By C. Jayden Smith
The San Clemente City Council unanimously voted on Tuesday night, Dec. 6, to postpone discussions of donating to a Marine Corps-related historical foundation until the budgeting process for Fiscal Year 2023-2024 begins.
At the council’s Nov. 15 meeting, Brig. Gen. Michael Aguilar spoke to councilmembers on behalf of the Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation (FLHF), dedicated to returning a museum centered on the former Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) El Toro and Marine Corps aviation to Irvine’s Great Park.
“Vision without funding is hallucination,” Aguilar said. “We recognize that in order to bring this project to reality, we need a lot of money, and we’re actively involved.”
Aguilar stated that the foundation quickly achieved its initial fundraising goal of $5 million for the project. It has since been in contact with numerous cities and organizations in hopes to reach a new minimum of $10 million for project costs.
City staff presented the options of waiting to begin the budget process, or donating an undetermined amount either from the council’s contingency fund of $16,600 or from the General Fund unassigned fund balance. Interim City Manager Sean Joyce spoke to the staff’s first choice:
“We would recommend that you take up consideration of that suggestion in the context of the budget so you can give relative weight to the unending number of worthwhile and arguably similar meritorious proposals that exist among your nonprofit community,” Joyce said.
Councilmember Gene James said he concurred with the staff’s conclusion to table the item, especially until the project is officially in motion and has a concept design.
Newly seated Councilmember Mark Enmeier suggested that the council direct staff to set aside funding specifically to address requests, such as the FLHF’s, that can emerge at any point in a given year.
He added that reviewing each proposal in a “piecemeal” manner when they arise instead of during the budgetary process could send a message of wanting to open the city’s wallet to anyone.
In response to Enmeier, James said the proper channel for looking at such items begins with the Human Affairs Committee.
“Once a year, they look at those types of things particularly as it relates to Community Development Block Grants,” said James. “I think we have a venue to do that, and I don’t think we should get out in front of the Human Affairs Committee.”
After the former Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum operated for more than 20 years at the MCAS Miramar in San Diego, the museum permanently closed in April 2021 due to a lack of funding. FLHF has since sought ways to keep historic aircraft, artifacts and displays in the area.
Aguilar noted in November that the foundation facilitated talks with the City of Irvine and the U.S. Marine Corps regarding separate Memorandums of Understanding for the museum. The foundation also stopped the Marine Corps from unloading historic artifacts and contracted a firm to design the “interactive” and “immersive” space.
FLHF has eyed Hangar 296 at the Great Park’s southern end as the home of the museum. Aguilar’s presentation included a full layout of where the aircraft would be placed within the hangar and renderings of possible exhibits such as archive pods, an art gallery, and projection graphics.
“Originally, we were looking to open the door late next year, August 2023, but for a variety of reasons, that’s now slipped to early 2024,” said Aguilar. “We’re still working with the City (of Irvine) to have some sort of, at least (a) soft opening for the museum, but we’re pretty much on track with our timeline right now.”
FLHF’s next desired steps include completing a design concept and fundraising campaign, hiring museum staff, and transporting all artifacts and equipment.
C. Jayden Smith
C. Jayden Smith graduated from Dana Hills High in 2018 before pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in digital and broadcast journalism from the University of North Texas. After graduating in December 2020, he reported for the Salina Journal in Salina, Kansas. Jayden loves college football and bothering his black lab named Shadow.