Should Cremation in City be Mandatory?

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.


  1. “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.”

    Those members should mind their own business and stay out of our lives.  I suggest we cremate them right now!

  2. Are you kidding me, REALLY!!! With all the cities problems, you write an article about cremation!  I guess since you have no solutions to the cities problems you write useless articles like this! I would tell you how I really feel about you, but when ever I do, the moderator of this site dosnt publish it! So I guess I have to pretend that I’m more civil toward your &$#% decisions and ideas. Just go away pier!

  3. Pier,
    With the way our mayor and council is giving away land at a huge loss to the taxpayer (see land for baseball stadium that will not be built), cremation will be the only choice after we run out of cemetery property that you piss away. By the way, your Monday column here was much more interesting when you actually replied to some of the posts.

  4. Hey P.O., Maybe you and the council can get the A’s ownership to sell the city back a 1/2 acre of land (at 4 times the value) next to the new stadium and turn it into a city run cemetary.  That would solve the budget deficits and overcrowding at the old/established cemetaries.  Then you can charge the family members of the dead a special city tax to be buried next to the new stadium…..Smoke em if you got em……

  5. Yes we have bigger fish to fry.  But, I agree that the local governments needs to stay out of religious issues.  If the land is available, and an organization wants to build a cemetery that will not have any physical issues, then it should be approved.  I can’t for a second fathom any city councilperson deciding for one million people the fate of person who has passed on.  Mandatory cremation? Give me a break…

  6. PO your hitting an all time low.  Time we cremate the city council and start bringing this city back to life instead of burning it down with false accusations about out of control pensions and bring forth more ballet measures to attack the few remaining employees and those that have served before.  Don’t see surrounding cities with this many problems, guess they manage their money a whole lot better.

  7. Sorry to disagree with so many of you, but I find this PLO post inspiring. What to do with the dead is an issue that needs to be addressed, and I for one am willing to tackle it and think outside the box. For instance, why not figure out a way to utilize the dead, rather than just burying or incinerating them? How about finding a cost-effective way to plasticize them and use them to improve life for the living? The potential applications boggles the mind. Plasticized bodies could be used to:

    —fill the council chambers with the type of citizens those meetings are designed for: placid flat-liners who won’t object to the staged process that now passes for participatory government.

    —make it look like there’s a cop on every corner in the downtown. Plant enough plasticized gendarmes around our city and, if we can keep Chuck Reed from laying them off, they just might fool the dope peddlers into going back to Oakland.

    —fill the seats in all those otherwise empty buses and light-rail cars, so that those who don’t know better (out-of-towners, drunks, Rod Diridon, etc.) might be duped into viewing that Sarah Winchester-inspired system as fiscally-smart and vibrant.

    —pose as a city visitor showing some serious interest in Quetzalcoatl, sparing us the commonly overheard reaction, “What the f&#k is that and what’s it doing here?”

    —take a seat on the County Board of Supervisors and strip George Shirakawa of his status as the most clueless member of that cursed repository of dullards.

    —suppress minority gang activity in key areas and neighborhoods. Norteños and Sureños may not be afraid of prison or each other, but they’re damned scared of ghosts. One plasticized lady dressed in white (La Llorona) would do more to keep a neighborhood thug-free than any gang injunction—at least until Sean Webby accuses the tireless servant of racism.

    —disguise the emptiness of our closed public and vacant office buildings. A few plasticized citizens lounging about out front of these structures may help disguise a city going through its death throes.

    —promote the idea of diversity. Placing plasticized white children in our worst-performing schools would create a much-desired image and perhaps even bend the bell curve enough to boost minority test scores and close the achievement gap.

    —lounge about the city’s closed swimming pools and neglected parks, giving the idea that our city leaders have actually made it possible for its citizens to enjoy the great outdoors without leaving the city.

    —fill up the stands and playing field at Chuck Reed’s Field of Dreams. San Jose’s big league dreams are dead, so why not too its players and fans? Our mayor and city manager would be indistinguishable in a stadium filled with the dead.

  8. Mayor and City Council Members           Agenda June 21, 2011
                          Item#  3.11)b)

    RE: Pension Reform

    Dear Mayor Reed and Councilmember’s:

    I am representing only myself in this matter.  As a retired San Jose City Attorney familiar with this issue, I am bewildered as to what the city would undertake an action, which is so clearly violates the contract clause of the California and the Federal Constitutions.

    A long line of California Supreme Court cases establishes that retirees’ pension rights are an integral portion of contemplated compensation, which cannot be changed once they have vested (1).  Similarly, vested rights are protected under the contract clause Art. 1 S 10 of the United States Constitution.

    The California Supreme Court has held that with respect to active employees, some limited modification of vested pension rights has been allowed but the resulting disadvantage to employees, must be accompanied by comparable new advantages. 2 As a to retired employees, the scope of continuing governmental power appears to be ever more restricted.  The retiree is entitled to the fulfillment of the contract, which already has been preformed without detrimental modification.  The impairment provision does not prevent restricting retirees to the gain reasonably to be expected from the contract (3).

    It appears that you are being told that the Emergency Declaration, which you are contemplating, gives you the power to supersede the long established vested rights principles.  In fact, a post Proposition 13 case (4) that deals with a charter amendment, which places a 3% cap on police and fire pension benefit cost of living adjustments is so directly on the point that I have attached it so you can read it yourselves.

    Have your lawyers given you any authority that says you can enact a change in retiree COLA’s?  Have they provided some case authority that emergency modifications can continue beyond the period of the actual inability to appropriate the funds to pay the retirees as requested?  If so, please let me know what legal authority is being relied on.

