More than 200 people filled the room in the Dougherty Valley Community Center on Tuesday night as the San Ramon City Council discussed a proposed Tassajara Valley cemetery and ultimately decided to withdraw city support for the project.
"The people who live within a stone's throw of where this development is proposed, some of them not only live there but their livelihood is there," Councilman Phil O'Loane said during the meeting. "The people who have a real investment in this area overwhelmingly aren't interested in seeing this happen."
The proposal for Creekside Memorial Cemetery from developer Sid Corrie calls for the project to include four outdoor mausoleums, one indoor mausoleum, an administrative office and chapel building, storage building, corporation yard and space for over 100,000 burial plots.
As proposed, the cemetery would be located at 7000 Camino Tassajara and occupy 58.7 acres of an approximately 222-acre space in unincorporated Contra Costa County east of the San Ramon city limits. The cemetery site is within the city of San Ramon's planning area but falls under the county's jurisdiction.
Concerns expressed by San Ramon residents during the nearly two-hour discussion Tuesday night included the project's impact on the environment and lack of water sources to sustain a large cemetery as well as concerns about the habitats of the wild animals living on the land.
A cultural element was also brought into the discussion by several San Ramon residents of Asian descent.
"In the Asian culture, we don't mix the living and the dead in a conflicting way," Windemere neighborhood resident Crystal Lu said. "We respect the elderly, our ancestors, and the dead, but we do not like the concept of death and youth together in a competing way."
Some residents question the need for a new large cemetery, arguing there are cemeteries in nearby cities that have burial space such as Livermore and Lafayette, among others.
The potential impact that a cemetery would have on the youth of the Tassajara Valley was a talking point for some parents in attendance and three student speakers who took to the podium.
The idea of funeral processions driving through school areas and increasing neighborhood traffic were described by speakers as "dangerous" and "psychologically damaging" for kids who walk, bike or play in the area.
More than 100 speaker cards were submitted to the council Tuesday night. About an hour into public comment, which was monopolized those in opposition to the project, Vice Mayor Harry Sachs invited anyone who was in favor of the project to speak. No one in the room accepted.
"This is quite a task here, and we have a lot of points to discuss," Sachs said. "We want people who might find value or benefit to a cemetery to have an opportunity to speak as well because we know from those who are opposed, the reasons that are near and dear to you."
Speakers continued for about 15 minutes after Sachs' comment until O'Loane requested a short recess, saying he felt that life was being "sucked out of the room" as there were many repeated sentiments being expressed.
About 10 minutes after the break, Mayor Bill Clarkson ended public comment and the council presented their opinions about the project.
The lack of water sources available, changing the character of the neighborhood surrounding the Tassajara Valley, increased traffic and community resistance were some of the concerns mentioned during the council discussion.
In 2005, the city council at the time gave initial support for the proposed cemetery along with other Tri-Valley communities, excluding Livermore. O'Loane pointed out that the Tassajara Valley has significantly changed in the last nine years.
"I think this is an idea whose time has come and gone," he said.
Councilman Scott Perkins suggested to the audience members that they attend the county meetings and bring their concerns to county officials.
"If this is really burning in your heart and soul, you need to attend the county meetings just like you attended our meeting," Perkins said. "Coming here and telling us tonight -- should we pass a resolution against this -- is a flea on an elephant. If you really want to take action you and your neighbors need to participate in whatever happens at the county level."
Although the final decision lies in the hands of the Contra Costa County Planning Commission, the council voted 4-0-1 Tuesday to direct city staff to draft a letter -- that the mayor would sign -- to county officials withdrawing the council's support for the project and outlining specific points to explain the city's changing viewpoint. Councilman Dave Hudson abstained from the vote, offering no explanation.
The meeting was moved from its regular location at San Ramon City Hall to a larger auditorium-style room inside of the local community center to accommodate the large turnout anticipated for the discussion.
The council held a well-attended public workshop in June during which more than a dozen citizens expressed opposition to the proposal. Following that workshop, residents teamed up to organize a protest hike in August in which more than 450 people participated.