City Council to decide Sunnyside Cemetery’s afterlife

The long-beleaguered Sunnyside Cemetery has taken a big step toward resurrection with a recommendation before the City Council on Tuesday that the city of Long Beach take over the 13-acre burial ground at 1095 E. Willow St.

Sunnyside has fallen into such disrepair, both physically and financially in recent years, that its small board of directors was forced to announce the 1906 burial site’s permanent closure at the end of this month.

The Sunnyside board has been in sometimes contentious talks with the city over the past two years in an effort to preserve the cemetery, but the two sides had been unable to reach an agreement on the cost, structure and oversight of the property until recently, when the board declared the site’s closure to be imminent.

Among the concerns in taking over the cemetery and its 16,000 graves are such problems as overgrowing weeds and degrading landscaping, gopher control, dying trees and poor irrigation systems.

“There will likely be significant costs with taking over Sunnyside,” said Director of Economic Development John Keisler, who led the city’s team in talks with Sunnyside’s board.

To determine the costs, he said, studies will have to be conducted by city departments that will be involved in rehabilitating the cemetery and maintaining it. The city already maintains the adjacent Long Beach Municipal Cemetery at a cost of about $60,000 a year, and preliminary estimates for taking care of Sunnyside would raise the cost to about $290,000 per year for the combined sites, along with a rough estimate of $1 million to $1.5 million in initial costs to bring Sunnyside up to date.

“It’s just an estimate before we can get a more detailed cost. It’s just to let Council know that the cost could be significant,” said Keisler.

He also warned that the final decision is up to the City Council, which can approve or modify Keisler’s recommendations.

Officials at the cemetery said they hope the deal goes through.

“We’re happy,” said Sunnyside board member Linda Meador. “There’s really no other option other than closing it down.”

Meador said she’s been ill for more than a month, and she attributes much of that to fretting about Sunnyside. “There’s been too much stress and not knowing what was going to happen, but, yes, I’m very, very happy.”

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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.
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