Are the dead good neighbors?
The local Catholic diocese, Kern County planners and a majority of the county’s appointed Planning Commission say they are.
But many residents who live in a subdivision northeast of a proposed cemetery site say the dead won’t be neighborly and the proposed cemetery should go someplace else. Some vow to appeal to the Kern County Board of Supervisors the Planning Commission’s recent approval of a conditional-use permit for the cemetery.
Before residents continue the fight to block the project, they should weigh the obvious benefits the 12-acre cemetery will provide their subdivision, as well as the growing Bakersfield community, which eventually will require an additional cemetery.
Their objections stated during the commission’s recent hearing, as well as in protest letters and petitions, include claims that a cemetery will diminish the value of their homes, increase crime in the area and greatly increase traffic along Vega Meadows Road, a wide collector road that is lined by sidewalks and landscaped parkways.
Many project opponents contended that they had assumed the site would be either rezoned for residential use and sprout homes, or remain “green space” and be farmed.
One woman, who spoke in opposition to the project at the Planning Commission hearing, complained that the presence of a cemetery near her home will require her to explain death to her children.
There is no evidence that the presence of this proposed cemetery would reduce nearby property values, or increase crime.
And studies indicate the traffic generated by the proposed cemetery will be much lighter than that generated by a residential subdivision, where residents will be coming and going. Vega Meadows Road is designated in the general plan as a major road, collecting a high volume of traffic generated by people living and passing through northwest Bakersfield, and connecting to Renfro Road, another major collector road.
Death is as much a fact of life as birth. The mother, who complained that the presence of a cemetery near her home will require her to explain death to her children, likely will be required to do that sooner or later, regardless of a cemetery’s presence.
Homes along the perimeter of the subdivision abutting Vega Meadows Road do not face the street and will not face the proposed cemetery. A high, solid-block fence separates their backyards from the sidewalk, wide parkway and even wider roadway that buffers residences from existing noise and traffic.
The proposed 12-acre cemetery site is part of a 48.88-acre wedge of land bordered by Vega Meadows, Renfro and Noriega roads, and by the busy Santa Fe Railroad tracks. It also is surrounded by “mixed uses,” which include medium industrial, agricultural and residential zoning.
While the rumbling of trains across the back of the 12-acre proposed cemetery will not bother the dead, it could discourage development of property for residential use. Future uses likely would favor industrial projects, including additional warehouses. As northwest Bakersfield continues its march toward development, the property likely will not remain agricultural, or “green space,” as nearby residents say they prefer.
The proposed cemetery is expected to provide additional buffering for the nearby residential neighborhood from the sound and impacts of the railroad, as well as surrounding industrial development.
The many conditions placed by county planners on the proposed cemetery include limiting hours of operation; providing on-site security; closing the cemetery to the public at night; encircling the cemetery in screened fencing, including a solid 7-foot wall across the Vega Meadows Road frontage; and restricting lighting to prevent disturbing nearby residences.
The conditional-use permit allows the construction of a cemetery office and three mausoleums. However, cremations will not be allowed to be performed on-site.
Cemeteries are highly regulated businesses that are required to comply with federal, state and local laws. In addition, the Cemetery and Mortuary Association of California will provide oversight, assuring that the proposed cemetery’s operation complies with industry standards.
The proposed cemetery’s permit requirements and the ability of nearby residents to monitor its operation will provide the necessary assurances that it will, in fact, be a good neighbor and an attribute to northwest Bakersfield.