Improving Pioneer Cemetery | December 6, 2013 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - December 6, 2013

Improving Pioneer Cemetery

We'll never know what John Kottinger would have done, but he'd likely be pleased that the City Council that governs what once was his home has finally initiated a long-range plan to improve the public cemetery on Sunol Boulevard where he was buried in 1892.

Kottinger, who was the town's first Justice of the Peace and who built a barn in 1852 at 200 Ray St. (now occupied by the Milfleur gift shop), is just one of many historic and prominent people interred at Pioneer Cemetery, the 127-year-old cemetery that was first owned by the International Order of Odd Fellows. Although the Odd Fellows recorded their first burial in 1886 when they acquired the 5-acre parcel, grave markers show some burials took place even earlier.

With the Odd Fellows losing its aging members and relocating to Livermore, Pleasanton's Council was left with little choice but to accept a deal the late Chris Beratlis Sr. arranged to acquire the cemetery for $1. Otherwise, with a bankrupt owner, Alameda County and a court of law would likely have forced the city to assume responsibility anyhow with a possible set of rulings that could have required major expenditures. With only 5 acres, little room for expansion and only about 400 more grave sites to be added, the cemetery proved unattractive to private investors who now need hundreds of acres before earning a profit from cemetery operations.

At the time, the Council approved spending about $120,000 to handle safety improvements, including tree trimming and removal of hazardous trees, as well as placing benches in various parts of the cemetery. Ongoing maintenance, which has been handled by an outside contractor, is costing about $25,000 a month. There have been few improvements to the asphalt roadways, and the Rotary Club of Pleasanton took responsibility as part of a three-year project to repair broken, leaning or cracked headstones or grave markers. Still, the cemetery remains an eyesore for those visiting the gravesites of their loved ones and it needs work.

So it's to the Council's credit that it formed a seven-member Pioneer Cemetery Master Plan Oversight Committee last month to consider possible improvements. It's not likely to recommend spending the estimated $742,000 with monthly costs of $75,000 suggested at the time the city acquired the cemetery to turn it into a park-like area, but it could at least consider upgrading it to match the basic improvement made when the new monument sign was installed (see photo above).

Art philanthropist Nancy Harrington, who is on the new committee, described her vision for the future of the cemetery. It includes a new public park, a veterans memorial and a learning center to teach the community about the important men and women who are buried there and who helped make Pleasanton what it is today.

The cemetery was started as a non-endowment cemetery with families expected to maintain the graves of their loved ones. Those families, for the most part are gone. The $420 the Odd Fellows charged for a cemetery plot hardly covered the upkeep of that gravesite, alone. Costs today for the 400 new gravesites that have been added are $10,198 for full double-burial and $4,277 for plots holding the cremains of two individuals. Those are market-rate prices that seem steep given the condition of the cemetery. Add to that a regulation stipulating that the sites can't be re-sold once purchased, which could leave the cemetery with a number of unused plots if owners move away from Pleasanton.

Harrington's suggestions along with the current pricing policies need to be revisited by the Pleasanton Pioneer Cemetery Master Plan Oversight Committee so that our city will have an attractive and reasonably-priced cemetery where loved ones can be buried.


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