Veterans cemetery has a few more hurdles

The state Assembly bill to establish a veterans cemetery in Southern California is "in suspense" after consideration by the appropriations committee Monday.

Assembly Bill 1453 passed unanimously in the Assembly and was presented to appropriations. It calls for the cemetery to be located in the Orange County Great Park, as approved by the Irvine City Council last month.

Because the project will cost more than $50,000, by legislative procedure the bill must now be examined by Senate and Assembly leadership to determine a cost estimate. If approved, the appropriations committee must pass the bill on to the Senate no later than Friday.

"So really, three major steps are left on the legislative side before we get it to the governor," explained assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton), the bill's author.

AB 1453 would have to pass appropriations and the Senate, and then go back to the Assembly floor for concurrence. After that, the governor has until Sept. 30 to sign it.

"Funding would be for the initial design, in essence to be able to start-up looking at the design and the land," she said.

As legislators hammer out a cost estimate, a comparison might be made to the Central Coast Veterans Cemetery, now in development in Northern California. According to the capital campaign website for the 52-acre project, which will overlook Monterey Bay at the former Fort Ord army base, developers estimate the cost for the 26-acre first phase at just over $9.4 million. A $6.8 million federal grant has been secured for that project pending final approval, and an additional $1 million is expected from the state.

By unanimously approving a 125-acre site on the northern border inside the Great Park, the Irvine City Council gave a boost to a project that has stirred years of passionate debate. Veterans groups and other supporters lobbied against private housing developers favoring other sites.

"We are very pleased that Irvine gave us that 5-0 vote. It does give us a step forward," said Quirk-Silva. "In my opinion, it does make it stronger because of the bipartisan support."

The assemblywoman said she hopes housing developers are also looking at the long-term value of a veterans cemetery in the Great Park.

"I do think as it moves along, this could be a very big complement to what they're doing if they would embrace this," she said. "But I definitely know it's a long way to go."

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