Actually, the sites are not as pricey as they sound since they're being offered as a two-for-one sale. The larger ones are full-size, double-deck plots, with one individual casket placed in a pre-installed cement vault lower in the ground and the second added on top when needed. The smaller cremains plots work the same. Also, the fee includes full burial services, all administrative costs and perpetual care.
So far, 106 names are on the list being maintained by Fan Ventura, marketing analyst in the Parks and Community Services Department, which has charge of the cemetery. She reports that 93 of these individuals live in Pleasanton and will get the chance to buy their plots six months ahead of out-of-towners when the sale begins. Their names will stay on the list whether they buy the gravesites then or not, but when all 200 cremains plots and 200 full-size double-deck sites are sold -- providing space for 400 individuals -- that's likely to end new site offers at Pioneer. Open space at the cemetery is limited and it's not certain that the City Council will authorize another expansion.
Sales of new burial sites at Pioneer were halted in early 2007 when the city acquired the two-century old Memorial Gardens Cemetery from the International Order of Oddfellows, a fraternal organization whose membership is declining and could no longer afford the limited maintenance and sales office it provided. Buying the cemetery even at the bargain-basement rate of $1 was controversial not because of the price but over the concern that nobody really knew much about the cemetery or who was buried there.
Records turned over to the city left more questions than contained information. A number of plots had been purchased by individuals and families so Susan Andrade-Wax, the new director of Parks and Community Services, and Ventura were given the task of sorting everything out before selling cemetery plots again. Besides converting all the records they were given to a digital format accessible on computers, they also fielded a group of high school students last summer to plot existing gravesites on GPS instruments to provide exact coordinates for each grave. Digital photographs were added to the files with that work now showing some vacant sites in the older existing section of the cemetery. For now, though, only the new double-deck graves will be sold.
An informal task force headed by Howard Neely and Chris Beratlis led the citizens' group's appeal to the council three years ago to buy the cemetery from the Oddfellows at a time when it was heading for a bankruptcy sale. Reluctantly, the council agreed and gave Neely's group the unofficial status of taking charge initially. The group did, raking the debris and cleaning the site, weeding and mowing the grass where there was some. With just a few water spigots available, the cemetery turns green in the rainy season, and dries out in the summer, which resulted in the city renaming it Pioneer Cemetery.
Last December, when the council officially gave the care of the cemetery and responsibility for creating new gravesites to Andrade-Wax and Ventura, it also held back on giving the cemetery a more manicured look because of the current financial squeeze on public funds and the ongoing California water shortage. That still may happen, but for now only the new gravesites will have that perpetual care, paid for by the price hike in the cost of the plots.
Ventura believes there will be heavy demand for the burial sites once word gets around that the city's only public cemetery is available as a final resting place once again. To sign up, call Ventura at 931-5348 or send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.