A consensus is building toward placing a cemetery for Orange County veterans in Anaheim Hills now that it appears a deal to establish one in Irvine has fizzled, Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner said Wednesday.
Wagner, Orange County Board Chairman Andrew Do and local veteran leaders will hold a news conference Thursday to tout the Gypsum Canyon site that has already been approved by the county as a cemetery on 280 acres.
“Frankly, it comes as no surprise to me” that the consensus among veterans has been coalescing around the Gypsum Canyon site, Wagner said.
Wagner, a former Irvine mayor, said when Irvine voters in 2018 shot down the so-called Strawberry Fields site along the Santa Ana (5) Freeway and Bake Parkway “that was the death knell” of a veterans cemetery in that city.
A recent state study showed that a proposed cemetery on a golf course in the Great Park in Irvine could cost up to $75 million, and the so-called Amended and Restated Development site, also near the Great Park on the north side, would cost up to $110 million.
“The (Irvine) City Council frankly has no appetite to spend the kind of money it would take,” Wagner said. “Anaheim is receptive to a cemetery.”
In December 2019, the Orange County Board of Supervisors agreed to convert 2,500 acres donated by the Irvine Company into a cemetery — with half reserved for veterans — next to Gypsum Canyon Road near state Route 91 and the 271 Toll Road.
In March 2019, the board voted to reserve space in the planned Anaheim Hills cemetery not only for veterans, but also for their spouses and others who served in the military or governments of U.S. allied forces in the Korean and Vietnam wars.
“They have 10 years to develop a business plan,” Orange County CEO Frank Kim said of the Orange County Cemetery District.
“The board has to approve it as a condition of permanent transfer. We look forward to them presenting a business plan. That has not occurred yet but they have 10 years to do that work.”
Sen. Tom Umberg, D-Santa Ana, and Assembly members Tom Daly, D-Anaheim, and Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton, had previously backed a veterans cemetery in Irvine. However, those Orange County legislators local are now backing the cemetery proposal at Gypsum Canyon.
“The difference now is that Sen. Umberg, who carried the last bill with Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva, are really recognizing that it’s just not going to happen in Irvine,” Wagner said.
Local veterans are now also backing the Gypsum Canyon site after previously supporting one in Irvine, Wagner said.
“They’re all saying, `Irvine, you had your chance, but we’re going with Gypsum Canyon,”’ Wagner said.
The Veterans Administration requires about 100 acres for a cemetery, Wagner said.
Great Park’s developers previously offered $28 million for a veterans cemetery on a plot zoned for a golf course, but others in Irvine pushed for the Amended and Restated Development site instead.