The Fire Next Time
Crematory denial could be appealed.
Thursday, April 18, 2002
A retort-as cremation ovens are called-burns so hot, it produces no smoke. Only heat waves swirl from the vents, accompanied by the sound of powerful cooling fans. Yet while backyard barbecues probably create more pollution, some folks in Seaside loathe the notion of a crematory bordering their own backyards.
Last Wednesday, April 10, the Seaside Planning Commission formally denied a conditional use permit to install an 1,800-square-foot twin-retort crematory in Mission Memorial Park, at the eastern terminus of Ord Grove Avenue. Neighbors emotionally opposed the application at a series of hearings, but the commission had to rely on technical reasons to vote against the operation. A staff report recommended denial based on quality of life, health and traffic concerns as well as conflicts with city ordinances and plans.
In a public hearing, a company representative had described the crematory as "industrial," which the commission found incompatible with a residential neighborhood.
Mission Memorial Park is owned by the Alderwoods Group, which owns 920 funeral operations and 275 cemetaries in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom.
In Monterey County, Alderwoods owns six mortuaries-two in Seaside, and one each in Salinas, Soledad, King City and Monterey. Jim Bonsall manages the operation from the company''s Salinas office. He''s disappointed in the decision against his company, but is awaiting a corporate legal department decision on an appeal.
"Our feeling is Seaside [officials are] off base," he says.
"It was strictly public hysteria," he says. "Everybody makes it sound like a crime that we wanted to make some money. We''re a business."
One element that seems to have rubbed the city wrong was the belated disclosure that the Seaside crematory would serve as a regional hub for the six Alderwoods mortuaries. Bonsall says that fact was never hidden in the application, it''s just that no one asked.
Between the six facilities in the county, Bonsall estimates the Seaside crematory would incinerate two or three bodies a day, or 60 to 90 a month.
Today, Alderwoods'' various local mortuaries ship corpses to Soquel. Paul Mortuary runs a retort in Pacific Grove in a chapel near the public golf course and another in a corner outbuilding in the Monterey cemetery at Fremont and Camino Aguajito.
Ron Siebe co-manages the Paul Mortuary. He says he must run the Pacific Grove retort at night only. Golfers object to the noisy cooling fans and some fear visible wafting heat. "The golfers don''t like it," he says. "They see the heat waves and think it''s smoke."
Siebe says he can run the Monterey retort when he chooses because there are no neighbors to object.
"Over there [in Seaside] they''re not going to be able to do that because people live there 24 hours a day," Siebe says.
Jim Bonsall says the Seaside plant would be innocuous. "If this project could have been pre-fabed and set down on the site, they''d have never know it was there."
The neighbors disagree. Susan Brier is the co-founder of ASH, or Allied Seaside Homeowners, a group she created with her husband Roy Cooper specifically to protest the crematory. Both plan to be cremated at death, but neither want other people to be incinerated near their home, a block from the cemetery.
They are concerned about fire danger, gravel dust, fumes and traffic. They also worry that their property values might decline if the crematory is installed.
"We''re opposed to it on just about every ground you can imagine," Brier says. "Why should we have something shoved down our throats that we don''t want?"
Cooper, a retired grade-school teacher who has lived in the same Military Avenue home for 40 years, says he researched cremation on the Internet and is worried about reputed toxic emissions created by incinerated dental fillings, hip replacement devices and pacemakers. He and his wife canvassed the neighborhood and found many elderly folk, some with respiratory ailments and heart problems. He thinks any crematory should be put in a rural or industrial area, not near his neighborhood.
"Any pollution is too much pollution," Cooper says.