    It seems to me that placing restraints on the COLA’s in the charter only diminishes any argument that the change is justified by a state of emergency.  It underlines the fact that the goal is to create permanent restructuring which is not a justification for diminishing vested rights.  For both policy and legal reasons, I urge you not to put the proposed reduction of retirees’ COLA into the charter.

    I hope that you have fully considered the potential costs to the City of the litigation that would result if there is a successful ballot measure reducing the retiree COLA benefits.  Since the City Attorney Office has a conflict, you will have outside attorneys and need to pay their fees regardless of the outcome.  You could face some unknown number of different lawsuits from the various bargaining units and individual retirees as well as the Retirement Association If the enforcement of the ballot measure were not immediately enjoined and you lose the litigation (which seems to me to be inevitable to regard o current retirees), there will be interest owed to all of the individual retirees.  Also, since the retirees’ claimed will be constitutional bases, you may have to pay the attorney fees of the retiree plaintiffs.  Inviting this litigation seems vet short sighted to me.

    Thank you for the serious attention to this matter.  I know the process of structuring needed to reform is difficult but I urge you to consider the tenuousness of your legal position as well as the detriment to loyal long term staff who retired in reliance on the benefits they have earned.

    (1)  Kern v. City of Long Beach (1947) 29 /cal 2d 848, 853
    (2)  Allen v. Long Beach (1955) 45 Cal 2d 128. 131
    (3)  Abbott v. City of Los Angeles (1958) 50 Cal 2d. 438
    (4)  United Firefighters of Los Angeles. (1958) 50 Cal 2d 438

    Written by Retied City Attorney Joan R. Gallo

    CC: Rick Doyle

      • Because chuck and the council are killing off current and former employees.  They need a place to go as well when this city strips them of all their benefits.

    • Thank you for that great article. This mayor, city council and city manager are determined to make the city employee the scapegoat, they are determined to drive the city of San Jose off a cliff.

      Hopefully the citizens will wake up soon and vote this illegal ballot down when the time comes and force the city to negotiate.

      PLO way to divert from the true issues. Your re-election campaign is coming up. You stated that pension reform ballot will pass, but failed you explain that poll was done 6 months ago. A lot of things have changed since then. The citizens are aware of this illegal ballot measure and you should tell them the truth, or it could cost you your re-election bid.

  9. Pier,

        Add an amendment for Safe and Sane fireworks in the city of San Jose.  If this is done then Cremation is certainly the way to go.  I went to a Buddhist cremation.  No big deal.  All the friends and family carry the deceased in a casket to where all the mourners have gathered.  They place it on top of a funeral pyre, add a little gasoline for good measure and light it up.  Once the fire is burning and the heat is carrying the deceased spirit up to Nirvana, the fireworks begin.  Little children run around playing, and the attendants are smiling and happy.  Money is collected to be given to the next of kin and everyone goes to a feast when it is all done,
        Western Style is a lot more clean actually.  At this point in time most people already know the funeral industry is a billion dollar business and I actually think this is a good way to protect lower income citizens of San Jose from getting ripped off by crooked undertakers.
        It’s also a step in the right direction culturally IMHO.  Attitudes about death used to be a lot more liberal, bodies were displayed in the home, not in some funeral home and society just accepted death as part of the natural process.  But I digress.
        Naturally there needs to be grandfather clauses for people who have already purchased plots, I think it might be worthwhile to look into what property rights do next of kin have over family owned plots. for example should I want to remodel my families plots into a modern style mausoleum so all our ashes can be together… I think that’s fair use of property rights.
        I would include donation for medical research on the list and as a city leader I would find some mechanism for encouraging medical research to coming to San Jose. Biomedical device development could really stimulate our tech industry.

  10. This cremation thing isn’t gonna do us any good in our effort to fool the world into believing we’re a ‘green’ city. All those greenhouse gasses and asthma inducing particulates floating around- yuck. 

    I’m surprised some of the more deranged members of the City Council haven’t suggested pursuing the biodiesel opportunity that presents itself here.  Just think. A little PR campaign run by Rich Robinson’s company to soften up the people. A half billion or so in grant money from Obama. And bam! We’re in the alternative energy industry!
    Imagine all the green jobs that’d be created. And for the first time in years at the gas station we’d be able to say, “fill it with Ethel!”

  11. Just when I think I’ve head it all:  we now have members of a General Plan Task Force angling to social engineer us in perpetuity.

    My name belies the fact that I’m half-Russian, and I happen to be a Russian Orthodox Christian.  I take umbrage with anyone who has the audacity to say that my faith’s practice of burial is “old fashoned.”

    I do not foist my faith upon anyone, believing that it is healthy to struggle with one’s own religious belief or unbelief, but that one crosses the line when chastising another for his or her religious practice, or lack there of.

    In addition to being a Russian Orthodox Christian, I readily admit to being a sinner.  So forgive me for suggesting that the members of this General Plan Task Force who wish to deny us the right to a proper Christian burial have already buried their heads you know where.

  12. My sources tell me that cremation is only the first step and that there are ongoing clandestine negotiations between the city and medical marijuana operatives regarding “crematatory remains management”.

    If you see Dave Hodges out on the street screaming “Romulan Green is people!!!” you’ll know what’s up.

  13. Pierluigi,

    You and your colleagues need to read this article before you vote on spending any money on a ballpark or housing development or anything in the General Plan.

    San Jose may be labelled the Third Largest City in California and the 10th Largest in the US. Reallity is we are Numero Uno in the Suburban Category. The RDA and the City Council (CURRENT AND PAST) are to blame for the Ponzi (McENERY/Garden City/Swenson/Reed) Scheme we are collapsing under.

    P.S. It isnt employee pensions that got us here – it is unsustainable growth…apporoved by Council and planned to continue under GP2040!

  14. What a waste of an article! Glad the council and Mayor, whom by the way are failing at running this city are thinking about this. You all are a joke to this city.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *