Shape of veterans cemetery panel displeases some

Last month, Irvine City Councilman Larry Agran called for the formation of a committee to explore the idea of building a veterans cemetery in the Orange County Great Park.

What he got at Tuesday night's council meeting, though, wasn't quite what he'd hoped for.

While the council ultimately voted to move forward with the Ad Hoc State Veterans Cemetery Committee, it decided to deny Agran a role while seeking the participation of more regional elected officials.

Agran said the bureaucratic makeup of the panel threatens to "run out the clock" on the cemetery.

"I have deep concerns," he said, before voting against the version of the committee proposed by Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Lalloway, which ultimately passed.

Agran said he'd hoped to be one of two council representatives on the ad hoc committee, because he brought the issue before the council in the first place. That view was echoed by his council colleague, Beth Krom, as well as several veterans who spoke on the issue.

A staff report recommended that in addition to two council members, the committee also include Bill Cook, a Vietnam veteran who has been leading the local military community's push for the cemetery; Isabelle Krasney, who heads a number of local veterans community groups; and Stephen Jorgensen, a California Department of Veterans Affairs official who oversees cemeteries.

Furthermore, the report recommended that Brian Myers, senior vice president of FivePoint Communities have a seat on the committee. FivePoint is the city's private partner in developing the park and surrounding areas.

Although the company has not explicitly said it opposes the cemetery proposal, such a move could have financial implications for the developer. Having a cemetery near homes could jeopardize sales to Asian buyers for whom feng shui issues are a major concern.

Finally, the committee would include a non-voting representative from the office of Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton).

Quirk-Silva recently introduced Assembly Bill 1453, which would ask the federal Department of Veterans Affairs for a grant to create a Southern California Veterans Cemetery — a necessary step toward building a state-run veterans cemetery, whether at the Great Park or elsewhere in Orange County.

Tuesday, like at the March 11 meeting when the council initally agreed to look into the possibility of setting aside land in the Great Park for a veterans cemetery, a long line of supporters urged the council to take the opportunity to preserve the site's military significance.

"I was born here and I expect to be buried here," said Greg Gillaspy, president of a local chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America. "I don't think compromise should be on the table."

Agran and Krom picked up that sense of urgency, saying that a range of factors were coalescing to make the time right to move forward with the cemetery plan.

But Lalloway said that in order for veterans to have the best shot at a cemetery, all stakeholders must have a voice in the process.

That would mean reaching out to representatives from the offices of Assemblyman Don Wagner (R-Irvine), state Sen. Mimi Walters (R-Laguna Niguel) and Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer to offer them non-voting memberships on the committee.

And, he said, according to an established hierarchy, he and Mayor Steven Choi should fill the council's committee seats.

"It's not political," he said. "You may not like it, but this is the way this works."

Choi, Lalloway and Councilwoman Christina Shea voted for Lalloway's proposal, while Krom joined Agran in voting against it.

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