make it happen in the first place, and had to be at the absolute top of their game to pull it off.

Agran did not want a Veterans Cemetery in or around the Great Park as part of his “Plan A.” He wanted the Pacific counterpart of Central Park. But instead, perhaps, ultimately, we’ll get something that serves as the Pacific counterpart of Arlington Cemetery. (Also great. You should visit that too.) That was “Plan B.” And you should thank him — yes, thank; yes, you; yes, him — because no one did more to bring Plan B into fruition than he did. He salvaged his legacy there, and you and other detractors should suck it up and admit it.

In my opinion, Plan B was BETTER than Plan A — because Plan A would not have been allowed to happen. I think that, in retrospect, the Great Park plan was always doomed — because South Orange County isn’t New York City and Agran’s enemies were too powerful and the friends he had to make and allies he had to depend on were too self-interested. So under this reading, the City Council did Agran a favor by shattering his Master Plan, because it wouldn’t come to fruition soon enough for him to see through anyway and it would not have survived his absence.

PLAN B, he lived long enough, while he was still near the height of his powers, to see through. PLAN B, required HIS vision and skills. He may hate my guts right now, and Melissa Fox’s, and Sharon Quirk-Silva’s, and most other people whom he thinks let him down — but we have no choice but to appreciate what HE did to make this happen.

And he should fully understand the nature of this disagreement. His final failure, in my opinion, is not solely an understandable thirst for revenge but his hubristic certainty that, if sited at ARDA, the cemetery would DEFINITELY be built. I’ve never been entirely convinced. Neither had the veterans. That’s why among the benefits of the freeway adjacent site is the customary one that one expects from settlement: finality.

We’ve never seen (and now never WILL see) the court cases that could have been expected by Lennar, the other residents, and who knows who else; we’ve never seen (and now never WILL see) how the Trump Administration, perhaps induced to use the Superfund site as a place to hammer in a wedge, might have been induced by FivePoint to break things up. We have finality.

Agran may have believed that through force of will he could have prevented all of this from falling through — but one would think that the past five years should have convinced him that HE could not depend on that outcome, and OTHERS could not depend his ability to bring it about. He’s still powerful, still vibrant, but he’s in his declining years — and that’s not going to reverse course.

To me, how he has been brought low enough to be likened here to a turd, after a decade in power and five years of still great influence, is a testimony to the magnitude of Agran’s previous achievement. He has accomplished all that he has in FREAKING SOUTH ORANGE COUNTY, with targets on his chest, back, and forehead. And while his reach exceeded his grasp — JUST LOOK AT WHAT WAS IN HIS GRASP!

A hundred years from now, Allan, few of us will be remembered. The houses built by Lennar and FivePoint will likely have crumbled. But THIS MEMORIAL will still be here, still be visited — like Arlington Cemetery, like Central Park — will still be Irvine’s, will still be a park, will still be great. Those political figures from this place and era who are still remembered then will likely be remembered primarily if not exclusively for what they did in relation to this project, right here. I’m privileged to write one of the first drafts of that history right here — and I’m privileged to be friends with the veterans’ community, who are VERY VERY GOOD at remembrance.

I hope that you’ll be remembered too then, Allan. When something — perhaps the cultural hall in the Great Park proper that overlooks the cemetery — is ultimately named for Larry Agran, I hope that the modest contribution that you’ve added to history —

The only edifice Agran deserves at the Great Park is a plaque on a bathroom that reminds people of the $250 million dollars he wasted. Flushed down the drain like a turd. — Allan Bartlett

— will be placed on a small bronze might be commemorative plaque fixed to the inside doors of one or more of the bathroom stalls, for the attention of those conducting their business there.

You know why? Because, 100 years from now, people in that position will still probably enjoy a good chuckle.

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.)