Thanks for reaching out and informing us of the work you are doing regarding the spread of crematoria. There is ample information regarding our local struggle against crematoriums in the local newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland Tribune, Oakland Post, and East Bay Express over the last three years. We were victorious in our effort to stop it and get the Oakland City Council to adopt more stringent guidelines for similar proposals in the future. I have no problem with our work being included in the work you are doing. There might be some things from our approach that will benefit other communities.
Mega-crematorium’ still sparking controversy
By Sean Greene and Samantha Masunaga
Posted April 24, 2013 9:09 am
The Neptune Society’s crematory would be at 9850 Kitty Lane, near the Oakland International Airport.
By now, the warehouse at 9850 Kitty Lane, near Oakland International Airport, was supposed to be burning more than 3,000 bodies a year. But instead, the 6,100-square-foot facility purchased last year by a funeral services business to serve as a so-called “mega-crematorium” is collecting dust. After a year of inactivity, though, that could change soon.
In 2011, the Neptune Society of Northern California began the process of moving its crematory business to East Oakland from a facility it has operated in Emeryville since the 1970s. Neptune Society officials said a desire to modernize its facilities, plus the City of Emeryville’s decision to allow residential housing near its Apollo crematorium on Horton Street, prompted the company to try to relocate to Oakland.
But a year ago, the Oakland City Council passed an emergency ordinance to block the Neptune Society from moving into its Kitty Lane warehouse, after environmentalists and community advocates expressed concerns that pollution from the facility would threaten the air quality of a nearby neighborhood.
The Neptune Society sued the city over the ordinance a few months later, and the project has remained in limbo ever since. A court hearing between the Neptune Society and the city is scheduled for next month — around the same time the council’s moratorium expires.
Company officials said the Kitty Lane property would better serve families in the area. “More families want to witness cremations,” said Mike Miller, senior vice president of Stewart Enterprises, which owns the Neptune Society. “We want to bring them to this facility that can accommodate them with more parking and a professional appearance. We’re preparing for the future.”
Cremation rates are rising. Today, 75 percent of bodies are cremated, compared to 40 percent in the 1980s, said Dan Isard, founder and president of Foresight Companies, which provides business consulting for funeral home owners. The increased demand is something Miller said the city should keep in mind. There are five crematories already operating in Oakland.
“These services are needed in the community; they have to be performed somewhere,” he said, adding that the Neptune Society served 600 Oakland families this past year both at its Emeryville facility and its Oakland office. “We felt wronged because we went through every process with the city.”
Community leaders feel differently. In May 2012, Reverend Daniel Buford of Allen Temple Baptist Church in East Oakland sent emails to Mayor Jean Quan and councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan, Jane Brunner, and Larry Reid, asking them to stop the crematory from coming to East Oakland. Reid then introduced the ordinance at a City Council meeting on May 15, where it passed unanimously. The ordinance required the Neptune Society to get a conditional use permit (the company had already received a building permit), a step usually reserved for cases when the area is not zoned for a particular type of activity.
The warehouse at Kitty Lane, though, is zoned for crematories, according to an email from Alex Katz, chief of staff to City Attorney Barbara Parker. Last August, Stewart Enterprises filed a lawsuit against the city that claimed the ordinance was intended specifically to block its crematory.
The lawsuit argued that the additional requirement of the conditional use permit was unnecessary and violated the company’s legal rights. In a later court filing, the city said the property’s fate is still unsettled because Stewart Enterprises has not applied for a conditional use permit.
The two parties are scheduled to meet on May 23 in Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland to see if they can talk through their differences and avoid going to trial. The moratorium is set to expire on May 10.
The Neptune Society has considered other locations around the East Bay. In 2006, the company tried to move its Emeryville crematory to North Richmond, but environmental and community advocates raised similar concerns over air pollution, according to news reports. “It was rejected in Richmond and it was rejected in Richmond for the obvious environmental hazards it would pose,” Buford said in an interview. “They didn’t want it there … and now they’ve come into Oakland.”
Buford has started a signature campaign among community members to ask the City Council to make the emergency ordinance permanent.
