A step forward, and one back, for veterans
By JENNIFER MUIR BEUTHIN, Contributing Columnist
A museum and a cemetery.
Both would honor the service and sacrifices of so many men and women who have given their lives in defense of our democracy. Both would be located on hallowed ground, land that is part of Orange County’s rich military history. Both would offer a space where families and children can remember those who have fallen and reflect on the price of the freedom we all enjoy.
One of those projects, the Heroes Hall museum at the Orange County Fairgrounds, cleared some major hurdles this month. The other, a veterans cemetery in Irvine, continues to face roadblocks.
These two projects, their trajectory and support, offer a lesson in how interests that regularly pay lip service to supporting veterans can repeatedly turn their backs on these heroes when it really matters.
On one path are plans to build a cemetery at the Great Park in Irvine, which was formerly the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. The space is public and it’s open. And the nearest veterans cemetery is hours away in congested traffic. So years ago, veterans groups teamed up with then-Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva and some elected officials in Irvine to advance the obvious – a cemetery at the Great Park where Orange County can bury its heroes.
Although the process is moving forward slowly and painfully, it has become a glaring example of the ongoing battle that has existed between veterans and developers in Orange County. The value of land in our communities is so high that developers have historically placed the value of land over the value of the sacrifices and lives of veterans.
In this case, just last week, the Irvine City Council had to stave off a developer-driven proposal to change the location of the veterans cemetery. Why? Because of developer fears that its location could hurt nearby home sales to a number of Chinese buyers, concerned with the feng shui of living near a cemetery.
So instead of standing together to advance the project on the original site, veterans who already fought for our freedoms overseas were left to fight again at home for a final resting place.
To its credit, the Irvine City Council doubled down on its plans with an allocation of $100,000 to continue advancing the Great Park location. But no matter where the cemetery is ultimately built, there is a long road ahead – one that will unfortunately pit profit against our obligation to veterans each step of the way.
Nearby in Costa Mesa this week there was a different story. Those who have fought developers for years about where to build a veterans museum in Orange County saw that dream move another step closer to reality. On Monday, a former cadet barracks was moved to its permanent location on what once was the Santa Ana Army Base.
By this time next year, an interactive museum will already be open to the public. Heroes Hall will offer opportunities for veterans, families and more than 100,000 school children each year to learn about our county’s military history and reflect on our freedoms.
The difference: The Orange County Fair Board demonstrated through every vote that they put veterans first.
They gathered support from elected officials throughout Orange County. But even when politics or developer deals could have hijacked the plans, they remained steadfast in their determination to do more than just pay lip service to our nation’s heroes.
Their actions are an inspiration and an example of the difference between saying you support veterans and actually taking action to honor them. Let’s hope those involved in the debate about where to establish a veterans cemetery in Irvine follow the lead of the Orange County Fair Board.
Jennifer Muir Beuthin is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.
Publication Date: April 29, 2016