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The City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department manages five historic municipal cemeteries, Austin Memorial Park Cemetery, Evergreen Cemetery, Plummers Cemetery, Oakwood Cemetery, and Oakwood Annex Cemetery.  We are entrusted by the families and decendants to care for these sacred places, and the cemeteries are indelible and essential parts of the neighborhoods in which they reside.  The department is embarking on a public process to update the Cemetery Rules and develop a plan for enforcement.

Cemetery Master Plan

City of Austin Cemeteries Page

Cemetery Rules Report

Topic: Enforcement
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What types of memorials and permanent fixtures can be "grandfathered-in" once compliance enforcement begins?

7 Responses

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Hugh Higgins 10 months ago

I can understand and support religious preferences, but I shall strongly "grandfathered" ornamentation that is exclusive to selected plots. All or none!

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Hugh Higgins 10 months ago

strongly oppose "grandfathered" stuff!

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Hugh Higgins 10 months ago

strongly oppose "grandfathered" stuff!

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Dianna Dean 10 months ago

I suggest that you monitor the workers who are in charge of grounds up keep. My flat tomb stones was run over with a lawn mower and dismantled the picture. I have 5 generations buried in East Austin cemeteries'. I vote to "grandfather In" then enforce going forward.

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David DeMaio 9 months ago

Before I moved to Austin, our city let people who got driving tickets have a choice of paying the fine or working in cemeteries and/or pick up trash by the highway. Don't know if we do this in Austin but a good way to save money and teach some principles.

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Sharon Weintraub 5 months ago

Frankly, at this point, the Austin Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) really has no alternative but to grandfather in existing memorials, because not only has it failed to publicize and enforce its own regulations put into place in the 1970s, it has continued to drag its feet and refused to meet and negotiate with stakeholders in good faith, in violation of an October 17, 2013, city council resolution directing it to do so.

I have been involved in this matter since September of 2013, when my sister-in-law Tina Huckabee, heard a rumor that PARD had plans to enforce rules regarding Austin Memorial Park (AMP) and would giving families only 30 days to remove grave site gardens, plantings, and other decorations, many of which had been in place for years.   My 13-year-old niece, Shoshana Ruth, had passed away suddenly in April of 2006 from myocarditis and shortly after she was buried at AMP, Tina, a master gardener who specializes in native and xeriscape plantings, outlined the grave with cut limestone and planted a garden on her daughter’s grave.  Before planting the garden, Tina tried calling AMP at least twice, but never received a response.  At the time, there were already numerous other grave site gardens and borders throughout AMP.  One reason my sister-in-law wanted to create the garden was because she found tire tracks from maintenance vehicles across her daughter's grave.  When she received no answer from AMP, Tina adorned her daughter’s grave with native flowers.  From 2006 through October of 2013, Tina had never received any complaints or other communication from AMP or PARD regarding the border or garden.  After my father passed in December of 2012, he was buried next to his granddaughter and the family also outlined his grave with stones.  

Tina contacted PARD on September 8, 2013, and was subsequently informed by PARD that beginning October 1, 2013, PARD would be identifying graves that were not in compliance to the rules and regulations and requiring families to bring these graves into compliance.  She was also told that PARD had assumed cemetery management on April 1, 2013, and prior to this, a contractor had managed cemetery operations. 

On October 17, 2013, I and a number of other members of the public appeared at the meeting of the Austin City Council to protest the sudden declaration by PARD that it would be enforcing long-neglected cemetery rules.  We asserted that the current regulations, which had not been revised, publicized, or enforced since the 1970s, needed to be revisited and revised and that the public and stakeholders must be involved in developing reasonable alternatives, balancing the rights of families and friends to uniquely honor their loved ones and the need to maintain cemetery grounds.  We argued that grieving families should not be forced to dismantle grave site memorials, many of which have been in place for years, simply because PARD had failed to fulfill its duties.  Further, we stated that for PARD to retroactively enforce such regulations would arbitrarily punish those with family and friends memorialized at AMP, and that these citizens should not suffer because of the city's neglect and dereliction of its duties.  We also noted that there was no urgency, as PARD already had the authority to remove any neglected or abandoned memorials and dead flowers and shrubs.  In response to our concerns, the City Council enacted a resolution requiring the City Manager, in collaboration with stakeholders and a working group of the Parks and Recreation Board, to evaluate whether current cemetery policies related to grave ornamentation were appropriately sensitive to personal and cultural expressions of grieving, while preserving necessary safety for cemetery workers and respect for the values of all families.  This process was to be completed over six months.

