Sunnyside Cemetery Saved

By: 
Steve Propes

In an August 21 “Go Long Beach!” missive to voters, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia stated, “Last night the City Council unanimously approved making Sunnyside Cemetery a permanent part of our city’s public parks. The cemetery, where so many Long Beach residents have their final resting place, was unable to continue operation in private hands. It was my commitment that Sunnyside be preserved and cared for properly and now the city will be able to ensure that happens.

“We have to thank Councilmember Roberto Uranga for his leadership and advocacy, as well as Economic Development Director John Keisler and our Parks, Recreation and Marine Director, Gerardo Mouet, for hammering out the details.

“My thanks also to the board at Sunnyside, who worked closely with us to make sure Sunnyside is preserved, and to the many community volunteers who have helped care for the cemetery over the past several years.

“This is a proud moment for Long Beach as we take stewardship of an important and historic part of our city.”

All well and good, as many of the earlier burials in the cemetery amount of a who’s who of early 20th Century Long Beach. However, in March 2017, when the Beachcomber was first to investigate and reveal the financial plight at Sunnyside Cemetery, the reaction from the city was hardly sympathetic to resolving that problem by acquiring the site.

Because the cemetery’s endowment care fund was embezzled to the tune of over half a million dollars by the 1995 owner, the remaining fund spun the bare minimum to pay for one caretaker and supplies needed for upkeep. Without a solution to this problem, the cemetery might have had to close its gates permanently.

According to then-Long Beach Public Affairs Officer Kerry Gerot, “The city never assumed responsibility of these locations, but the maintenance costs for these two locations were mistakenly included in the monthly invoices, combined with regular service charges. The city did not verify the amount being charged against the contract pricing. In total, $80,800 over a period of 16 months was paid for maintenance that was never performed. At the time of this report, Parks, Recreation and Marine is now expending time and resources to correct this situation by working with the city attorney and the Department of Financial Management to recoup these funds.” Whether the attempt to recoup was to go against Sunnyside was not made clear.

Sunnyside’s then-caretaker Mike Miner said about three or four years earlier, he contacted the city manager’s office about acquiring the cemetery and found out there was a letter circulated to the council by parks and recreation to City Manager Pat West about the city assuming ownership. Apparently, based on Sunnyside’s assets, the city “couldn’t operate it for more than two or three years, then we’d have to go into the general fund.”

Apparently the shift in political will or pressure by advocates for the cemetery successfully countered the earlier municipal resistance.

According to Gerot in 2017, the city “has not had contact with Sunnyside for several years.” Asked to clarify “several years,” Gerot responded “I was told the last contact was several years ago which could be three or more.” Gerot did not answer any additional questions about the nature of the contacts between Sunnyside and the city.

steve@beachcomber.news

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