There are some topics that are difficult to talk candidly about, let along think about, among our family and friends. One of them is discussing our eventual death and the specifics that accompany end of life. Issues like a will, trust, medical power of attorney and funeral preparations are sensitive things to prepare for but prudent to do while we are still of sound mind and body.
The above discussion relates to the new General Plan adopted by the City Council last week. Beyond being a document that celebrates New Urbanism, the plan also has strict regulations on hillside development outside the urban growth boundary. Since these regulations were not an absolute abolition of changing the landscape, this led some to believe it was an opening to develop in the hills. This notion is incorrect.
Some of the regulations include: only large parcels over 200-plus acres can apply; no more than 2 percent of the land can have a structure and no more than 10 percent of the land (which includes the 2 percent of structures) can have non-permeable materials (walkway, driveway, parking); no irrigation systems are allowed; and only native vegetation is allowed. This leaves 90 percent of the land as open space for animals to roam and for nature to remain in charge.
These restrictions really only allow for one viable option and that is the potential for a future cemetery. Cemetery? We certainly do not vote on these often at the City Council. In fact, this makes sense since cemeteries in San Jose were established well over 100 years ago. Oak Hill cemetery on the west side was established in 1800, and Calvary on the east side was established in the same century. Both of these facilities are 90-95 percent full and will soon run out of space.
Thousands of San Jose residents pass on each year in the cycle of life, and even more will as the baby boomer generation ages. It is a very personal choice to be buried and for some it is dictated by their religion. Most of the families in Santa Clara County and the United States choose in-ground burials versus cremation.
Although the majority of the members of the General Plan Task Force may agree that burial is a personal choice, some felt that burial is “old fashioned” and people should be cremated. I do not believe the city is the appropriate level of government to dictate that all people should be cremated by not allowing for the land use opportunity of a new cemetery. Mandatory cremation attacks individual rights about a very personal choice that a family may make. We should plan now, so that as Oak HIll and Calvary cemeteries reach 100 percent capacity there is another option to service families of the locally deceased.
One may argue to let family members be buried elsewhere, having them send their deceased family members to lower cost areas, where there is more land. But that seems odd. Locating a new cemetery within the boundary of an existing city is not an easy task. For one thing, it would bring out the “anywhere but here” crowd. Many people would not want a new cemetery near their home, just as much as they might not want a group home. Also, when looking for cemetery location, you have to make sure the water table is low enough to avoid the New Orleans issue of floating caskets. I would estimate a new cemetery would open just as the other cemeteries reach capacity.
A tombstone, cross or Star of David is the marker for the love left behind. As awkward as the conversation may be, we should value that love and plan for it. Cemeteries are sacred and a place for living to go to pay respect for their loved ones.