Environmental groups contend that the facility will fill the air with particulate matter and mercury vaporized from dental fillings in the cremation process. Mercury is a potentially lethal environmental pollutant. Elemental mercury, the kind found in dental fillings, is usually harmless if touched or swallowed, but can cause lung problems, brain damage or death if inhaled in small amounts over time, according to the National Institutes of Health.
One body emits an average of 0.0034 pounds* — one-twentieth of an ounce — of mercury during the cremation process, according to a Bay Area Air Quality Management District memo. Mercury emissions in cremations are becoming less of an issue though, because fewer people are getting dental fillings made of silver amalgam, which contains some mercury. Silver amalgam in fillings has declined in use since the 1970s.
*This information is incorrect. Mercury levels in corpses vary dramatically and are entirely dependent on the number of silver amalgam fillings, a good estimate of the average per cadaver is 3 grams, which is closer to one-ninth of an ounce. This is released as mercury vapor, so it is much more dangerous than inert liquid or solid mercury. Mercury vapor is measured in micrograms per cubic foot of air.
** While amalgams have declined in use, the majority of people who have them are the “baby boomers” who make up the largest part of our US population that are aging out and will die in the next two decades. This generation is overwhelmingly choosing cremation
In November, the air district granted the Neptune Society a permit to build two natural-gas-powered incinerators in the Kitty Lane warehouse. The district found the facility would have no significant health impacts, said district spokeswoman Jennifer Jones. “We did a thorough check that the risk levels for this project were going to be really insignificant,” she said. “It’s tricky. Nobody really wants a crematory as their neighbor … Residents are more likely to be impacted by highway emissions than by this facility.”
Jones said there are no schools or residents within 1,000 feet of the site. The Oakland location is better than the Neptune Society’s site in Emeryville, she added, because the Emeryville area is now zoned for residential buildings.
Jones said residents can call an air quality complaint hotline with complaints about odors or visible emissions if they see excessive smoke. Since 2008, the Neptune Society’s Emeryville location has received only five complaints, Jones said, not enough to trigger the air district’s public nuisance violation. Neptune has never received a violation from the district.
The nearest neighborhood to the proposed crematory in East Oakland is less than one-half mile up 98th Avenue, not far from Interstate 880. Nehanda Imara, an organizer for Communities for a Better Environment, disagreed with the Air Quality District’s approval and said the crematory would harm the neighborhood’s air quality. “These regulatory agencies, they don’t have a lot of enforcement,” she said, “So it would take a million people to call in until they say ‘OK let’s see what’s going on in this facility.’
“It’s not just Communities for a Better Environment, it’s the community, it’s the businesses, it’s the public health (department), it’s residents who live there who don’t want this,” Imara added. “They want a kind of business that’s going to be healthy, green and going to bring jobs to East Oakland.”
Many residents in the neighborhood said they were unaware of the proposal. Freddie Murray, an employee of the San Francisco Public Health Department, who was visiting a friend on Hesket Road, said the residents here are predominately older in age or Hispanic, and not vocal about local issues.
Imara, who with Communities for a Better Environment is assisting Buford’s signature campaign, said she hopes the city rejects the crematory. “I just think that we want to hear some good news coming in to East Oakland,” she said. “We want to not always have to fight something bad that’s happening to … we’d like to spend more energy trying to work with the city to create more access to starting community gardens.”
Burning controversy over East Oakland crematorium
By Will Kane Updated 11:26 am, Friday, October 4, 2013
The East Oakland crematorium, when it is finally built, will incinerate some 3,000 bodies a year.
Three thousand too many, says the Rev. Daniel Buford of the Allen Temple Baptist Church.
“East Oakland is basically a dumping ground for the worst ideas in the city anyone can come up with,” Buford said. “We can’t seem to catch a break.”
The plan for the crematorium was approved without fanfare by the city in 2012. But it has since blossomed into a saga of bureaucratic intrigue, lawsuits, emergency lawmaking and neighborhood identity.
At issue is the Neptune Society’s plan to shutter its long-standing crematorium in Emeryville and move to an empty building at the corner of 98th Avenue and Kitty Lane, not far from the airport.
But the City Council is trying hard to stop, or at least delay, the plan.
