While Orange County officials celebrated a groundbreaking for a new veterans cemetery in Anaheim Hills Wednesday, state Sen. Tom Umberg gave the planned project a boost with a necessary next step in the process.
Umberg, D-Santa Ana, amended a Senate bill to order a feasibility study on the Gypsum Canyon site, which is a necessary step in getting the state's approval of the project. And the state's approval is a necessary step in winning the federal government's blessing.
"The purpose of the bill is to determine the feasibility of a cemetery in Anaheim Hills, and it's been my hope and desire all along that we would have a veterans cemetery in Orange County and this expedites the process," Umberg told City News Service.
"It also provides that the funding is expedited. Now we will wait and see what happens. I assume the county will fund the study and we'll wait and see what the feasibility is."
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Orange County supervisors and other local leaders held a groundbreaking at the proposed cemetery on Wednesday with the planting of a flagpole.
In October, the Irvine City Council became the final city in the county to back the Anaheim Hills project, which was notable because Irvine City Councilman Larry Agran has been a proponent for years in building a cemetery in his city.
Proposals in Irvine at the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station and elsewhere have stalled after years of studies and discussions, frustrating local veterans who recently switched allegiance to the Gypsum Canyon project.
Orange County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Doug Chaffee told City News Service, "Everyone's on board" with the Gypsum Canyon project.
"Anaheim will be processing permitting in their city," Chaffee said. "(Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu) promised a quick review. So I see it as going ahead as fast as we can push it."
Chaffee said the Anaheim Hills site is "a beautiful site. Everyone is just blown away. It was a beautiful day, clear skies, nice breeze and we unveiled flag one… Everybody was so thrilled. The veterans were beside themselves. It was a very well done groundbreaking today."
A representative from all of the county's 34 cities were on hand for the ceremony, Chaffee said.
In July, Anaheim City Council members voted to support the Gypsum Canyon site. Orange County supervisors have committed $20 million for the project.
Also in October, Rep. Katie Porter, D-Irvine, announced she backed the Gypsum Canyon Project.
Agran has backed the so-called Amended and Restated Development site, also known as ARDA, near the Orange County Great Park on the north side at the end of a runway on the old base.
In December 2019, the Orange County Board of Supervisors agreed to convert 2,500 acres donated by The Irvine Co. 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.
On July 27, the Board of Supervisors approved spending $20 million to move forward with plans for the Gypsum Canyon project.
Agran has accused the development company FivePoint of blocking the Irvine site because its neighbors have opposed it.