California

SAVING GRAVES

 

Friends of Pacheco Cemetery's
Summary of efforts to recover this public cemetery

 

April 1999:
     Beverly Bollman, a descendant of George Smith (1843-1893) and Ralph Bollman, former Board Supervisor of Contra Costa County contacted Sue Silver of California Saving Graves for advice on how she could do something to help the historic cemetery where many important area people were buried.  The cemetery was mired in litigation, abandonment, and abuse.  The county and the state seemed unable to help.

April of 2002:
     After some phone calls, letters, and "dead ends" Beverly pursued genealogical research for a time.  Beverly and Christine Williams, wife of Beverly's cousin Kim, connected about genealogy.  Between them Kim and Beverly have over 27 relatives buried there, starting in 1888. Soon they re-visited the idea of "doing something about the cemetery" which was still abandoned, shoulder high in weeds, and a seeming gathering place for druggies and the homeless.

April 2002:
     After meeting informally with Supervisor Gayle Uilkema, they contacted Sue Silver again and began educating themselves about the very real possibility that this was a public cemetery, sold in error to private cemetery operators.
     Simultaneously, in the early summer two others were "hounding" the Supervisor and Senator Tom Torlakson's office because they wanted to disinter their relatives and move them to another cemetery.  "Impossible!" they were told.

June 2002:
     The Inspections Department posted the cemetery for abatement.  The threat of having the building and crematory razed if the weeds weren't mowed, caused a quick sale of the cemetery.

June/July 2002:
     Beverly and Christine form a group, Friends of Pacheco Cemetery (FPC), consisting of family members of those interred there.  Within a short time they have 100 families signed up!  Research is done, with the help of Sue Silver, on interments, history, and the public title potential of this cemetery.  An initial booklet was published with the information collected.

July 29, 2002:
     A meeting was called of all interested by Senator Torlakson.  In attendance were those from Supervisors' offices, the Inspection Department, the Senator, a lawyer from a class action suit against the previous owners, Beverly and Christine, members from area historical societies, the director of an area Cemetery District, and the two new owners.  It was apparent that the cemetery was mired in mis-deeds, clouded title, and confusion.  The "owners" had no licenses to operate a cemetery nor a crematory.

August 2002:
     A second meeting was called, of the same people, plus Sue Silver, to see where things could go.  Sue asserted that this was a public cemetery.  With new owners asserting their right to own and operate the cemetery, the tentative claim of public title created an adversarial position.  All the hurdles facing them were explained to the "owners".  They were encouraged, out of concern for their dubious chance of success, to get their money back and "run".    Senator Torlakson's office agreed that an Attorney General opinion on our claim of public title should be sought and they would seek it.

October 2002:
     The owners lose their land use permit to operate the crematorium, which needed significant upgrades to be used.  One partner drops out.
     Senator Torlakson's office reneges on their offer to seek an Attorney General opinion.  We successfully persuade them to do it.  Sue Silver develops the query letter, which their attorney adopts in its entirety to send to the Attorney General.

Fall-December 2002:
     Our story is published in the Contra Costa County Historical Society's newsletter, the Concord Historical Society Newsletter, the Contra Costa Times, and the California Historian (Conference of California Historical Societies).
     Email updates are sent to our members regularly.

November 2002:
     The Attorney General response is in our favor, with the condition that our facts can be verified.  We have the evidence, lots of it!  No one wants to hear this but us.

October 2002-November 2002:
     Significant blocks of time are expended by Sue, Beverly and Christine to lobby the Supervisor, through her Chief of Staff Mike Eisenberg, to claim the public title.  Mike is a champion helper, negotiator, and advocate for all sides, working to "keep the peace" and bring resolution.

November 21, 2002:
     We are shocked to hear Mike Eisenberg has died.  All who knew and worked with him were devastated and will feel his absence for a long time.

December 2002:
     The "owner" has abandoned all attempts to get licensed and to get a Certificate of Authority.  He locks the gates permanently.

November 2002-March 2003:
     The county, by their inaction, has convinced us they will not, do not want to and refuse to claim the public title.  We begin working with the Alamo-Lafayette Cemetery District, hoping a way can be found for them to acquire the cemetery at tax sale and annex it to their reputable District ($70,000 in back taxes are still owed on it).  The district is willing.  We have to do the legwork and come up with money.

February 2003:
     The county inspector discovered that the "owner" is living in the abandoned, refuse- strewn building, after several reports of family members jumping the fence and being accosted and sworn at by the "owner".  He refuses to let the inspector in.  The county fails to gain access and (through the fence) talks  him into leaving his abode.
     Another man comes forward to buy the cemetery.  He also has no experience with cemeteries, no licenses except a funeral director's license, and no Certificate of Authority.  He begins lobbying FPC to work with him and drop their claim of public title.

March 2003:
     FPC members visit and comment at two Board of Supervisor meetings, asking that they claim the public title.

April 2003:
     The "new owner" buys the note of trust and begins the job of applying for his Certificate of Authority, land use permit, etc.  FPC did not agree to drop their claim of public title.

April 20, 2003:
     The cemetery is opened for Easter.  Many families arrive, clean up their loved ones grave sites, and grieve over the sad condition of our little cemetery.

and the Saga continues.....


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