Plans for a new cemetery on land donated by the Irvine Company, which could become home to a resting place for veterans, were approved Tuesday by the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
Discussions of a veterans cemetery have been ongoing for years. Irvine voters in June rejected a proposal for a land swap to build one on Bake Parkway near the Interstate 5 and 405 interchange. Irvine officials since then have directed staff to consider other sites around the former El Toro Marine Corps base.
The Irvine Co. donated 2,500 acres of open space to the county in 2014. That gift included the planned cemetery property next to Gypsum Canyon Road near state Route 91 and the 271 Toll Road.
Supervisor Lisa Bartlett implored her colleagues to back off on approving a transfer of the Mountain Park Property in the Anaheim Hills to the Orange County Cemetery District because Irvine planning commission members were set to meet and consider plans for a veterans cemetery there on Thursday.
However, Supervisor Shawn Nelson argued that Irvine's plans should be irrelevant to what the county needs to do.
Tim Deutsch, the cemetery district's general manager, told supervisors that the county will be out of cemetery space by 2033.
"That's not my grandkids, that's me," who will be affected, Nelson said. "This is important to resolve. The cemetery district needs property desperately."
Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer noted that Tuesday's move does not "tie the hands" of future boards. They can back off on plans for a veterans cemetery if another location is found in Irvine or elsewhere, Spitzer argued.
Nelson said even if there's no veterans cemetery on the Mountain Park Property it should still be earmarked for a resting place for civilians due to the shortage of cemetery space.
"Whether Irvine had a plan or ever comes up with a plan or has five plans, what do we care?" Nelson said. "Why don't we do the right thing because it's the right thing to do, and if they do something then good for them.
"We're the county of Orange, we have the property, we have a partner we've had since the beginning of our inception that does a responsible job and it's affordable... There's no downside here."
However, Bartlett said, "There are a lot of moving parts here."
If the county takes the lead on a cemetery it could take Irvine off the hook, she said.
"We're taking on some of the baggage Irvine has been trying to work through," she said.
Spitzer responded that Irvine's discussions are a "distraction."
"So even if we put aside this whole distraction -- the city of Irvine and all of its issues -- we still need a cemetery," Spitzer said.
Board Chairman Andrew Do recounted how he fled war-torn Vietnam and emigrated to the United States.
"I think back to all the sacrifices of all the military people," Do said. "I still appreciate it."
To Bartlett's point on possibly giving Irvine a pass on the thorny issue, Do said, "It will take the burden off the city of Irvine. They won't have the high heat to meet that need... But I agree with the vice chair (Nelson) that we have a responsibility and that responsibility is to not let this two-way dealmaking control our thinking process."