Decision Delayed on Public Cemetery Sale


The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday postponed a decision on the sale of the Magnolia Memorial Park in Garden Grove at the request of a citizens group that is worried about the future of the 120-year-old cemetery.

The proposed sale of the six-acre cemetery to the Omega Society Inc. of Santa Ana would likely mark the first time in California history that a public graveyard has been sold to a private company, officials said.

But that potential precedent has some local residents worried about the maintenance and development of the site.


“Remember please our heritage, the importance and sanctity of grave sites,” Garden Grove Historical Society member Faire Sax told the board. Sax urged the supervisors to delay their public hearing on the matter.

Sax said her group, which only recently heard about the proposed sale, voted unanimously to ask the board for more time to prepare for the public hearing.

The board voted 4-1 to grant that extension, and will revisit the issue and invite public comment on March 1. Supervisor Thomas F. Riley cast the dissenting vote.

The sale was given initial approval last month when the Orange County Cemetery District Board of Trustees accepted Omega Society’s offer of $31,000, the highest among 10 bids.

The sale would help the district weather state revenue losses that are projected to total $700,000 by the end of the year, said district General Manager Sam Randall. The losses have forced the agency to trim its staff and shift toward contract work for landscaping and maintenance.

Selling the parcel, the smallest of the four cemeteries controlled by the district, would allow the agency to shed the annual upkeep cost of $30,000.


Randall, who has said the sale is like saying “goodby to a family heirloom,” said the 3,800-grave cemetery includes the burial plots of Orange County pioneers.

Although there is room at the park for 1,000 more graves, Randall said the cemetery has not been used often in recent years and has averaged 48 burials a year.

The larger private cemeteries that serve west Orange County have more burials because of on-site mortuaries, greater advertising or more elaborate landscaping, Randall said.

Also, public cemeteries are restricted by state law to using only underground graves, while privately run parks can build mausoleums, making far more profitable use of space, Randall said.

Andrew Lichtman, an attorney for the district, said the agency will retain some influence over the cemetery’s future by supervising maintenance and having final approval over any future sale.

The delay by the supervisors will give the public time to understand that the sale can only help the preservation of the cemetery by putting it in the hands of someone who can better afford its upkeep, Lichtman said.