By Lucy Guanuna
Boyle Heights’ historic Evergreen Cemetery has not been living up to its name. There are only a few patches of green grass to be found at the 136-year-old cemetery. Instead, a forest of stone tombstones rise above a 67-acre field of mostly yellowed and dead lawn and barren patches of dirt. As the lack of lawn has attracted attention and complaints, L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina, who has called the grounds a “disgrace, ” has launched a campaign to revitalize the grounds at Evergreen.
Cemetery officials blame strict L.A. Department of Water and Power restrictions for the dry conditions at Evergreen, where some of the 300,000 gravestones bear notable names – such as Hollenbeck, Lankershim and Van Nuys – from the city’s past. But Molina and others blame cemetery administrators for the “blighted environment” at Evergreen. In an email newsletter, Molina said:
I believe the heavily unkempt grounds at this historic cemetery are a disgrace to everyone living in the surrounding Eastside neighborhoods! It’s also a disgrace to the renowned people who have been laid to rest here – which includes historic figures, celebrities, as well as a significant Chinese day laborer population from the turn of the last century.
Roxane Marquez, legislative and press deputy for Molina, said they have received a handful of complaints from residents within her 12 years of working in Molina’s office. Marquez said that Molina’s office is putting pressure on state agencies to enforce laws regarding the upkeep of the cemetery.
A Whittier resident, Jonvive Anguiano, who has four generations of family buried at Evergreen, recently took matters into her own hands and started a Change.org petition demanding Tony Soo Hoo’s “license as owner of Evergreen Cemetery be revoked.” In her petition, Anguiano said:
“I buried my Mother Sheleen Romero there July 23, 2012, it cost thousands of dollars to burry your loved ones. And when I go to visit my Mom there is nothing green at all about Evergreen Cemetery, actually all of the entire Cemetary is Yellow & Brown. It looks hedious!!”
She has received more than 480 signatures within the last month.
But officials at Evergreen dispute the complaints, with Kavina Sam, a supervisor at Evergreen Cemetery, saying he feels they are being harassed.
“We are doing everything we can to water the grass. We haven’t received any complaints from locals because we pick up our trash and trim our trees and lawns,” Sam said. “If [Molina] keeps pushing, we’re going to have to go to court.”
Sam said they are doing everything they can to keep the lawn green but restrictions from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power prevent them from watering the lawn for more than 8 minutes per sprinkler, three days a week, which he said is devastating to the lawn, especially during the summer months.
Evergreen Cemetery, however, has found ways to deal with the water restrictions. Visitors can leave their driver’s license and “rent” a hose if they want to water the grass around their loved one’s graves, which prevents Evergreen for being fined for watering the grass beyond the allotted time, Sam said. Although he admits they have irrigation pipes from the late 1800s that break often, the staff is gets them fixed within a day or two, he said.
Sam said the cemetery isworking with Molina to try to get more watering time from the DWP and are looking into other sources of water, including recycled water.
Molina’s office has seen some signs of improvement. Marquez said it seems that Evergreen has been watering the lawn and it looks to have improved. But the office is currently monitoring conditions in hopes the lawn will improve before they pursue any further action.
“All we are asking is that existing regulations be followed, no more, no less,” Marquez said.
Lucy Guanuna, a journalism student at Cal State Northridge, has reported on a variety of issues, including business, education and social justice movements in her native Los Angeles. Her work has been published in the Daily Sundial, L.A. Activist, and the San Fernando Valley Business Journal.