City is poised to take over Sunnyside Cemetery

It’s not a done deal yet, but city officials and the four board members of the long-suffering Sunnyside Cemetery are optimistic about the prospect of the city taking over the beleaguered burial site soon.

“We had a very positive meeting with the city on Thursday,” said Sunnyside board member Linda Meador. “There are still things we have to do and the city has to do, but I left the meeting feeling very positive and way less stressed than I had been for a long time.”

Economic Development Director John Keisler said Friday that he and his staff have been working very closely with the board and the state to determine the regulations involved in transferring the 112-year-old cemetery’s property to the city, adding that the process should move rapidly.

First, the board has to submit its proposal to the city and after an analysis of associated costs, liabilities and financial obligations. “I think it should go quickly,” said Keisler. “There’s unanimity among the board members and we’re all aware of the hardships the cemetery has been facing and its declining state, so our goal is to get this done as soon as possible.”

Meador had said that if the cemetery couldn’t get help from the city, it would be forced to close in late July or August, something that Keisler is aware of and is hoping to avoid.

“The city leaders have told me, ‘John, go out there and see what we need to do’,” said Keisler.

The cemetery has been in financial trouble since its former owner stole $525,000 in 1994, crippling Sunnyside’s operating fund, which now stands at about $541,000. The board can only spend the interest, which is insufficient to cover the cost of a manager (its longtime manager Mike Miner worked for a small monthly stipend before he was forced to retire because of health reasons), much less an annual audit, irrigation and fighting the eternal weeds and gophers which make walking amid the headstones perilous.

Ultimately, the City Council will make the decision of whether to acquire the 13-acre cemetery. Keisler said that the council is supportive of preserving the site and is aware of its historical importance.

“We’ve just got to do our due diligence, just as you’d have to do when getting a clear title to your house,” Keisler said. “It’s a matter of that and how quickly the board can make its proposal to the city. It’s gonna work. It’ll work out fine I believe.”

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.