The general manager of the Orange County Cemetery District discounted some of the concerns state lawmakers have for a proposed veterans cemetery in Anaheim Hills.
A site in Irvine has been caught in a political power struggle over three proposals there. Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner and state Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, have been pushing for the site in Gypsum Canyon in Anaheim Hills as an alternative.
Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva told City News Service that one of the main concerns about the Anaheim Hills site is it would not be a strictly veterans cemetery as proposed, so veterans would not be able to use their benefits to pay for burial there.
The difference in cost from a military-funded burial and a private one can be as high as $8,000, said Quirk-Silva, a backer of the Irvine site, along with Sen. Tom Umberg, D-Santa Ana, and Assemblyman Tom Daly, D-Anaheim.
Tim Deutsch, general manager for the Orange County Cemetery District, said that would not be a problem at the Anaheim Hills site because half of it would be dedicated for veterans and would qualify as a state veterans cemetery.
Umberg told City News Service that he does not consider the Gypsum Canyon proposal a veterans cemetery. He also said he prefers Irvine’s sites because of the proximity to the Orange County Great Park, which is built on the former El Toro military base.
The Anaheim Hills site “has no connection to any military historic site like” El Toro, Umberg said.
“The veterans do want a cemetery with some connection to a military experience and El Toro is a site for tens of thousands of Marines which has great relevance and reverence because it was a site from which they departed to go to Vietnam and returned from Vietnam,” said Umberg, a retired U.S. Army colonel.
Umberg also argued that the Anaheim Hills site is within 75 miles of the national military cemetery in Riverside, which is prohibited by the federal Veterans Administration.
Deutsch, however, noted that the proposal in Anaheim is a state veterans cemetery, not a federal veterans cemetery.
Umberg also said the Amended and Restated Development Agreement, or ARDA, site in Irvine is “the only one that’s been really studied,” which is another reason the Democratic lawmakers favor it.
Umberg also said the hilly topography of the Gypsum Canyon site may make it “the most expensive site of” all.
Deutsch said the district hired a consultant this month to begin analyzing how much it would cost to convert the property into a cemetery.
As for Wagner’s concerns that the ARDA site would cost $90 million to clean up to use as a cemetery, Umberg said the cost may be much lower.
“There are a number of ways to make it much less expensive by incorporating the runway into the memorial,” Umberg said.
“And a good chunk of $20 million of it is inflation since the study was done four years ago,” and those rates of inflation may not apply, Umberg said.
“The experts estimate the cost to getting the cemetery in place where it can be useful is $50 million,” Umberg said.
And “that’s roughly the equivalent of what some folks believe” a newly proposed horseshoe-shaped site at the Great Park that was a taxiway, Umberg said.
“There’s no real study of toxins that exist there so we don’t know,” Umberg said.
Umberg predicted that the bill designating the ARDA site for the veterans cemetery will be sent to the governor and “our veterans will have a final resting place here within the next five years some way or another.”
Deutsch said the county needs a new cemetery whether it is for veterans or not because the county will run out of space by 2030. The Anaheim Hills site, he said, satisfies both problems.
“Bottom line is veterans deserve a cemetery and whoever can facilitate that we’re in support of,” Deutsch said.
The Anaheim Hills site would “be a unique opportunity… where families could bury their veteran and take a close walk or drive to visit other relatives, which is something you can’t do at any other veterans cemetery,” Deutsch said.
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