City hears plans to expand Oak Park Cemetery

By Andrew Alonzo | 

After ratifying its 2024-2026 priorities Tuesday, the Claremont City Council unanimously approved the conceptual design for phase three of the Oak Park Cemetery Expansion Project.

The proposed design for the southwest end of the property includes approximately 996 new inground grave sites, a pre-fabricated, two-stall restroom, an expanded parking lot next to the administration building, an extended roadway with a turnaround to provide access to the proposed area, fencing and the addition of trees and landscaping. The work will encompass about 1.2 acres. Eight total acres have been set aside previously for future expansion projects.

The proposed grave plots would be consistent with the cemetery’s typical layout of a 4-foot by 8-foot plot per space which can also be subdivided to accommodate cremations, Claremont Community Services Manager Kristin Mikula said during the April 3 Community and Human Services Commission meeting.

During her presentation before the council Tuesday, Mikula said the estimated project cost hovers around $1,642,170. While approximately $1.04 million of the project can be covered by the city’s Cemetery Fund, Mikula identified an estimated shortfall of about $704,170, which could be covered by a loan from the city’s general fund and paid back over three years. Mikula said the cemetery sees an annual revenue stream of about $320,000.

Additionally, Mikula said community services anticipates the expansion would have a lifetime value of over $5.6 million. 

Demand stays high

The city acquired Oak Park Cemetery in 1978 and previous expansions of the property took place in 2013 and 2023 to shape the current 12-acre property. Mikula said part of the reason the cemetery needs to be expanded again is due to the lack of an adequate number of burial plots. 

“Due to consistently high demand, however, we are already in the planning stages for phase three of the Master Plan development, which includes adding additional burial space for sale,” Mikula said at the April 3 CHSC meeting. “Currently we have about 450 sellable plots that are still available, but we do typically sell 100-plus plots per year so we anticipate that the current inventory of plots will last us around three years.”

Mikula added that maintaining ongoing property availability is important not only to serve the community, but also because Oak Park Cemetery is an enterprise fund, meaning revenue generated from burials and other services go back to the cemetery for maintenance and other self-services.

Mikula and the Community Services Department worked with RJM Design Group, a landscape architecture firm, to prepare the conceptual design for expansion number three. RJM Design Group also completed designs for phases one and two.

With the unanimous vote, City Manager Adam Pirrie was allowed to enter a professional services agreement with RJM Design Group worth $85,650 to prepare construction plans for bidding. About $70,350 from the Cemetery Fund and $15,300 from the Measure W Fund will cover the agreement cost.

Construction plans have an anticipated completion time of early to late winter. Plans are subject to city council review and approval, and if all goes smoothly, ground could be broken as soon as 2025. The work is anticipated to take nine months to complete, during which time cemetery operations would continue.

Next steps

Before heading to Claremont City Council, approval of the conceptual design passed with a narrow 4-3 vote during the April 3 CHSC meeting. Chair Dirk Silva, vice chair Lauren Roselle, and Nancy Brower voted no.

At the April 3 meeting, Commissioner Greg Glass expressed disappointment with the item, saying the commission was brought the proposed plan with “fairly limited information.”

“There’s this group of experts, the Friends of the Oak Park Cemetery, who you’ve told us has overwhelmingly approved this, but we haven’t had a chance to hear from them,” Commissioner Glass said after Mikula’s presentation, adding that the Friends of the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park usually bring items and reports to the CHSC meetings. “I never remember meeting anybody or being presented anything from the Friends of the Oak Park Cemetery since I’ve been a commissioner. I would have preferred prior to being asked to recommend this to [city] council that we could have heard from the group that you’re telling us overwhelmingly approved it, because … we don’t know that.”

Claremont Community Services Director Jeremey Swan clarified that the role of the Friends of Oak Park Cemetery is more of an advisory group for the park, while the Friends of the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park was born out of the CHWP Master Plan and Implementation Plan in 2016 to deliver annual reports and other matters to the city.

Concrete support for the project came from Friends of Oak Park Cemetery in the form of an April 15 letter addressed to the Claremont City Council. 

“At our March 5, 2024 meeting, Kristen Mikula presented the board members of The Friends of Oak Park Cemetery the conceptual design for the expansion of the cemetery into the undeveloped area North of the current cemetery,” the letter by Friends President Nelson D. Scherer read. “Our board members unanimously voiced their support of this preliminary design. There was special support for the inclusion of restroom facilities and landscaping along Sycamore Avenue.”

At Tuesday’s council meeting, Chuck Cable, treasurer of the Friends of Oak Park Cemetery, also voiced support for the plan before it was approved by council.


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