Sunnyside Cemetery

Sunnyside Cemetery in Long Beach on Monday, June 17. The cemetery's directors have said the property is likely destined for closure by the end of the summer.

Sunnyside Cemetery, the graveyard that has held some of Long Beach’s most influential denizens since its opening in 1906, may live on.

Its directors warned earlier this summer they would have to shut down the storied site by the end of August if city officials didn’t take it over.

After months of discussions, the City Council is set to vote on assuming the property at its Tuesday, Aug. 20 meeting.

“As far as the process goes, we’ve had no problems,” Sunnyside’s current manager, Linda Meador, said Tuesday, Aug. 13. “The city’s been really good.”

Long Beach representatives involved in the negotiations did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

According to a staff report posted along with the City Council agenda, Long Beach has not yet completed an assessment and cost estimate of the cemetery’s debts and obligations, including reserved plots.

But a “preliminary review” revealed acquiring the property would cost Long Beach “approximately $230,000 per year in ongoing operating liabilities, and approximately $1.0 million to $1.5 million in initial costs for capital improvements to address basic public access and safety issues.”

The analysis included the cost of a full-time receptionist, which would likely be necessary for oversight, scheduling, records management and customer service. That position would cost about $50,000 annually.

Other costs, including landscaping and structure improvements, have not been calculated.

The staff report indicated Long Beach would look to grants from community partners to help ease the financial burden. The Port of Long Beach, the memo noted, has previously offered $250,000 to aid in the cemetery’s management.

The property is the final resting place for more than 16,000 people, including Union soldiers, Japanese Americans who suffered internment during World War II, and Long Beach pioneers including C.J. Walker, the first new mayor of the 20th century and founder of Farmers and Merchants Bank.

Sunnyside has been on the brink of collapse for years, according to its directors. Bad fortune began in 1994, when its owner stole more than half of its $1 million endowment and used the cash to lease a Mercedes, run up bar tabs and pay for alimony.

The property operates off interest from its endowment and has never recovered from the blow.

Its managers since then have done their best to manage Sunnyside’s descent, making tough choices about which of many necessities, like water bills and pest control, to prioritize. But earlier this year, Meador said, it became clear none of the cemetery’s directors were in well enough health to keep dealing with the stress of upkeep.

Meador and other Sunnyside representatives have had repeated negotiation sessions over the years with Long Beach, but the two sides were never able to come to an agreement for the city to annex the property.

That appears set to change next week.

“I guess Parks and Recreation is going to be the (department) that would be taking care of the cemetery,” Meador said, “and we’ve met with them, and they’ve got some good ideas. So we’re very happy.”

The city, for its part, seems intent on maintaining the land that holds so much of Long Beach’s history.

“As the board has announced the imminent closure of Sunnyside Cemetery,” the staff report said, “the city has no other option but to step in to preserve this historic site.”

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