After hours of discussion on Tuesday, Oct. 26, the Irvine City Council voted 4-1 on a resolution that supports the idea of building a veterans cemetery at the Gypsum Canyon site in Anaheim Hills.
Dozens of veterans attended Tuesday night’s meeting, asking the council to support the resolution. For many veterans groups in Orange County, the 4-1 vote brings an end to a yearslong battle between political interests and solidifies Irvine’s commitment to ensuring local veterans have a final resting place.
Irvine Councilmember Larry Agran was the only council member to not support the Anaheim Hills site. In fact, Agran accounts for the only dissenting vote among more than 30 different city councils in Orange County.
In a phone call with Irvine Weekly on Wednesday, Agran, who has been the county’s most outspoken leader to voice support for the ARDA site, explained that he was aware that his lone vote was the county’s only vote that was not in support of the Gypsum Canyon site.
“Yes, I am the only no vote because I am dedicated to following the law and putting veterans memorial park and cemetery where the voter of the city of Irvine — which is the ARDA site,” Agran said.
Yet, after Tuesday’s vote, Agran said “it remains to be seen” how realistic of an opportunity the goal of building the project on the ARDA site will be.
“Last night was simply an introduction of a resolution that has no binding effect whatsoever, and if in the end there’s a determined effort to get the veterans cemetery state-funded, studied, approved and built at Gypsum Canyon, then that will be the case,” he said. “Meanwhile the people of the city of Irvine, by initiative, directed the City Council to get busy building the veterans memorial at the ARDA site in the Great Park — I’m still committed to that course.”
The discussion over where to place the veterans cemetery in Orange County has been ongoing for nearly a decade. In June, the Irvine City Council failed to reach a decision on where to place the project, despite a pair of state-funded studies from the California Department of Veterans Affairs.
In her opening statements Tuesday, Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan said she was pleased to be able to support the Gypsum Canyon site, “given the current dynamic.”
“Tonight’s resolution to join the other 33 cities in Orange County, who have all passed unanimous resolutions, and our assembly members and congressional representatives, who are in support of the construction of a veterans cemetery at the proposed gypsum canyon site is the right move,” she said. “Irvine has been a leader in this effort, thanks in large part to my colleague, Councilmember Larry Agran. And while in the end, it did not pencil out for ARDA to be the location, I am happy to see our advocacy on this important issue.”
Nick Berardino, a Vietnam veteran and president of the Veterans Alliance of Orange County (VALOR), said Tuesday night’s vote was a pivotal moment for veterans groups.
For Berardino, this is a victory that was made possible through the commitment of the leadership on the Irvine City Council. Alternatively, Berardino said Agran’s dissenting vote on the resolution also sends a political message to local veterans.
“You can see that you have four council members who have very strong leadership, and are following what they believe to be the best interests of the community. It’s clear we have some strong leaders in those four spots,” Berardino said in an interview with Irvine Weekly on Wednesday.
As for the next steps, Berardino, who has spent decades advocating for veteran groups in Orange County, said he is majorly optimistic, adding that work on the Gypsum Canyon veterans cemetery project is already underway.
“As we move forward — as we speak — the county and [Orange] County Cemetery District are preparing all the documents, along with the city of Irvine, to begin the entitlement process. So, work on the project is already underway,” he said. “The next step is to get the legislation that’s necessary to move forward with from the state and we are extremely confident that the Legislature will listen to the entire county.”
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