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Anaheim Hills veterans cemetery feasible, state study says

Orange County Register - 12/22/2023

Orange County’s very own veterans cemetery is closer to reality following the completion of a feasibility study for building in Gypsum Canyon.

It’s been a long road for veterans and officials who have campaigned for more than a decade for an official veterans cemetery in Orange County. For years, a cemetery was discussed in Irvine with two sites up for consideration, however city leaders never reached consensus and the county in 2021 offered 100 acres in Gypsum Canyon in Anaheim Hills, where a civilian cemetery was already in the planning. The cemeteries are proposed to split the available land.

The recently completed feasibility study, commissioned by the California Department of Veterans Affairs, or CalVet, says there are no development obstacles, meaning officials can move forward with the planning process, according to an announcement Thursday, Dec. 21, from Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva’s office. Quirk-Silva has supported the cemetery effort for several years and helped with getting the study done.

“Together, we are one step closer to providing a final resting place in Orange County for the brave men and women who served our nation in the armed forces,” she said in a statement.

The first phase of development is estimated to cost $126 million. About $45 million has already been pledged by the county and state for the cemetery, and the state plans to apply to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Cemetery Grant Program later this year, according to the announcement.

“We’re glad that the report is done and outlines some of the funding challenges we face. It lets us know for sure about the infrastructure that needs to be built,” Third District Supervisor Don Wagner said. “What we continue to do now is we are working through the city of Anaheim to get the permits that are necessary and we’re looking for all of the funding.”

The price is high, Wagner said, but the county is working with the OC Cemetery District to find ways to scale back on costs.

“The civilian cemetery and the veterans cemetery will share some components. There needs to be water and power. There needs to be grading,” Wagner said. “With those components, that (cost) comes down because the cemetery district ends up picking up some of the cost for some of the shared infrastructure.”

Nick Berardino, president of VALOR (Veterans Alliance of Orange County), said he is extremely excited that the site has been cleared by CalVet and the project can move forward to the next phase of planning. His hope is, if all goes smoothly, ground could be broken sometime next year, he said.

“This is going to be a benefit for all veterans in the Southern California region,” Berardino said, pointing out for some it “is going to be much closer for them to come to Orange County than to Riverside or Los Angeles.”

County officials are working on project plans with the OC Cemetery District to submit to Anaheim’s Planning Commission and City Council for consideration during the first half of 2024.

“We’re excited that the door to our dream of having a dignified, final resting place for the brave men and women who have served this country is finally opened,” Berardino said. “An exciting year lies ahead.”

Because the process to find a site has taken so long, Wagner said some folks are understandably skeptical that a veterans cemetery will actually happen.

“We’ve been through a lot to get to where we are, but what this report says is this site is an appropriate site. It is a very doable site, and it gives us a target. It completely, I think, puts to rest the idea that we do this anywhere else or that we don’t do it,” Wagner said. “We’ve kind of got a roadmap to move forward.”

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