For nearly four years, the public and stakeholders have been met with nothing but delays and bureaucratic prevarication on the part of PARD. Not once have the stakeholders ever actually allowed to sit down at the table with PARD and work together on some sort of reasonable compromise, which was certainly what was envisioned in the original City Council resolution. 

Further, PARD is in effect already grandfathering in noncompliant grave sites. When we ordered my father's gravestone in August of 2012, we were told by Strausswender Memorial Company that the base of my father's stone would have to be shorter than that of his granddaughter's because the city was now enforcing regulations regarding the size of stones.  This means that many of the gravestones in the park do not comply with city regulations.  Is PARD going to go through the cemeteries with a tape measure and send notice to all the families with gravestones that are a couple of inches too high or long that they must replace the stones or the city will remove the stones?  Of course not! As the city is therefore already grandfathering headstones that do not comply with the regulations, it is only fair that it do so for other grave site memorials

Many families have invested substantial time and resources in creating and maintaining these tributes, and these grave site memorials are often beautiful and touching.  These individualized grave sites make the park a unique and peaceful place and reflect the larger personality and diversity of the city.  Further, many of these personal memorials significantly enhance and improve the park. Although this is a city park, the PARD has not provided any seating.  The benches installed by families provide a place for those visiting the park to rest, contemplate, and seek solace.  Many of the shrubs and trees planted by families are native, drought resistant plants.  During the summer, when the grass is burnt brown, these plants provide shade, color, and greenery.  In light of the continuing droughts, it makes no sense to favor grass, which requires substantial water and high maintenance, over native xeriscaping.  If anything, the city should be encouraging and assisting families to select and plant native, drought resistant flowers and trees.  This, in the long run, will not only save the city significant resources, but will enhance the park itself.

Many of the memorial gardens at AMP have been in place for years, even decades. They cannot be removed at this point without causing significant damage to the graves. Is PARD willing to provide the substantial resources and manpower necessary to immediately fill and repair the holes and trenches that will be left if families are forced to tear out stone borders and living plants and trees? Or will the families just be forced to watch the desecrated graves further deteriorate and erode?

I and other stakeholders understand and agree that there need to be some reasonable regulations to ensure the safety and sanctity of the cemeteries. No one is arguing that we have to absolute right to place anything we want on grave sites. On January 27, 2014, I e-mailed a very rough draft of proposed regulations to Patricia Jacobson of PARD.  I explained to Ms. Jacobson that I was concerned because three of the six months allotted to process of developing a compromise on the current regulations had already passed and I thought at least we could begin with something on the table to discuss.  In these proposals, I tried to preserve the long-established tradition of individualizing grave sites, as well as balance the right of certain religious groups to practice their traditions and the need for families to mourn and memorialize their loved ones, with PARD's need to maintain the cemeteries.  To that end, I proposed limits on the type, size, weight, number, and materials of items to be placed within a space or on a grave.  Certain items, such as items with political statements or offensive language, non-weather resistant items, and bird baths and bird feeders, would be barred.  The proposals made it clear that the space holder was responsible for maintaining any items or plantings within the space.  However, the regulations also provided a simple process allowing PARD to remove noncompliant items.  The proposals also clarified that PARD had the right to remove any dangerous or neglected materials without notification.  Although the regulations grandfathered in existing grave site memorials within their allotted space, the proposed regulations also encouraged PARD to work with space holders to bring such sites within compliance.  The proposals included specific regulations regarding plantings, limiting the type and sizes of plants that may be used within a space.  There are also several alternate proposals regarding benches.  Finally, there were provisions requiring the publication and distribution of the regulations to avoid future conflicts.

In short, all we have ever wanted to do is sit at the table directly with PARD, without the pointless intervention of “consultants” and meaningless surveys, and negotiate reasonable and fair regulations for the cemeteries. The question should not be whether certain memorials and permanent fixtures should be “grandfathered-in," but when is PARD going to finally comply with the 2013 city council resolution and meet and negotiate with stakeholders in good faith.

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Kathy Smith 4 months ago

The problem is maintenance, the City of Austin does not want to make the cemeteries uniform. They want to make them maintainable. A private contractor would require that too. If the flower planters want to maintain or pay to have the ornamentation maintained, I'm all for it. If you want me to pay for the maintenance of your plot, no way.

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