Local veterans groups and their families continue to vigilantly work toward the goal of building a veterans cemetery in Orange County. Now, with major support for a Gypsum Canyon-based site in Anaheim Hills, legislators have successfully moved AB1595, the supporting bill for an Orange County-based cemetery, through the California State Senate and are now one signature away from California Governor Gavin Newsom’s approval.

On Thursday, August 25, AB1595 received unanimous bipartisan support on the Senate floor with a 75-0 vote. While no specific site is mentioned in the legislative language, AB1595, which is authored by Assemblymembers Tom Umberg and Sharon Quirk-Silva, opens the door for two potential sites in Orange County.

Speaking to Irvine Weekly via phone, Quirk-Silva expressed her enthusiasm regarding AB1595’s recent success in the Senate, adding that she was honored to be able to represent veterans in Orange County.

Speaking about her reaction to the unanimous vote in the Senate, Quirk-Silva said she was not surprised based on the history of strong support for a veterans cemetery in Orange County.

“I wasn’t surprised because we’ve seen in the past good support for an Orange County veterans cemetery, and as you know, we’ve brought different pieces of legislation over the 10-year period,” she said. “But, I do think that there was a feeling that this was long overdue and people really rallied around it and onto the Senate side as well.”

As proponents of AB1595 await a signature from Newsom, Quirk-Silva said there is a lot of enthusiasm around the outcome of this bill, thanks to the support from the veterans and the Orange County Board of Supervisors. However, Quirk-Silva admitted there are still several legal milestones that need to be met.

For example, AB1595 calls for the Department of California Veterans Affairs to perform acquisition and feasibility studies on the selected site. The project will also require a federal grant, which the state will need to apply for.

“We still have a ways to go,” she said. “We will be urging a timely study to find out if there are any surprise issues on this land. Now that I’ve been out there, I would say one of the things that has not been talked about too much, is that the County of Orange is actually doing a public cemetery — not on the same site, but adjacent. The infrastructure that they need to put in for that public cemetery will also benefit this veteran cemetery, from the roads going in, utilities, etc. That’s a huge step forward. If this all goes according to plan, that will already be implemented.”

Nick Berardino, a Vietnam veteran and president of the Veterans Alliance of Orange County (VALOR), said getting through the state Senate was an important step in bringing the vision he and so many veterans share into Orange County.

Speaking to Irvine Weekly via phone, Berardino said it is hard to gauge when Newsom might sign the bill. However, he praised the governor for his efforts in supporting the Orange County veteran community and the last wishes of his comrades.

“It’s really hard to tell, but we’re hoping he gets the opportunity sooner than later. He has been a sterling example in terms of being supportive of Orange County veterans, particularly on this issue — so, we are very hopeful,” Berardino said. “We are thankful to everyone who has worked so hard to achieve this legislative success. The bi-partisan support from Orange County elected officials is unrivaled. Governor Newsom has been a strong and stellar supporter of California veterans and we are anxious for his opportunity to sign the bill.”

While there is no timeline on when Newsom will add his signature to AB1595, Quirk-Silva was of the mindset that the bill was “close-to” the governor’s desk, “if not there.” Ultimately, Quirk-Silva said the goal is to get the governor to visit the Gypsum Canyon site, as she recalled Governor Jerry Brown visited Irvine several times in support of a cemetery at the ARDA site.

“He tends to sign bills in themes, so he could have a morning where he signing several veterans pieces legislation. Our hope is that he will come out to the site. We had the honor of governor Brown coming out to the site — twice maybe three times in Irvine,” she said. “It’s been an honor for me to be part of this, but of course, it’s been the veterans leading this.”

In October, the Irvine City Council voted 4-1 to adopt a resolution that supported building a veterans cemetery at the Gypsum Canyon site. The decision in support of Anaheim Hills came a few months after members of the Irvine City Council failed to agree on a location for the proposed project.

At the time, Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan said she was pleased to be able to support the Gypsum Canyon site, “given the current dynamic.”

“Tonight’s resolution to join the other 33 cities in Orange County, who have all passed unanimous resolutions, and our assembly members and congressional representatives, who are in support of the construction of a veterans cemetery at the proposed gypsum canyon site is the right move,” she said. “Irvine has been a leader in this effort, thanks in large part to my colleague, Councilmember Larry Agran. And while in the end, it did not pencil out for ARDA to be the location, I am happy to see our advocacy on this important issue.”

This is a developing story.

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