The last thing East Oakland needs, residents and elected officials agree, is more pollution and more death.
“People have all these mixed images of what Oakland is, and certainly they have mixed images of East Oakland with all the violence,” said Nehanda Imara, a 56-year-old community activist who lives less than a mile from the crematorium site. “So what do you want to do? You want to dump more death in the community?”
What Neptune says it wants to do is grow. Its Emeryville location is too small and too old and, with Baby Boomers getting older, demand is expected to keep rising.
“Our equipment and our facility are outdated, and the neighborhood has grown up around us,” said Mike Miller, president of the Neptune Society of Northern California. “We had more and more families that wanted to come and witness the crematorium. There is no parking. It just doesn’t work for us anymore.” The Emeryville facility has a capacity of 2,400 bodies a year.
No public hearing
After getting shut out of Richmond, Miller approached Oakland in spring of 2012 and, without controversy – or a public hearing – was issued a building permit to renovate the building and construct a crematorium capable of incinerating 3,000 bodies a year.
The city’s Planning Department said that burning bodies was a “light industrial activity” that needed no additional approvals to move into an area of the city made up of mostly warehouses, truck yards and parking lots, said Rachel Flynn, the city’s new planning director, who took over after the decision was made.
“They took a serious look at it and in their professional judgment, they said, ‘OK, you are talking about a product and you are altering it and that makes it industrial manufacturing,’ ” Flynn said, speaking for the planners who approved the project. “You are making a product. Not a product we all like to talk about, but a product.
“Now, you can question whether that was an appropriate zoning category for this area, given its proximity to residential, and it is fair to question that,” Flynn said.
But the determination stands, Flynn said.
Residents and city leaders were horrified to learn of the plan. Bringing what residents call an “emporium of death” to the neighborhood won’t be good for business, they said. And burning bodies sends pollution and mercury from melted tooth fillings into the already polluted air of East Oakland, opponents said.
Trying to turn around
“They want to put a crematorium in a district that we’ve been trying real hard to turn around,” said Councilman Larry Reid, who represents the area. “Having that crematorium, not just the emission contaminants in the air, it may cause developers to think a little differently about what they want to put on 98th Avenue.”
While the crematorium will produce some pollution, it won’t be enough to do any serious harm, said Aaron Richardson, a spokesman for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which approved the crematorium.
“It complies with all of the air quality laws, so we would not expect health risks to be significant,” Richardson said. “We are aware that that is a neighborhood that has some particular issues when it comes to pollution, but this project does comply with our permit conditions, which are designed to keep health risk at a minimum.”
Days after Oakland approved the permit for the crematorium, the city passed a strict emergency law to regulate crematoriums and told Neptune to back off.
Neptune sued and, in August, won.
“The question before the court was: Is it a valid building permit, since Oakland law says once you’re issued a permit, you’re vested?” Miller said. “Laws aren’t retroactive.”
The City Council is deciding now whether to appeal that ruling, but many people agree it may be hard to stop the process.
But the whole process makes Imara skeptical.
“It is not caring. We need to get back to compassion and caring,” she said. “The first thing is that whatever city you live in, in order for a city to work all the community, all the workers, we’re supposed to get back to that caring and compassion.”
MEGA CREMATORIUM MOVES AHEAD DESPITE OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL OPPOSITION
By Tasion Kwamilele, The Oakland Post September 25, 2013
After a recent ruling by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo, the construction of a new mega-crematorium in East Oakland, which could burn as many as 3,000 bodies a year, may begin as early as next year.
The Neptune Society of Northern California had obtained a permit to build the crematorium near the Oakland International Airport last year, but within days of receiving it, City Councilmember Larry Reid moved to stop the construction of the project.
The City Council then unanimously passed an ordinance, which says a special permit must be obtained for construction of such a businesses as a crematorium. However, Judge Grillo ruled that the ordinance could not be used against Neptune because the company’s permit predates the law.
“I think every community, including Oakland, has to be aware there are necessary services that have to be performed,” said Michael Miller, president of Neptune Society.
The question is not at this point whether Neptune Society followed the city’s guidelines for building the crematorium but whether the city had allowed sufficient opportunity for community questions and concerns – positive or negative.
