Long-awaited improvements to Pleasanton's city-owned Pioneer Cemetery, including veterans memorial, are now more likely after the City Council voted Tuesday to create a seven-member committee to determine what is needed and how much it will cost.
The 120-year-old cemetery, which the city purchased in 2007 from the International Order of Oddfellows, has seen some improvements since the Pleasanton Parks and Community Services Department and the Rotary Club of Pleasanton invested time and money to cart away litter, repair broken benches and pavement, and spruce up the landscape.
But for people like Frank Capella and Doug Miller, who serve on a volunteer cemetery group they formed, much more needs to be done. Some tombstones are still tilting, many can't be read and a narrow road around the cemetery, located off Sunol Boulevard near I-680, is difficult to maneuver, especially by older drivers who go there to visit a loved one's grave.
At Tuesday's meeting, Kathleen Yurchak, assistant director of operations services, received the council's approval to form a Cemetery Master Plan Oversight Committee and to spend up to $50,000 in consulting fees to consider improvements. These may include an irrigation system that the cemetery never had, better landscaping and ongoing maintenance requirements. She estimated developing the master plan could take six months or longer.
Some members of the City Council in 2007, when the decision was made to acquire the cemetery, were openly squeamish about the purchase because of the poor condition it was in. Graves and headstones dating back into the 1800s were sold in a one-time payment plan with no perpetual care provisions as modern-day cemeteries have. In many instances, families of those buried at Pioneer have themselves died or moved away.
Yurchak and others on the city staff said there are no plans to turn Pioneer into a pristine landscaped cemetery found in other locations, but they agreed that some improvements would help.
Miller and Capella said they are working with veterans organizations and other groups to create a privately-funded means of building the veterans memorial and to help pay future maintenance costs. The price tag for the memorial alone is $50,000.
Those at Tuesday's meeting grew silent, almost spellbound, as arts contributor Nancy Harrington gave her vision of the cemetery.
Traffic on Sunol Boulevard would be greeted with a creative sign inviting them to visit historic Pioneer Cemetery. Once inside the gates, they would be directed to a staging area where the cemetery's history, the names of early Pleasanton settlers and the more than 400 veterans buried there would be listed with a locator map to their graves. All through the cemetery, markers would provide more historic details.
Clearly, one of the first challenges for Yurchak and her committee will be to count the graves. She told the council that no one knows how many are buried at Pioneer beyond the 400 that Miller said are military veterans.