Reid and community members want to know more about possible toxins the crematorium may emit, but Miller says, there “aren’t any dangers of having a crematorium in the community.”
However, community members remain unconvinced by testimony from scientific experts who are not independent but who were hired by the Neptune Society.
The Bay Area Quality Management District, an agency that looks at emissions, has given the company a green light and says the business will pose no threat to residents or its employees, according to Miller.
The mega crematorium will be one of the largest on the West Coast.
Miller says Oakland was identified as a potential construction zone for its industrial areas zoned for this type of use.
Despite the controversy, Miller says the economic benefits to the city include the jobs the crematorium will create for Oakland residents.
East Oakland Residents Still Opposed to “Mega Crematorium”
Neptune Society’s 3,000-body-a-year crematorium not popular.
By Chris Roberts Dec 2, 2013 NBC
The “mega-crematorium” that’s proposed for East Oakland has backing from a judge but not from the neighborhood, where residents are still opposed to burning bodies near their homes, according to Oakland Local.
Western Alameda County is without a major crematorium after the Apollo Crematorium closed in Emeryville, the Web site reported.
The closed crematorium’s owner, Service Corporation, one of the biggest providers of funeral and burial-related services, has been eyeing a spot on Kitty Lane near Oakland International Airport as a place to begin burning 3,000 bodies a year.
Outcry over the crematorium led an Oakland City Council member to pass an emergency law requiring crematoriums to pass through an extra zoning hoop — a move that led to litigation from Stewart Enterprises, owner of proposed crematorium Neptune Society, which is being bought out by Service Corp.
A judge agreed with the litigation, but Oakland activists still want the crematorium to at least get the same permits required of urban farms, Oakland Local reported.
A “number” of activists turned up Thursday at the Neptune Society’s current location on Grand Avenue to protest the new “mega-crematorium,” the Web site reported.
They don’t believe that the crematorium will produce jobs — only pollution.
Environmental group sues over Oakland crematorium plans
By Will Kane Updated 6:33 pm, Thursday, December 12, 2013 SF GATE
Oakland approved a large crematorium in an East Oakland industrial area without first considering the health impacts of burning some 3,000 bodies a year, contends a lawsuit filed by an East Oakland environmental group.
The suit, made public this week by Communities for a Better Environment, alleges that Oakland’s city planners wrongly considered the crematorium a “general manufacturing facility” that could be approved without a public hearing.
Residents of East Oakland worry the crematorium, planned at 98th Avenue and Kitty Lane, will spew toxins into an area already polluted by exhaust from a nearby freeway and airport.
“We’re in the midst of more toxic pollution here because we’re a disenfranchised community,” said Maxine Oliver-Benson, a resident of East Oakland and member of the environmental group. “Our families’ health is not being taken seriously and we don’t want the dead to kill the living.”
The plan is for the Neptune Society, owned by Stewart Enterprises, to shutter its long-standing crematorium in Emeryville and move to an empty building at the corner of industrial East Oakland, made up mostly of warehouses, truck yards and parking lots. Stewart Enterprises was also named in the suit.
Neptune’s Emeryville facility is small and outdated, and with Baby Boomers getting older, demand in the Bay Area for crematoriums is only going to keep rising, the company has said.
Mike Miller, president of the Neptune Society of Northern California, said he hadn’t seen the suit and could not comment. Alex Katz, a spokesman for City Attorney Barbara Parker, also declined to comment.
The city approved a permit for the new facility without fanfare in spring 2012. Regulators with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District said at the time that the crematorium would not release enough pollution to be a risk to the community.
When residents learned of the plan they immediately took issue. The City Council has since passed emergency legislation regulating crematoriums and tried to slow the process, but efforts to kill the plan or force a public hearing have failed.
The fiery rhetoric, nevertheless, continues.
“Stewart Enterprises have been tone-deaf to seniors, families and other residents in the community who have expressed legitimate health and safety concerns about this project,” said Rev. Daniel Buford of East Oakland’s Allen Temple Baptist Church. “As a result of not considering these concerns, I am calling upon all clergy to boycott them because we are deeply concerned with the health and well-being of the living.”
Will Kane is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org